Friday, January 4, 2008

Short Story: An Allegory

A Perfect Family Portrait

Down on a little street just off the center square of town is a portrait studio. This is the studio for every family – rich or poor – to come and have their family portraits taken.

One day, a family came to the studio.

Father entered first, wearing a dark gray, elegantly cut suit with a perfectly knotted, deep-red silk tie gracing his chest. Behind him came Mother attired in a deep-red dress with dark gray trim – the perfect complement to her husband’s outfit. Next to Father walked a young, blonde-haired woman, evidentially their daughter. She wore black with deep-red accents, setting off the colors of her parent’s outfits yet different enough to stand out on her own.

Shortly after these three individuals arrived, another couple entered. This younger couple wore coordinating, simple outfits in dark-green colors. As soon as Father, Mother and Daughter saw them, Daughter scowled, Father looked disapproving, and Mother quickly withdrew to a shadow so the expression on her face could not be read. Father walked over to the Son and his Wife and handed Son a bag containing clothes.

In a deep, magnanimous voice, Father said, “Here. I have purchased clothes for you to fit in with the rest of us. Go change so you will harmonize well with us.”

Wife looked disappointed at not being able to wear the attractive outfits she and Son had worked so hard to coordinate with each other; however, she and Son merely looked at each other and shrugged, apparently deciding it was not worth a fight. They went to change and returned, looking uncomfortable in the highly-starched, glamorously expensive outfits presented to them by Father. Son’s outfit was an exact replica of Father’s while Wife’s was identical to Mother’s.

Father smiled expansively at their appearance. Mother withdrew from the shadows – a relieved smile on her face. Daughter looked contemptuously at their replicated outfits and smiled smugly in a mirror reflecting her own perfectly coordinated yet distinguished look.

The family lined up for the portraits with Father carefully posing everyone. He sat on a chair, indicating the middle point. Daughter went and stood at his right-hand side. Mother sat in a slightly lower seat to his left, leaning on him a little. Son was placed to the left of Mother, and Wife was placed on Son’s far left.

The camera shutter whirred as it recorded the pose. The picture was immediately displayed for the family to evaluate. Father was critical. “Son, you are too stiff. You must relax. Wife of Son, why do you stand so far away from the rest of us?”

“You placed me there,” replied Wife in surprise.

“Well, you must do your best to look like you belong more.”

At this moment, another couple entered the studio. Grandparents. Father welcomed them with open arms and said, “We will be ready for you soon.” He turned his back on them and returned to his family and began to grill Son again. “Why do you look so awkward? Don’t you know this portrait is a gift for us and Daughter? It must look perfect. You must relax. I choose to do so, and so must you. And you must make Wife fit better with the family. Make her pose correctly by your side.”

Son replied, “I am uncomfortable in this suit. It does not fit me. I would look more comfortable in my own clothes as would Wife in hers. Besides, the portrait is off-center. Can we not move everyone to balance out the picture? That would look less awkward.”

Father raised his eyebrows and looked stern. “You cannot wear your own outfits; they do not fit with what we wear. And it is not off-center – you just need to appear to belong with us more.” He glanced over at Grandparents, noticed them watching the conversation unfold, and turned back to Son saying, “You must do as I say. I am the head of the house and see more clearly than you.”

Son sighed and said, “We will try.” The family shuffled back together and the picture was taken again. The result was nearly identical. Father’s scowl returned, and he turned to his son and said, “I am disappointed in you.”

Daughter spoke up at this point. “I have someone who would help the picture.”

A handsome man entered the room in an outfit that perfectly coordinated with Daughter. Two beautiful children followed them dressed in outfits identical to what Daughter and the man wore. Daughter’s Husband and Children.

Father smiled. “Yes, this is perfect.” Husband and Children were placed by Daughter. Son looked relieved that the balance was better. All posed and the picture was taken again.

But the result was not acceptable to Father or Daughter. Daughter spoke to Father and said, “Make Son and Wife pose better; they spoil the look.”

