To Be Charis in a World of Victims
Written By Susan Severson
I recently came across a psychological study while deep-diving on the internet (actually, while reading about Rob Henderson’s work on “luxury beliefs”: you should check it out; it’s fascinating) and found a curious case I’ve been pondering ever since. The study is not new, but reading Charis in the World of Wonders simultaneously created a surprising juxtaposition that caused me to look at the character of Charis in a new way.
The study was conducted at Dartmouth in 1991 by Dr. Robert Cleck. He had makeup artists use theatrical makeup to create a noticeable and realistic scar on multiple female participants. Cleck communicated to the women that they were participating in a gauging study to see to what extent facial deformities played in a job interview and its results. The women were allowed to look at the scar in a pocket mirror before being ushered into the next room for the makeup artist’s final touch-up. They then proceeded to their interview. After the interview, every woman reported that the interviewer had stared at their scarred face, making them feel uncomfortable and belittled. The only thing is, unbeknownst to the participants, when the makeup artists had “touched up” their scar, they had actually removed it completely. The women had gone into their interviews with naught but their own unblemished faces.
Now, what in the actual heck does this study have to do with Charis? Charis’s lack of a crisis of faith and her lack of acceptance of victimhood as her identity struck me. In a world where victimhood seems to be a surefire way to gain social status, what a refreshing and inspiring tale!
You can argue that the character of Charis is too static and perfect, and usually, that does irk me. I need a well-rounded character that is human and displays realistic emotions and reactions to their reality. While I guess my new friend, Marly Youmans, has her reasons for making Charis the way she is, I find her to be the vessel of a lesson I need. She may be an extended metaphor for the Blessed Mother. Perhaps her escape with her son and husband is an allusion to the flight of the Holy Family. That’s another article for another day.
For me, the allusion works while also taking Charis at face value. She is so incredibly strong in her faith and the way things are that what has happened to her does not solely define her. She runs up against the incomprehensible evil of man’s inhumanity and continues to find awe in the beauty of her life. How incredible!
I sometimes find it necessary to start my day with the motto “You are not a victim” as soon as my feet hit the floor. When I feel sorry for myself for lack of sleep, poor health, or just the day-to-day demands of motherhood, I recall this sentence. And while I really may experience fatigue and stretch, why do I need to begin to draw scars on myself? Why complain? Why submerge myself in self-pity? What if I shed this victimhood and saw the truth and reality for what it is? It is full of suffering and beauty, all intertwined with one another in a mysterious and incredible dance. What if I begged to actively participate in this reality instead of begging for it to be taken away?
There are always going to be little thorns and perceived scars. There is also true trauma and suffering. All of those things are real. But there is also beauty and wonder to grasp amidst those sufferings. Indeed, I’ve witnessed it.
We are completely immersed in this “treat yo’self” culture, a culture that strives to rid itself of ugliness and discomfort. Perhaps if we lean into the difficult and seek out the good, we’d be surprised to find a wondrous gift.
Susan Severson is a wannabe saint, a homeschool slogger, a sometimes-but-wants-to-be-all-the-time writer, and a mother to four little rapscallions. Prayers are welcome. She resides in Crosby, MN.
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