You Might Need a Better Word Picture
Do you ever picture your life as a movie? Or as a metaphor? Like, maybe you’re in the middle of potty training your three year old, and you visualize this time as a marathon or like bootcamp training for the Marines. Or maybe you are thinking about the encroaching teenage years for your oldest and see it as an incoming express train barreling down the tracks, and you lie on the tracks, tied up and helpless — like those weird melodramatic films from the early 1900s.
I’m here today to make a case for better word pictures. Sometimes, metaphors for life can be super helpful. For instance, the phrase, “Stay in your lane, Kelly,” is a great word picture to keep me from comparing myself to other people. But if you are visualizing your life as running a marathon or military bootcamp in association with a toddler? That might be framing a miserable time for you. And changing up the narrative might give yourself a break.
How could that make a difference? Well, for one, marathons are exhausting and you have to run all the time, so while it might be an accurate metaphor for dealing with a toddler (seriously, how do they gain so much energy from bananas and goldfish crackers?), you might hate running, and you don’t really want to associate something you hate with dealing with your toddler, right?
Military bootcamp implies discipline and listening and training with an end goal of climbing a mountain or whatever. If I learned anything through my years of potty training three children, it’s that potty training is the first time in parenting where you realize that you while you may have authority over a little person, you don’t actually have control of a little person. And that sweet toddler knows it, too. The more you try to force them up the hill of Mount No Poop In Pants, the more they dig in their heels, throw off their packs, and refuse to budge. That train coming down the track for you and your preteen? That might be an image that inspires fear and panic which leads to fight or flight. Again, I’m guessing this is not the best mindset for navigating teenage years.
I have a valuable resource at my disposal every single day. I’ve talked about the greatness of the Group Text, and the reason I know about the greatness of the Group Text is because I’m a part of one. We chat daily about parenting and marriage and funny memes and theology and literature and philosophy. Once in a while, one of these pals says something so good that I make a quote out of it. My friend Kristen is always wise and helpful, but when she’s wise and helpful enough to make me write down what she says? Then, you guys need to hear it, too. Here’s what she says about word pictures:
“The stories we tell ourselves really matter. And the pictures we give our lives to make sense of them matter. And I’m not saying that yours isn’t accurate. I’m saying that it might be helpful for you to change it.” — Kristen Chapman
If you take mental stock of the word pictures you are using to make sense of your life, you might find some images or stories in that brain of yours that have a negative impact on your daily life. You have the power to change those. Your stories or images might be accurate, but they may not be helping you.
Instead of seeing potty training like bootcamp or a marathon, maybe change the metaphor to a walk in the park with your dog. The dog may veer off the path to sniff things or chase rabbits or whatever, but you stay on the path with the leash and an extra dose of patience, ready to stay on track. Release the pressure valve a little (see? Pressure valve! That’s another mental image. These life metaphors crop up everywhere.)
Instead of the train of the teenage years coming after you where you are tied up and immobile, see those years as an adventure that you and your kid take together, maybe you have to solve crime along the way. Not, like, a vacation adventure. That’s just silly. Maybe the teenage years can be an adventure where you each have to rely on your own wits and learn how to communicate with each other — like a quest! That’s it! You aren’t a victim to train murder; you’re on a quest together.
I don’t know what pictures you might need, but I do know that you have the power to change them, and your life might be better for it.
Let me know if you’ve ever imagined life metaphors like this. People’s brains are fascinating, and I love to hear how everyone ticks.