Father nodded in agreement and turned to Son and Wife. “You do not care about us. You are stubborn and selfish to refuse to look comfortable in what we have provided for you. You must stop this ridiculous, childish behavior.”

Son looked at Wife and Wife looked at Son. Wearily, they shrugged, and Son opened his mouth to say, “We will try.” But then he stopped and questioned Father’s disapproval. “Why can’t we wear our own outfits? They fit us, and we carefully chose colors that will complement everyone else’s clothing.”

Father simply sighed deeply at this questioning and said patiently, as if to a child, “You cannot look like that. It is not how we see what this picture should be. You must simply choose to relax and conform to what we have given you.”

Son shrugged, and yet again he and Wife took up their pose. At this moment, another family came into the room. The children in the family were giggling and being silly, making ridiculous faces in the mirrors and being – occasionally rowdy – children.

Daughter scowled as one of her own Children wiggled in his uncomfortable position. She scolded saying, “You must not wiggle. You must think about what that will do to the picture for the rest of the family. Those children are not behaving appropriately. They are not acting as adults, and I will not allow you to behave as they do.” Her Children attempted to freeze, but being children, they were still restless. Daughter would reprimand them at every wiggle, reminding them they must behave and must consider the consequences of their actions.

The next attempt was made for a perfect picture, and once again, Son and Wife’s uncomfortable poses were the focus of criticism. “You just don’t try,” admonished Father. “You don’t care enough about us. See how well Husband of Daughter fits in with us; you should learn from him.”

Son moved away from Father, took Wife’s hand, and said, “If our clothes do not fit with yours perfectly, we are sorry. But we cannot continue to be uncomfortable in your clothes, and since our posing is unacceptable to you despite our efforts, we will change into what is more natural for us.” He and Wife walked away to change.

While they were gone, the Family rearranged and posed again, snapping picture after picture. The exclamations of delight at their perfectly posed portraits were clearly audible. Son and Wife returned and watched as Grandparents were invited over for a portrait. After a brief discussion over Grandparent’s outfits which clearly clashed with the rest of the family, a picture was taken. While the colors and outfits did clash horribly, Father simply grimaced and said, “It will have to do. Now please allow us to continue with our portraits.”

He looked over at Son and Wife, then, and said to Son, “You are a stubborn, insecure boy. You cannot have a portrait with us until you change into the acceptable clothing we have provided for you.”

Son replied and said, “We are not comfortable in your clothes. Is not the portrait of our family more important than the harmonizing of your outfits?”

Father turned his back on Son and spoke to Mother and Daughter, saying, “Son does not love us in the proper manner. He will not do as we have asked. He has no reason for this; he is simply being childish. When he understands his own folly, he may return and we will kindly forgive him. But he is wrong, so do not deal with him until he behaves better.”

Son and Wife cried as they heard his words. Mother looked over at them and then turned her back. Daughter simply ignored them and began to repose for the portrait. Wife asked Son if they should go change, but Son said, “No. We cannot have our portrait taken as we should be if we are restricted by their clothes and poses. We have tried, and it is not natural for us. So we will have to make our own portrait.”

They moved to a new spot in the studio, wiped away each other’s tears, and holding hands, smiled for their portrait. To their surprise, when the picture was shown to them, they were surrounded by people – Grandparents, other family, friends on all sides. No one matched perfectly, indeed some outfits clashed horribly, but they were together. And Son and Wife were pleased at this picture.

They said to Father and his family, “Will you come and take a picture with us?”

Father said, “No. You must come to us and match with us.”

So, Son and Wife sighed and went back to creating new portraits with many different people. They knew they did not want to be in a portrait where others’ fallible views of perfection were forced upon them. They also knew they, themselves, were not perfect. But they had a responsibility for creating a different portrait, one that accepted imperfections and coordinated clashing people. In the end, their portrait would be complete, regardless of who was or who wasn’t in it, as long as they were faithful to the image to which God had called them.


John 14:1-3, 23
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go there to prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you may also be where I am…If anyone loves me, He will obey my teaching. My Father will love him and we will come to him and make our home with him.”

Philippians 1:9-11
“…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus…And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.”

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