Suspension of Disbelief

Suspension of disbelief is an idea essential to reading or watching a movie, a contract between writer and audience, where the writer makes a story somewhat plausible and gives the audience a reason to want to believe it, and the audience buys into the story to experience something moving. It is why we can read Harry Potter and envision a Quidditch match, because JK Rowling made it fascinating and painted a beautiful picture, and our brains forget for a while that flying on a broom is a ridiculous idea in order to allow us to experience the magic of the impossible.

We live in a cynical society, yet we are able to escape into fantasy because we are able to suspend disbelief.

girls_ChristmasThe fact that my girls still believe in Santa requires an extraordinary amount of suspension of disbelief, given the unfortunate fact that Justin and I are terrible at making the story somewhat plausible. Four years ago, when Grace was four and Rebekah two, their Santa gift was a new swing-set. It was a freezing cold Christmas Eve, and Justin and my dad put together the least expensive, but most difficult to assemble, metal swing-set we could find in the garage after the girls had gone to bed. It took hours and I remember them laughing and yelling at the thing good-naturedly as my mom and I wrapped gifts inside where it was warm. After they finished, they carefully carried it around to the backyard, and I went out and tied a big red bow on it. We were so proud to have assembled this behemoth, and imagined the girls’ surprise and shock when they saw it. Christmas morning, when we went to wake them, Grace jumped out of bed, ran to the window, and said “Oh! You put a bow on it!” Apparently she had watched the entire operation unfold from her upstairs window.

The next year, we were living in Dallas still but working in Houston, and were too tired to make it home after our Christmas Eve services, so we spent Christmas Eve in a Holiday Inn off the highway somewhere around Waco. When we got home, I made the girls run upstairs and put on their pajamas so Justin and I could hurriedly throw the Santa gifts under the undecorated tree in our sad, already packed-up living room. I wanted a little magic in a chaotic season of transition. I thought we had pulled it off, except I had decided to not buy anything for Lucy or Justin, because Lucy was too little to notice and Justin wanted nothing else to pack and haul to Houston. I wasn’t thinking about the big girls, though, until Grace, in great distress, asked me what Lucy (at the time 6-months old) could possibly have done to get on the naughty list? I don’t even remember the lie I told, but as soon as she said it I realized my very big mistake.

Last year, their big gift was a trampoline, and a couple of weeks after Christmas, when they were underfoot, Justin sent them in the backyard to jump. They started to protest, and he said sarcastically, “I’m glad I bought you guys a trampoline so you would never use it.” They both stared at him in shock, and Grace said “You didn’t buy the trampoline – Santa brought it and the elves put it together!” Justin mumbled something incoherent as I laughed at him in the background.

This year, on Christmas day as Justin is programming the X-box Santa delivered, he in frustration says “For the money I shelled out for this thing you’d think it would work.” Grace’s head immediately popped up as I tried to catch his eye. Justin, not catching on, says: “I want my 400 bucks back.” Grace asked him what he means, since this gift came from Santa, and he says back “I have to pay Santa for it… Times are hard.” She looks back down at her game, satisfied with his answer, and  he looks at my mom and me, both laughing, and says “That’s all I could come up with.” 

We are bad at this! We try to weave a plausible tale, but we fail miserably. At some point, when she was younger, I have even told Grace that Santa is based on a real man who lived a long time ago who was generous and loving, but that he is not really a real person who delivers gifts to our house in the dead of night, and she has either forgotten or just chooses to believe despite it.

She is able to dispel doubt without a backward glance.

I love it, and I wish my mind worked that way. Their desire for magic overrides their rational brains that have to know that mom and dad are really really terrible liars and that we are, in fact, both Santa and the Tooth Fairy. Children are great at this, and I love that part of their minds. It is, quite honestly, why we continue to do the whole Santa thing and the whole tooth fairy thing. There is only a certain amount of time in life where true suspension of disbelief is possible, and because children are whole-hearted creatures, they are really good at it.

It seems weird to compare my children’s belief in Santa to my faith in Christ, but I’m going to attempt it because it’s what I’ve been thinking about lately. I want to be more like Grace when it comes to my faith. She dismisses doubt with such ease, and I envy her whole-hearted and stubborn belief. I want to be more like her. She has strength and lately, in my faith, I feel weak. I am a wrestler – I am up now in the middle of the night because I am wrestling with fear and doubt. And my rational mind knows the things I am fearing aren’t real  and the doubts I am battling are lies. My heart knows the truth that I am loved and valuable and was created for a purpose. Yet I wrestle and I can’t seem to dismiss the nagging doubt. A former boss repeatedly encouraged me to dismiss doubt and fear and not give it any time or energy, but honestly sometimes I don’t know how to do that.

I don’t know how to suspend my disbelief.

So again, as I have done so often since her birth, I look to my oldest daughter. She really does teach me more than she will ever realize. I ask the Lord for childlike faith. I ask my Maker, my Father, my Creator, my King to help me in this war I am waging against fear and doubt. I ask Him to be mighty to save. I choose to believe, and to shake off the nagging sense of doubt. I wait for the voices of fear and doubt to be silenced by the God who has written this story, this true story, of victory over sin and death and doubt and fear.

I have every reason to believe. This story is not only plausible, it is true, and I know the ending. So I ask my God to help me suspend my disbelief and cynicism. I have no reason to be afraid.

When I am afraid, I will put my trust in You. Psalm 56:3

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