Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Heaven and How I Met Your Mother

by Ben Howard

Last night my friend and I ended up watching the season premiere of How I Met Your Mother on CBS. If you’re unfamiliar, How I Met Your Mother, or HIMYM, is a sitcom entering it’s eighth season. The narrative catch of the show is that the protagonist, Ted Mosby is telling his future children the story of how he met their mother. The story is set in the present, but the narrator and his kids are set in the future about 20 years.

Different reviewers and critics have termed it a love story in reverse, or a love story wrapped in a mystery. I simply find it entertaining…or infuriating. It really depends on where the story goes.

You see the problem with a show based around a mysterious identity is that it can only tease out that mysterious identity for so long until that tease just becomes annoying. HIMYM has been carrying out that tease for seven years plus one episode at this point and its been pretty annoying since about season three.

However, I almost always enjoy the show when it focuses on its five main characters and their lives. Whether it’s how they interact, or how they deal with the problems of transitioning from twenty-something dreamers to a life with families and careers, I enjoy it. On some level the show connects to the reality of the my situation as a twenty-something who is a little apprehensive about the idea of families and careers and growing up.

As a single man, the frustration over not finding “that mysterious someone” connects to me as well. However, much like the show, I find that when I become overly focused on this kind of end goal, when I believe that the idea of finding “the one” will somehow be the pinnacle of my existence, things aren’t nearly as enjoyable or fulfilling.

I don’t think this just parallels my life or the lives of others in my generation, I think it also parallels the different focuses of the church and it affects people's faith.

A lot of churches focus on the goal of heaven, or if they aren’t so polite about it, they focus on hell. I understand why you would want to focus on that. Happily ever after sounds terrific, especially on the really hard days when nothing makes sense and everything feels hopeless. I understand wanting to jump to the end of the story, but on the other hand I think it misses so much.

The best parts of HIMYM have not been the parts associated with Ted’s search for his future wife. The best parts have been the bizarre moments of life together in community in the present. The best parts have included watching Marshall and Lily get married, or watching Barney develop into a nearly passable human being, or learning about Robin’s past as a Canadian pop singer.

Some of those moments in community have been painful, some have been ridiculous, but they have all been together, in community, in the here and now. The show's very premise is that these moments are part of the story of how Ted met the mother of his children, part of how he became who he needed to be.

In the same way, these moments of community that we experience in the present are part of the story of how we come to embrace heaven and resurrection and redemption. Real life is not a waiting room, it is an essential part of the journey filled with growth and love and pain and laughter.

If we only focus on the end of the story, then the present becomes little more than a frustrating reminder of what has not yet come. However, if we focus on the present, then the future can emerge in its full beauty without the weight of our exasperation and expectation.

Do I hope for resurrection, redemption, and the coming Kingdom of God? Of course! But until it comes, I will love my friends and family and enjoy growing into the person I will be in that hoped for future.


When he isn’t writing about the value of not focusing on the mother in HIMYM, Ben is really really hoping that they’ll just reveal the mother already. It’s been 8 years! I need more than a yellow umbrella! You can follow him on Twitter @BenHoward87 or email him at benjamin.howard87 [at] gmail.com.

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