Last night I turned on the TV for a few minutes before going to bed and caught the end of the 1989 movie “Steel Magnolias.”
I haven’t watched the movie in many years, but it was sadder than ever, the parallels all too real for me this time. The ending where the mother loses her daughter and goes on a tirade in the graveyard, from acceptance to anger to grief to laughter. It’s not unusual to go through the grief process in 30 seconds, but that doesn’t mean you’re done with it. Sometimes, nearly two years later, I may experience all these things in a single moment. And the part where she finds joy in the precious gift her daughter left behind, her grandbaby. And the part where she feels distaste at religion’s sorry attempt to soothe by fabricating explanations that have no scriptural foundation, when in reality the truth is that the devil comes to steal, kill, and destroy, while Jesus comes to give abundant life (John 10:10), and the reasons it happened are always complicated and never easy and usually we will not fully understand this side of Heaven. So your best response to someone’s loss is your presence, not your theology.
But then that’s also another part of the ending I identified with: the presence of friends and family. Everyone, every gesture matters. Every visit to the wake and funeral, every gift, every card, every text, every social media message and comment, and every single hug, mattered. Each one mattered a lot and helped a lot. And when all of those are gone, your friends and family remain, and that’s what keeps life going. “Life goes on,” as Shelby says.
There are still times where grief ambushes you and gives you a gut punch, but mostly the days are filled with the stuff of life: working, eating, sleeping. Better moments come when we can offer a measure of comfort or help to others. The best times are in appreciating and spending time with the ones who remain.
And so, as life goes on, somehow also must we, thus being compared to a flower that is beautiful and fragrant, while being strong as steel.
I guess we become what we need to be.
However, though religion as a part of our Southern life is woven into the movie’s fabric, I would have to say that in my case religion as RELATIONSHIP plays the biggest part of my life as I strive to thrive and not merely survive.
Relationship with a Heavenly Father that begins through believing in His Son, Jesus Christ. A relationship characterized by prayer, reading the Bible, and listening to the still, small voice on the inside. Strength summoned by getting a word in due season, by entering into His Presence through praise and worship (not just at church, either), and by gathering with a body of believers. And more. So much more.
In the movie, Annabelle is probably the character which seems to have the most authentic relationship with God, though she is portrayed as sort of backward. However, in the end, she seems to gain some backbone. When Ouiser says, “Well don’t you expect me to come to one of your churches or one of those tent-revivals with all those Bible-beaters doin’ God-only-knows-what! They’d probably make me eat a live chicken!” Annabelle retorts, “Not on the first visit!”
One might venture to say that this is an accurate portrayal of a true relationship with God (except for eating a live chicken): it begins as a decision but, as we commit to Him daily, we might just find ourselves doing things we never imagined! Whether that is teaching a Sunday school class or raising our hands during worship or simply surviving tragedy, we find we can do all things through Christ Who gives us strength (Phil 4:13).
And therein lies the real steel.