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Grumpy Old Men and Hallmark Christmas Movies: Exhausted by Change

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When I was a kid, I used to be perplexed by what I considered the stodginess of elderly people. They seemed desperate to maintain their routines, angry even. This type of character is captured comically in Disney’s Up and beautifully in Frederick Bachman’s A Man Called Ove. In both stories, the main character, a man, follows a strict routine every day. Bachman describes Ove :

Every morning for the almost four decades they had lived in this house, Ove had put on the coffee percolator, using exactly the same amount of coffee as on any other morning, and then drank a cup with his wife.

After this routine would come his daily inspection of his neighborhood and the general maintenance of his home. He was diligent and hard-working, but he was also bitter. What is introduced initially as a grumpy old man, the likes of which we’ve all encountered, is then slowly revealed to us to be a man who has suffered greatly and who uses the routine to bring comfort into his life. Backman reveals the man he used to be  and why he changed, and we are left loving him instead of hating him. To be sure, like Disney’s Carl, both men have an encounter with love that helps them place their hope in something else, but learning their backstory immediately gives us sympathy for these characters.

Hallmark Christmas Movies Value Tradition

Hallmark Christmas movies also play with the same theme–tradition brings comfort. A base storyline for many Hallmark Christmas movies is a woman or man leaving the city to return to their hometown for Christmas. They are drawn in by the familiar traditions of small-town Christmas and see that this is the answer to the longing they feel within. It is in the familiar routines of home that they find themselves and find peace. I can think of three or four movies already with this theme.

I’ve asked myself why these movies appeal to me–I’m an English teacher after all. I used to make fun of people who watched these movies. Despite this, about two or three years ago, I felt an urge to start watching them, and now I’m hooked. The truth is I was going through a difficult time, and I felt comfort in watching these predictable storylines.

I reveled in beautiful Christmas scenes, a quickly resolved romantic crisis, and the sense of belonging somewhere that the characters experienced. As I age, I see this need articulated more clearly. I look back over my life and see a blur of experience, and I feel bewildered. I’ve never lived anywhere longer than five years, and this rootlessness haunts me. I long, like Ove, who lives in one house for forty years, to know a place. Though Backman is talking metaphorically about a relationship, his comparison haunts me:

Then over the years the walls become weathered, the wood splinters here and there,and you start to love that house not so much because of all its perfections, but rather for its imperfections. You get to know all the nooks and crannies. How to avoid getting the key caught in the lock when it’s cold outside. Which of the floorboards flex slightly when one steps on them or exactly how to open the wardrobe doors without them creaking. These are the little secrets that make it your home.

As I feel my mortality, I need there to be places that I know intimately and where my imprint has been worn into it. My pushback from the realization that I am here so temporarily is to connect. Tradition and routine seem to be an easy way to do this.

Tradition Is An Invitation

Tradition invites me into a history that reaches further back than me and will extend beyond me. Participating in tradition invites me into an inner circle, giving me a connection to those around me. It is also a protection from the excessive change around me.

When I ponder the characters of Ove and Carl, and even many in my Hallmark Christmas movies, they all seek peace in the midst of change. We sympathize with them because we too are victims of the capriciousness of time. I keep waiting to finally “arrive” in my life the way it’s supposed to be, but I am cruelly tricked by the continued change. My body changes, my children change, my job changes–all the while I want to yell for it to stop for a minute, so I can catch my breath.

My response is to dig in and hold on, find a place to nail me down, so I won’t be swept away with the tide. However, we all know this won’t work. My heart cries out for comfort though and promises bitterness if I don’t deliver.

I don’t think this longing for routine is wrong–I think in many ways it is the necessity of life. There are many routines I cannot avoid–I must eat every day, breathe every moment, drink and sleep. The danger comes when I decide what these routines must be in order for me to feel safe.

Only God Provides What We Need

Like Ove and Carl, we all need to release the tight-fisted hold we have on the routines of life in order to allow God to step in and do His redeeming work. Love alone is powerful enough to unclench my fist. I cannot stop the tide that flows ever onward pushing me towards my end; however, I can choose to trust the One who controls the tide. When I realize that there are things and people that are more important than my comfort, I can allow traditions and routine to take their proper place in my life, as a stabilizer but not my foundation.

There is no proper defense against the rush of life, except to lose ourselves in the eternal God. He is the one who goes before us, providing a home that cannot be taken from us (John 14:3). Then, we will be able to fully enjoy the peace Christ offers when He says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27). Our decaying world gives and takes back–with God it is not so. We are growing into his peace and into our new homes that await us. 

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

What I Learned About God from Watching Hallmark Movies

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I must admit that I enjoy Hallmark movies.  I say that with some hesitation because I’m actually really picky about my movie choices–to the point of being annoying.  There is something that pulls on me though when I watch those cheesy, predictable romance movies.  I’ve tried to ignore that part of me. I try instead to listen to the other part that knows better, that understands that what is being portrayed is not what real romance looks like.  But I can’t help it.  This desire for romance resonates deeply within me, and I want to understand why instead of being embarrassed by it.

