Writing a Better Life Story Is Not the Best Answer

Last summer I mused here about our innate human desire to live an adventurous life-story. Sadly, this is often equated with a high measure of circumstantial thrills, personal charisma, and self-fashioning that serve primarily to elevate and soothe the self. If along the way others are deflated and God is reduced, so be it.

Alongside the desire for an adventurous life story is the drive for what has been called a wholly authentic and fully genuine life story – which is perhaps more like a self-directed and self-starring biopic (the ultimate human endeavor) than anything like a Real Story.

Stories continue to be The Thing. In today’s zealously narrative culture, the tepid “Tell me about yourself,” has become wholly passé. Anyone who knows anything and who is even the least bit Christo-hipster knows that “Tell me your story” is the singular way to start a legitimately intentional conversation, after which a person can then tell her own story in return while drinking deeply from the well of transformative vulnerability, all of which will lead to deeper relationships and a more meaningful life.

Amen.

To be sure, telling one’s story is a meaning-filled act. Our stories do matter – just maybe not in the way we think or have been told.

We are daily bombarded with stories, each one more exciting and colorful and dramatic than the one before. And while it can be exhilarating to be bombarded with exciting and colorful and dramatic stories, it can also be depressing and dangerous. What if my story pales in comparison? What if my story doesn’t measure up? What if my story is entirely unexciting, uncolorful, and undramatic?

Even worse: what if my story isn’t as self-satisfying, self-revealing, self-directed, self-actualizing,  and self-controlled (as in controlled by self rather than in control of self) as those other stories?

The world (and sometimes those in the Church) would say: well then, go out and write a better story for yourself, a story that excites you, a story that suits you, a story that serves you – as if an ear for narrative, an eye for revision, and a taste for self-fulfillment (as in filling myself rather than fullness of self) are the answers to what ails us.

Having a better story sounds lofty. Noble. Spiritual, even.

But I think that having – or rather living, which is not quite the same thing as having – a real and true story (as in true to God rather than true to self) is the thing that actually matters, and real and true stories – however unexciting, uncolorful, and undramatic they may seem on the surface – and however difficult, challenging and sacrificial they may be in the soul – are the only stories worth living.

The problem with ‘writing a better story for ourselves’ is that we are all of us pitiful life-story authors. We fumble around with plots and conflicts and settings and characters, hoping to somehow weave them into a tale for the ages. But we are not life-story authors, not a single one of us. Rather, we are one character (a character who does not get to determine the actions and attitudes of other characters, which is a bitter disappointment, indeed) in a much larger Real Story (a story into which we are graciously invited as a full-fledged and beloved player but not the major protagonist, which is a beyond-bitter disappointment, decidedly).

Though personal stories matter, and though desiring to live a better story is perhaps a fine goal, it is exceedingly trite for people of faith to reduce God to being merely the Author of My Story, or more grandly The Author of Life. Rather, God is the only Authority of life. All of life. Every single life. Life now and forever. (Lest we think God does not notice or care about our skewed understanding of ourselves in relationship to him, read Job 38-41. And lest we think God is a patronizing and distant deity whose sole discursive and creative practices are theocentric, read Job 42. Then contemplate the cross.)

Further, inviting God (however humbly) to be the author of my life leaves open the door (indeed widely) for me to then be the eager and knowing editor of my life who will zealously reorganize, revise, and rewrite the story more to my own liking. If we are pitiful life-story authors, then we are even more surely blundering life-story editors.

I will live a better story – a better life – only if I recognize God’s authority, fully embracing it with both heart and mind (Christ abiding in me), and fully embedding both heart and mind in it (I abiding in Christ).

On paper, it may not sound like much. But we are not paper stories. We are living stories. And a living story composed and centered around the Authority of Christ is surely and absolutely a story for the ages – and the only kind worth living.

2 thoughts on “Writing a Better Life Story Is Not the Best Answer

  1. Erin June 10, 2015 / 11:42 am

    I like how you’ve framed this in terms of story–I’ve been thinking a lot since the start of the spring semester about how my life right now is not at all what I would have imagined for myself post-graduation. When I’m just drinking coffee by myself waiting for dough to rise and watching the kids build a chair+blanket fort, I feel like my story is a pretty good one. But when someone asks me what I do, I suddenly feel like maybe it’s not worth telling, and I find myself focusing the narrative on all my efforts (in the form of job applications) to make the story a little more interesting.

  2. ckirgiss June 10, 2015 / 12:35 pm

    Chair+blanket forts are nothing to sneeze at. They tell an awesome story – there are layers and layers and layers of Real Stuff lurking behind the blankets, the chairs, and the fort builders. But I echo your sentiments exactly. When I first saw “Independent Scholar” behind a PhD’s name at a certain academic conference, I did a silent-snort in my heart that equated to something like, “Poor soul. Imagine. All that work, for naught.” Shame. On. Me. I suspect her story…her life…is amazing in ways some people would not expect and many people would not recognize. The breathtaking shortness of our lives becomes a little more real to me each and every day – and what I’d hoped my life would count for is starting to shift every so slightly. And knowing Jesus makes the conversation about authorship take on entirely new dimensions and angles that are rich and sweet and mind-boggling and remonstrating (I think that works here) and – you know, everything else. Queen Mab is part of your story – how could you ever wonder if it’s interesting enough? And YOU are part of your story. Point made.

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