Yesterday, I said that your story is pointed God-ward, even when it doesn't seem like it's much of anything. I think a huge part of that is the questions we ask about our stories and the ways we try to tell them.
It's an odd question: Tell me about yourself. Or any version thereof. Tell me your story. Tell me about your life. Tell me where you've been, where you are, where you're going. Tell me what you know, what you've seen, what you've done. It sets us up to tell our stories a certain way, and depending on the life you've lived, this is not always an encouraging way to tell one's story. We can easily get trapped into thinking our stories are nothing more than the things we've done and the things that have been done to us.
Recently, I was faced again with this question. An assignment for seminary required me to create a map of my life: where have I been? where am I now? where am I going? It led right into this understanding, right into this fallacy that my life is told in the story I'm telling. The whole idea of it made me cringe. Because my story is not the story I would tell with my life if given the choice. I'm tired of laying out the details of what I know and how I know it, about life behind these eyes. But I have also had this feeling in my heart that there had to be another way to tell my story, another way to come at it than just through the facts. Isn't there room for truth? Isn't there room for bigger things in all the little details?
Here comes the switch I had to make. Ready? I decided, for the first time in my life, to not tell the story I'm telling. Instead, I decided I was going to tell the story that's being told in me.
And that's made all the difference.
Not just in the assignment, mind you. It has literally changed the way I conceptualize my entire life. It's changed the way I think about myself when I look in the mirror. It's changed the way I remember my past and hope for my future and rest in my present. It's changed everything.
Because here's the truth: there is a story you're telling in the world. All of us are telling one story or another. There are things you're doing and things that are being done to you. And that's one way to think about your story. But the other way to think about your story is to think about the things being done in you that are bringing you to a place where you are telling God's story. All of a sudden, it's still about you, but it's more about God. All of a sudden, it's finally about bigger things.
I could tell my story and tell you about how I never felt like I belonged anywhere in this world, how I never felt like I had a place. And that's one way to tell my story. But when I sat down to write that part of it, I discovered that even though I never felt like I had a place, God has always given me a place wherever I've landed. I've always had a space to be even when it wasn't the space that I wanted. I've always found a way to be in whatever situation I've been in, and so even in the instability, the insecurity, I have found stability and security by molding myself to what the situation requires.
I could tell my story and tell you about all of my accomplishments, all of my achievements, and what they meant to me. And that's one way to tell my story. But when I sat down to write that part of it, I realized why achievement and accomplishment were so important to me, and I recognized that it was never about the things I did; it was always about the way I did them. It was about the passion I had for performing, about the joy I took from throwing my whole self into something.
I could tell you what I know about lies, but it's not about lies; the bigger story is about truth. I could tell you what I know about the tension between darkness and light, but it's not about the tension; it's about sober appreciation. It's about respecting the season of life that you're in, whether that's winter or summer or somewhere in between. I could tell you what I know about answers, but it's not about answers; the bigger story is about questions. I could tell you what I know about ministry, but even my ministry is not about ministry; it's about purpose. That's the bigger thing. I could tell you what I know about daydreams and aspirations, but it's not about that; it's about hope.
And here's the thing: if you had asked me, I wouldn't have told you that I'm telling a story in this world about stability and security, about passion, about darkness and light, about questions, about purpose, about hope. I would never have imagined. But when I had the space to sit down and reflect, I discovered that my story is not just about the story I'm telling, the story I never wanted to tell; it's about the story being told in me. And this...this is the story being told in me.
Does it sound jumbled? Sure, but I'm not finished. You see, all these things I discovered that God was writing in me, all these characteristics He was bringing out of my story by writing them into it, these are the things that feed into the bigger story I am telling in this world. These are the things that are telling the story of the purpose of me. Of the special creation of me. Of the ministry of me. These are the things that make me a good chaplain.
Because of what I've learned about security and stability, I am confident walking into any hospital room, any funeral home, any situation and trusting God to be present there. Because of what I've learned about passion, I know how to give my whole self. Because of what I know about questions, I'm not afraid to ask them. Because of what I know about seasons, about darkness and light, I don't have to pretend; I can meet life face-on with people who are afraid to open their eyes. Because of what I know about purpose, I can lean on the God who created this very special gift in me. Because of what I know about hope, I can believe in this developing story and keep an eye on where it grows. The list goes on and on; these are only a sampling of the story being told in me. Some of it...some of it is just incredibly personal, the intimate shaping of my spirit that God is doing in most incredible ways. But it all leads into this bigger story. It's incredible.
I wanted to share that with you. I wanted to share with you that there's another story. If you're tired of saying the same old things, if you're looking around at your life and realizing it's not what you think it should be, if you're finding an aching emptiness inside your story because it doesn't seem to be saying the things you want it to say, change the question. Stop asking, just for a moment, what story you're telling and ask instead what story is being told in you.
You may just find it's the encouragement you need to start telling the story you're meant to tell. You may just find you're already telling a new story; you just never knew it. You may find that the story you always dreamed of is already taking shape. It's just starting with a little character development before the hero really takes off and does big things. You're going to do big things.
How do I know?
Because if you'll look, you'll find that big things are already being done in you.