Norman Rockwell paintings graced the cover of The Saturday Evening Post for years.  His take on what family celebrations should look like became the ideal in many minds.  The 1943 painting, Freedom from Want, depicted the hoped-for scenario for American families as they prepared for Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings.

I didn’t know until recently that the painting was controversial even before the magazine published it.  Norman Rockwell himself almost destroyed it and started over, considering it might be “too much” in the face of the raging European war and Americans divided over whether to get involved in the conflict.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?  The ever-elusive ideal motivates some people to keep striving and hoping for a best of all possible worlds, ……… or at least a peaceful family gathering.  Conversely, the same ideal is ridiculed, received as offensive to some people (and sometimes those people are our children!)  For them, it seems to fly in the face of their own isolation, and struggle for a place to belong—they don’t see themselves at that table.

The former ideal provides vision for a better world, the latter points out the realities of problems yet to be solved – joy and grief over the same world.   I pray for the day when the vision inspires us all—and the grief motivates us all—to turn away from the world and turn toward the way of Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. (Hebrews 12:2)  I yearn for people, idealists and pragmatists alike, to turn toward Jesus, whose strength can help us thrill to the joy of life and life abundant, AND to bear up under the grief of life in a fallen world.

Joy is a good word to describe a large part of my feelings as I approach the holidays.   I was pleased to be included in my daughter’s Thanksgiving gathering, experiencing a rush of pleasure when she asked me to bring one of her favorite dishes—a fresh fruit and coconut salad.   I looked forward to the feast together on Thanksgiving Day with my daughter, her family and friends.  And equally joyful was the anticipation of seeing my son and his family for dessert a little later in the afternoon.

The other side of that joy coin, however, reveals a very cautious optimism for the hoped-for peaceful gatherings of family and friends.  With PTSD-like flashbacks rooted in childhood experiences of holiday joys and disappointments, I still, these seven decades later, approach the holiday traditional celebrations with some anxiety.  I carry ever-present fears, as well as hopes, on my heart and mind that shoot to center-stage when we are all together.  In a fit of nostalgia, it isn’t unusual for me to indulge in moments of longing for the days when my children and grandchildren were little and they were eager to be together. (Hmmmm, its likely my memory is failing me on this… were they ever purely eager to be together?)

And for the parents who attend WGA support group meetings, our discussions include the pain or fear of separation from their children who are struggling.  We talk about the upcoming holidays and pray for each other—prayers for peace at the dinner table, for moments of real connection, for the walls between siblings to come down.  For some families, the ideal child-like eagerness to just be together has gone underground it seems.  But the hope of most parents was always, and still is, that our children will become life-long friends and allies; and that family gatherings will be experienced as a safe harbor in the storms of the world. While we wait for this ideal to come into being, we  pray for each of our children, (and our grandchildren and great-grandchildren, mine now numbering 14 in all.) We pray that the peace of God’s presence will keep guard over their hearts and minds.  (Phil 4:13)

And parents continue to pray that family and friends will draw closer to one another, that they all, we parents included, will choose to override the dictates of our society and insist on an extra measure of grace and peace among us.  And for the siblings, we want them to love each other as much as we love them, to love each other the way Christ loves them.

Please, Lord, move my family in Your direction during these holiday gatherings.

Mary Heathman

Mary Heathman

Founding Director

Mary is one of the founders of Where Grace Abounds and served as Executive Director from its inception on July, 1986 through March 31st, 2007.  She speaks and teaches at churches and conferences across the country. She has also served on several boards of non-profit organizations, is a conference speaker on a variety of topics that include: Intimacy with God, Healthy Sexuality, and leadership development.  Currently serving in leadership in her denomination, Mary’s favorite ministry roles are discipleship counseling, group facilitation, and leadership development.

Mary often characterizes herself as “a seeker of Truth” and has a long-standing fascination with human behavior and motivation.  Her education consists of lay and discipleship counseling, independent study about the integration of psychology and theology, counseling and human sexuality. She also holds a BS in Human Services and an MA in Psychology from Regis University.

Mary attends a Friends (Quaker) Church.

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