The same year I was born, so was the prime-time television soap opera, Dallas. Full of family drama, glamor and wealth, Mama and I watched every Sunday night. Then, Knots Landing became part of the routine. These stories were devastatingly full of moral questions and complex family dynamics. In my tender, impressionable years, I probably had no business drinking all of it in. I could leave home and go to my Grannie’s during the summertime and pick up the Young and the Restless storyline right where it left off the day before. She’d rock back and forth in that velveteen recliner just fussin’ at Victor and Nicky, the daytime show’s stars. There was always some kind of tangled web being woven and unwoven but the show would button up and come to a dramatic ending each time. The consequences of the actions were not ever really felt for more than the hour of airtime. And, the truth changed with each episode.
In real life, my school age years were idyllic. At least on the surface. Lots of friends. Opportunity to play sports. Academic accomplishment. The tendency of my heart was to keep the pretty face on and the achievement list growing. According to what I had seen and known, this is what keeps a person happy, fulfilled and on the “right” trajectory – at least that’s what TV had told me. After high school graduation, the decisions it took to keep this going had much more riveting consequences. I was in unfamiliar territory, the ground felt shaky. 17 years old in Athens, Georgia. The consequential decisions I was making were deeply and primarily influenced by the wooing voices of outsiders. At that age and stage, keep everything on the outside “perfect” was the goal. At the tender age of 20, I found myself dis-enrolled from the university of my dreams (or someone’s dream, at least), postponing a wedding set to rival Princess Diana’s, posing weighty life questions to my grandfather who we would lose that same year.
The trajectory got worse before it got better. Yet, in his grace, the Lord has now convinced me that he was not only present but active in his waiting for me during this unbridled time. As I tried hard to handle the throws of life as I’d seen done on television – the hurts aren’t really that bad, the highs last longer than the lows, if you look pretty, you won’t hurt as much – I was losing. The theology of the soap opera wasn’t working in real life. My falls from grace were deep and devastating. Divorce, death, disappointment – I pushed it all down deeper so I could still show the world a smile and a pretty face.
I’ve been drawn to the Lord, to his truth, and to his church since my earliest childhood days. We lived down the road from a double-door, white chapel with a wooden cross out front. I can remember riding by and knowing that the truth dwelt there before I knew what truth was. I longed to live right and do right and to be right way before I knew how or even really what it meant. God gave me a longing for heaven that was palpable and made me sensitive to it. This longing is described in Ecclesiastes 3:11 by King Solomon saying, “He has put eternity in the hearts of men.” But, the world skewed me like it does everyone else this side of heaven. The messages of the world are strong and convincing, especially as we see them play out day by day, hour by hour on television shows, in music, and in the real life dramas of family and friends. Yet, the strength and prevalence of the world’s messages does not make them true.
In those years of poor decisions and deep losses, I was caught in the tension of trying with all my might to make the mirage of the “soap opera theology” work in my life while knowing in the depths of my soul that something better, something ultimately true was waiting for me. I tried to convince myself and others that the pain wasn’t so bad, that I could right the wrongs out of my own volition, that I could shake the damages to my reputation. For years upon years, I held the baggage from believing that the world could offer was ultimate. Until, the baggage weighed more than my ability to lift it. When I couldn’t carry the burdens anymore, the light of the truth could find its way back to me. The good truth. The true and life-giving promises of God. This is where the tension can finally give way. Because God’s ultimate truth prevails and the hope of Christ enters in; the redemption he offers is sure and the rest he gives is pure.
It is worth asking yourself today which theology you are allowing guide you. The one where you chase happiness with things, relationships, achievements; the one that brushes over pain and consequences moving on to the next thing that may provide some temporary fulfillment. OR, the truth that God has a purpose for you, can redeem all that’s been broken and marred in your life, is willing to give you a new start and hope through Christ Jesus. No matter how long you’ve lived following the “soap opera” way of life, God’s truth waits for you. In him, grace abounds and the truth does not shift.
Words of encouragement: