“Do you never imagine things different from what they really are? asked Anne wide-eyed.
“Oh!” Anne drew a long breath. “Oh, Miss– Marilla, how much you miss!”
Anyone familiar with L. M. Montgomery’s beloved Anne of Green Gables will recognize this exchange. Montgomery’s books are charming, insightful, and wholesome (even if modern screen adaptations don’t always capture these qualities). The books paint a compelling picture of a different age, one I never lived in, but which still manages to seem familiar in some way.
The Wisdom of Another Era
But Montgomery’s books, often without meaning to, also point us to the wisdom of another era; beliefs once commonly held but long-since dismissed out of hand. So it sometimes happens that while I am comfortably chuckling at various serious and stern characters in Montgomery’s books, I am also moved to reflect on the ideas they have about life and faith.
In this particular conversation between Marilla and Anne, we are invited into a clash of values and experiences. Anne, an orphan-child who has been starved for love and joy her whole life, finds refuge and consolation in the escape which her imagination provides. When life fails to deliver, she retreats into the world of her mind. Considering what she has lived through, this is entirely understandable. But Marilla, responding with the wisdom of another age, says this:
“I don’t believe in imagining things different from what they really are. When the Lord puts us in certain circumstances He doesn’t mean for us to imagine them away.”
A Challenge for Modern Times
Somewhere between Anne’s escapism and Marilla’s penchant for discipline, lies the balance. Montgomery was writing in a time when the balance fell towards Marilla’s way of thinking. But we are living in a time when the balance has swung the other way. And I find in Marilla’s words a challenge that I sometimes need.
There comes a point when we must put down the novel – or the television series or some other form of escapist fantasy – and call to mind the reason for which we are here. There’s a time for escape and there’s a time to focus on what is really before us; to try to make it better if we can. We must pause and ask ourselves the question: What would God have me do in the circumstances in which he’s placed me?
The Anne books tell the story of an elderly brother and sister who are blessed because this imaginative orphan came into their lives. But they also tell the story of an orphan who is blessed because she came under the influence of these loving, but serious folk. And we, the readers, are blessed because through these characters we are gently exposed to – and challenged by – the wisdom of another age.