Yesterday I was at the orthodontist with my daughter. The TV in the waiting room was tuned to the local station, and The Young and the Restless was on.
I watched this particular soap for years—from high school until about the time my second child was born. Some characters I did not recognize, but seeing others felt like running into old friends. Nick was there. How are his parents faring? And Jack too. Phyllis appeared to be causing trouble again. I told my daughter it would probably take me about three days to get caught up on the story lines, then it would feel as if I never stopped watching.
Soap operas are a good form of escape. And if you watch the same soap as your friends, you can have a lot of fun discussing them. Once in college, after listening to my friends and me discuss a particularly harrowing story line on All My Children, a mystified guy at the end of the dorm’s cafeteria table broke in. “Look,” he said, “I know it’s none of my business, but who is this Natalie person? And why don’t you all just tell this Trevor guy what’s really going on?” We had to explain that though it sounded like we were discussing real people, these were actually soap opera characters.
I’ve heard a lot of explanations for why women are drawn to soap operas. The most common is that women at home with children long for adult conversation. I can get that, but my most devoted soap opera watching occurred in college when all my conversations were with adults. Another explanation is that the life portrayed there is carefree. Perhaps, but I don’t imagine being held prisoner in a well by your evil twin sister while she steals your fiancé is easy at all. And yesterday I watched a character in floods of tears over some sort of tragedy (Broken relationship? Financial problems? I can’t remember.)
I think two other things are a bigger draw: the absence of the mundane, and knowing justice will be served in a timely way. Yes, Nina was on trial for a murder she didn’t commit, but you never saw her struggling to balance the checkbook. And when David held that plastic surgeon hostage and forced him to do surgery to change his appearance, you knew that somehow he wouldn’t get away with it. (The surgeon carved “killer” on his forehead. Best soap opera comeuppance ever.)
There’s a popular quotation making the rounds. I’ve even heard it quoted by Christians: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” Sounds good, but it’s bunk. Most of us know, deep down, that we’re ordinary. Watching soap operas is one way we can vicariously live an exciting life.
I’m not knocking books like Radical. I’ve been blessed by the ministries of men like David Platt. His sermon at T4G was one of the most powerful I’ve heard, and we recently went through the book with our youth group. Following Christ means total surrender, and Americans need to be shaken from our sanitized, inch-deep version of Christianity.
But as this young woman states in her article, sometimes the cost of surrender isn’t that glamorous. Some of us are called to work dull jobs so we can write checks to missionaries. Some of us will quietly serve our neighbors, and when we die nobody will write our biography. We will often feel misunderstood, and many things will seem unfair.
I quit watching soap operas years ago. I wish I could say it was due to some deep conviction about their content or the time wasted, but it was mostly because they got so explicit I didn’t want my children to see. But I won’t be tuning in today, either. Instead I’ll clean the toilets and fold some laundry. Then I’ll do some unglamorous freelance work for one of my clients. Because if I really mean it when I say, “Here am I! Send me!,” I better be ready to go wherever he sends me, even if he tells me to stay right where I am.