I’ve come to wonder why women are naturally drawn to romance.  Even though our culture has changed so dramatically in regards to sex and relationships, women are overwhelmingly the consumers of romance movies and novels.  While this does not apply to every woman, it is prevalent enough to warrant some investigation.

The Desire for Romance

Many might argue that it is simply a matter of conditioning and that women are raised to think that their lives are only meaningful if a man is in it.  I was not raised this way though.  I was raised by my single father who taught me that I could be anything I wanted to be; who had philosophical discussions with me all throughout my growing up years, and who allowed me to travel around the world even though I was only a teenager.  And, yet, I still wanted romance, even craved it.  

This continues to be the case for many, even in our time of casual sex and no strings-attached encounters.  In fact, in a recent article in the New York Times called “For Best Hookup Results, Use Your Words, O.K.?” a recent college graduate explores her own misgivings.  She talks about how after a no-strings attached hookup, she was thrown off guard by her lover’s sweet words, telling her she was the “girl of his dreams.”  He says all this, acting like he is interested and then never contacts her again.  She is frustrated that she was so easily duped and considers why she was.  She reveals that, even though she wasn’t seeking it, she still desired love.

…I find myself thinking it will all get better when I find romance.  When I have a man who wants me despite how fallible, loud or political I can be.  Someone who, with a kiss, can snap me out of my self-pitying reverie.  I think about how long I’ve been ready to find the beauty in another human being, to caress the scars of someone as flawed as me and to feel that person reciprocate.   

Why do we have this desire that is so strong that all the cultural conditioning in the world can’t seem to stop it? Perhaps we were created to crave and value relationship.  Maybe it is something we should celebrate instead of despise.

Women Under Attack

Right now, when the very idea of what it even means to be a woman is under attack, this very fundamental, feminine trait should be explored, instead of dismissed.  Have you ever wondered why those things that are traditionally feminine are always considered inferior?  

Going back to the very beginning we see the roots of this anti-female litany—Satan Himself. It is easy to cast the white male as the main perpetrator (though history can attest that he is certainly not the only or most pervasive abuser). Instead, we must consider the spiritual dimension of the age-old problem.

In the garden, Satan targets Eve. He makes her doubt her place and God’s goodness. He deceives her with statements meant to pit her against her God. Adam, in turn, says nothing, yet seems to wait to see what happens. This story seems to paint the woman in a negative light and in some ways it does. But have you ever wondered—why did Satan go after her?

The Imago Dei

I believe it is because the female persona reflects a very unique and specific attribute of God. When God is moved to creation He clearly states in Genesis 1:27 (NIV), “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”

That means there are attributes in both males and females which encapsulate God’s very identity. And the female attribute must be so important that Satan saw fit to attack it again and again—in the garden and every day since.  We, as women, offer a part of God that this world can never see unless we are here. Our suffering does not remove our dignity; it highlights the special purpose for which we were created. And while this longing for love makes us vulnerable, it alone can show the world the tender heart of God, who has made emptied Himself for us (Philippians 2:7).

After the fall, God’s promise of redemption even comes through Eve in a prophecy that can only be fulfilled by a woman. And if we look at Mary, perhaps we see a bit of that divine character that Satan despises: her courage, her loyalty, her single-mindedness-carrying the biggest secret in history, as she doggedly walks forward to the end.  She’s the most vulnerable woman in history but also the most hopeful.

And, let’s not forget that deep longing for relationship in every woman which reflects God’s own longing for relationship.  Perhaps our longing for romance is misguided in that it focuses its hope upon another fallible person.  However, the problem is not in the longing.  There is nothing weak or foolish about relationship.  In fact, it is the bedrock upon which life must be built. It is also the loose thread being pulled in our culture that is causing it all to unravel.  The desire to love and be loved, to know and be known, is a reflection of God’s own heart.

“Thus says the Lord, “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth.  For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 9: 23-24 ESV bold and italics mine).

God emphatically states that this is His heart’s desire–to be understood and known.   

My Feminine Gift

Therefore I will reject the anti-female rhetoric which states that to desire relationship is silly.  I will instead embrace and relish this longing that is at the root of the Gospel which is in itself an invitation to relationship.  I will work hard, though, to not allow myself to be distracted by the offerings of human romantic love, however delightful, as a means of satisfying this longing.  Instead, I will direct my wayward heart towards the One who truly understands this need, and who meets and sanctifies it.  I will not be embarrassed by this any longer for I know that this is part of my feminine gift to the world–the gift of love. After all, the Jesus Storybook explains it perfectly:

The Bible is most of all a Story…it’s a love story about a brave Prince who leaves his palace, his throne—everything—to rescue the one he loves. It’s like the most wonderful of fairy tales that has come true in real life!