Story over Stuff

Some would say I have a tendency to place a little too much emphasis on the value of story. I love to listen to someone tell a good story. Strangely, I feel that reading fiction is a waste of time unless it is set to “good” music, but I do enjoy movies. . . . good and bad. Go figure. Most Americans place great value on material possessions, whereas I place great value on the stories I could tell. Notice, I said “could tell”. Though I value living a life worthy of good stories, I never feel like I am there yet, so I do not tell as many stories as I would like. I am a fabulous story teller in my own mind, but it never quite translates as I intend. I was once told by a dear friend that “experientialism” was my materialism and that I was creating an idol out of experiences and their potential stories just like others created idols out of material possessions. While my friend was right at the time, the pendulum found its way back to a happy medium since the birth of my son and the somewhat recent rediscovery of story with Donald Miller and Bob Goff, two tremendously insightful authors. One of whom tells a great story but did not live one and the other who could lives a great story but did not tell one. Now they are both living and telling great stories and they inspired me to focus more effort on my story.

My appreciation for story was grounded in the fact that you can’t take “stuff” with you, but you can take memories. Therefore, my pursuit of experiences seemed somewhat noble, but it was really more of a self-focused, even self-righteous exercise of trying to check items off of my bucket list. I would then secretly look down my nose at those relatively materialistic shallow souls who did not see the world the same as I did. Donald Miller and Bob Goff have helped me realize that living a life worthy of a story does not have to be self-focused and can actually be very God honoring. In our culture of 140 characters, the story is definitely an endangered species. Oral traditions in the west have all but disappeared. The Bible is a collection of stories, many of which were told orally before being transcribed. Capturing and sharing our stories are important to our legacy, and they should point others to God. This does not just happen, we must be deliberate with our lives today in order to tell good stories tomorrow.

In Donald Miller’s book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, Don realizes that he has simply been writing good stories but he was not living a good story. He then takes deliberate steps to live a better story and is now helping others do so through his Storyline conferences and blog. No one wants to hear a story about how I woke up late, went to work, came home, watched tv, surfed the web and went to bed. This story honors no one. In order to live a good story I must want something and overcome conflict to get it. How do I do this? The first step is awareness that our decisions today make up the stories we will tell. Don taught me about the inciting incident, the event that sets me on my journey from which I cannot turn back until I accomplish the goal. This could be something that occurs that is outside of my control, such as my wife telling me that she is a lesbian and wants a divorce after 20 years. It could also be something that we initiate, such as booking a trip to climb Kilimanjaro while surfing the web after going to work, coming home, and watching tv;) The story is not good or bad based upon the incident that occurs, but based upon our response to that incident.

I was listening to a sermon from Andy Stanley the other day entitled The Story of Your Life. I am not sure if I am just paying more attention to discussions on stories these days or if there is an overall resurgence of the art of story, but I am finding myself stumbling across story resources constantly without searching for them. Andy was talking about making decisions using the power of story and recognizing that today’s decisions will be a short story that I someday tell. It will either be a good story or it will not. The choice is up to me today. Is it a better story for God to take you around difficulty or give you strength and carry you through difficulty? Unfortunately, the better story requires us to go through the difficulty and overcome conflict.

My friend’s wife did tell him she was a lesbian and is leaving him after 20 years. He could have responded in a way that told a very bad story and did not leave a God honoring legacy for his kids. He chose, however, to return to God and to do everything he could to save his marriage and to love his wife as well as he could during this stressful time despite the fact that she was not responding to his efforts. The marriage is sadly ending in divorce, but the story will not end for my friend. His response has caused him to grow in spiritual grit and he will be able to boast in Christ’s sufficiency to hold him up during what is hopefully the worst tragedy he will ever face. His decisions today will afford him a worthy story as part of his legacy and will provide him a foundation from which he can help others who are going through similar trials. This extremely devastating inciting incident does not define my friend, but his response to it will.

How will you respond so that you live a good story and leave a good legacy? Please let me hear your story.

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