One reason ABC-TV's hit Sunday night drama, Desperate Housewives, is so frequently described as a "guilty pleasure" is that desperation--suffering from unbearable need or anxiety--is a spiritual state we know all too well. Watching these four housewives stumble around in it is amusingly familiar. As a spiritual director--someone who helps people search out where God is present and active in their lives--I sometimes see people in desperate situations, longing for change and wondering where God is in the midst of their brokenness and anxiety. So I feel for these housewives.
Of course, the women of Wisteria Lane haven't asked for spiritual direction. But if they did, what could I offer them so that they might progress from being 'desperate housewives' to being 'divinely centered women'--or at least a little less destructive?
Susan Mayer (Teri Hatcher): This divorced single mother has unresolved anger at her ex-husband that taints her other relationships. Susan is awkward (falls naked into shrubbery in broad daylight), accident-prone (burns down a neighbor's house) and irresponsible (doesn't admit she caused the fire). At times, her teenage daughter seems to have more of a handle on life than Susan does.
What makes Susan desperate is her immaturity. If she were in spiritual direction, she would be asked to reflect on the benefits she enjoys by remaining childlike. Because her schoolgirl pratfalls get a lot of attention, she may be fearful of developing a mature sense of self. Perhaps she feels like a wounded child because her husband left her for another woman. To develop a new, healthy relationship with a man, she'll need to let go of anger towards her ex-husband so that she won't burden a new relationship with a lot of baggage. A good place for a spiritual director to start with Susan would be to have her visualize herself as the person God created her to be--her best self, the kind that would own up to her role in the fire and to her other failings.
Lynette Scavo (Felicity Huffman): Lynette left a thriving career to become a full-time mother of four "high maintenance" children. Like many overstressed people who seek counseling, she needs to hear herself think. If she found time for spiritual direction, she would be asked to indulge in a good bit of silence, to breathe deeply and relax. She'd probably fall asleep during it (unless she took a few of her kids' ADD pills), but that would be OK . It wouldn't be the first time someone fell asleep while observing silence!
After she'd rested, she might be ready to allow herself to feel the loss of what she left behind, and become open to what's revealed in that. Does she need to adjust her life to include work that is more creative? Or can she find peace in the midst of the storm that is called "the twins?" Perhaps her challenge is to reconcile herself to the joys and frustrations of motherhood even if there's "nowhere to go" in terms of a career ladder. Leaving what we perceive as a position of strength is often necessary to grow; Jesus often talked about such healthy reversals of fortune, in which "the last will be first and the first, last" (Mark 9:33-37).
Bree Van De Camp (Marcia Cross): The Martha Stewart of Wisteria Lane is also like the biblical Martha: way too wrapped up in household concerns. She has so internalized the old adage of "cleanliness being next to godliness" that she scrubs the pavement of her street after a hit-and-run accident that critically injured Gabrielle's mother-in-law (yet another neighborhood secret--Bree's son was driving the car in question).
In her efforts to be the ideal wife, mother, and neighborhood maven, Bree is a pressure cooker ready to blow. A good spiritual director would encourage Bree to stay in therapy because her perfectionism feels pathological. As a companion to therapy, spiritual direction could assist Bree in loosening up and accepting herself as "enough," flaws and all, while also working to identify her image of a Higher Power. Is God a tyrannical parent expecting her to stay in line?
Gabrielle Solis (Eva Longoria): Gabrielle, a former model and the sexpot of Wisteria Lane, is the least likely of all the housewives to show up for spiritual direction. Gabrielle doesn't see herself as desperate, nor does she care much about the consequences of her actions--things like leaving her compulsive gambler mother-in-law at a casino for lunch or using the teenaged gardener for sex. She did have a chat with her family's Catholic priest about her adulterous affair. But her motive was not to confess; it was to find out if she could wait until she's old and then repent of the sin and still be forgiven by God (the priest's answer--yes, but waiting was risky).
On the off chance that she were to approach a spiritual director, the challenge would be to help Gabrielle see herself as she really is--a woman who has chosen material wealth and illicit sex over healthy relationships or a meaningful purpose in life. If she were to desire more than spa treatments and great lingerie, we'd at least have a starting point. It's not that Gabrielle is a spiritual lost cause; it's just that she may need to hit "rock bottom" spiritually before she's ready for any real change in her life.
While Susan, Lynette, Bree, or Gabrielle may not seem all that in touch with their Higher Power just yet, they are moving in some positive directions. As life throws them curves, the women draw closer in friendship. As they play amateur detectives, searching for clues as to why a neighbor committed suicide, they transcend their own concerns and work together for a just cause. They are learning--through life's ups and downs--what is important to them. And those experiences, a spiritual director would say, are where we see glimpses of God in our midst.