If I asked you to tell me your story, what would you say? Would you mention the pressures you’re facing at work? Would you talk about where you went to college? Would you tell me it’s none of my business?
Everyone has a story. Put another way, everyone’s life is a story. But most people don’t know how to read their life in a way that reveals their story. They miss the deeper meaning in their life, and they have little sense of how God has written their story to reveal himself and his own story.
If you don’t think such things are important, consider a conversation I had recently with a friend who was weighing a career move. He showed me a list of pros and cons. There were an equal number of problems and bene-fits no matter what he decided—whether he changed jobs or stayed where he was. “If the list is weighted according to my values and dreams,” he observed, “it’s a dead heat. I might as well flip a coin.”
But my friend was overlooking his own story, the one thing that would give him direction in making this decision. He hadn’t considered God’s authorship of his life. He was aware of God’s authority but not of God’s ongoing creative work in his life—and in all our lives.
“Which choice allows you to live your life most consistently with how God has been writing your life story?” I asked.
My friend had no idea what I was getting at. So I asked him if he’d ever studied his life to see what story, what themes, and what plot God was writing his life to reveal. He still looked at me as if I were from outer space.
“Why would I study my life?” he asked. “I was there as everything happened, so what is there to study?”
This is a bright, honest, good man who is sensitive to God. He listens well to his wife’s heart, and he is intentional about doing the right thing in countless areas of his life—health, finances, time with his kids, and spir-ituality. But he saw no value in reading his own story.
Most of us have spent more time studying a map to avoid getting lost on a trip than we have studying our life so we’ll know how to proceed into the future. When we’re preparing to make significant decisions, why will we study a stock report but fail to look at our own story? Why will we read various op-ed pieces to help clarify our views on a controversial topic but ignore our own past, which helped form our most important views? If we’re taking a course, we’re willing to study books that bore us to pieces, but we won’t take time to review our own life, which holds answers about God and our selves that will thrill us, amaze us, and sober us. We read and study a great variety of sources and spend time researching our options in order to live in the right direction. But seldom do we approach our own life with the mind-set of a student, eager to learn, gain insight, and find direction for the future.
We habitually push aside the one thing that can clarify not only how we got to where we are today but also where God is leading us tomorrow and beyond. Our own life is the thing that most influences and shapes our outlook, our tendencies, our choices, and our decisions. It is the force that orients us toward the future, and yet we don’t give it a second thought, much less a careful examination. It’s time to listen to our own story.
What Your Life Reveals
If you stick with me awhile, we’ll take a close look at four core issues that are of crucial importance to you—even if you don’t yet realize it.
First, God is not merely the Creator of our life. He is also the Author of our life, and he writes each person’s life to reveal his divine story. There never has been nor ever will be another life like mine—or like yours. Just as there is only one face and name like mine, so there is only one story like mine. And God writes the story of my life to make something known about himself, the One who wrote me. The same is true of you. Your life and mine not only reveal who we are, but they also help reveal who God is.
Second, neither your life nor mine is a series of random scenes that pile up like shoes in a closet. We don’t have to clear out old stories to make room for new ones. Both your story and mine have unique characters, surprising plot twists, central themes, tension and suspense, and deep significance. Each is an intriguing tale, and neither is fiction. Our story is truer than any other reality we know, and each of us must discover the meaning of what God has written as our life story. In our story God shows us what he’s up to and what he wants us to be about.
With the third core issue, things start to get exciting. When I study and understand my life story, I can then join God as a coauthor. I don’t have to settle for merely being a reader of my life; God calls me to be a writer of my future. He asks me to take the only life I will ever be given and shape it in the direction he outlines for me. I am to keep writing, moving forward into the plot that God has woven into the sinews of my soul.
And fourth, there is the necessity and blessing of telling our story to others. To the degree that we know God and then join him in writing our story, we are honored to join others in the calling of storytelling. God, of course, is the Master Storyteller. His self-revelation is captured in a sweeping narrative and then given to us in the Book that grips our heart and captures our soul. God also creates a story with each person’s life—a story that we are meant to tell. And since we are called to tell our story, we are also called to listen to the stories of others. And since we are to tell and to listen, then even more so we are called to encourage others to know and tell and listen to God’s story as well as their own.
God is calling us to fully explore, to fully enjoy, and to fully capture the power of the Great Story, the gospel. And we are to invite others to immerse themselves in the Great Story.1 One way we do this is by listening to our lesser stories and then telling them to others.
Listening to Your Story
Do you ever feel that you’re stuck, just going through the motions, not hearing from God, and not feeling any passion about your life? It’s easy to land there if you’re not listening to your story.
God writes our story with great passion and desire, and he reveals our own passions and desires as we read and listen to our story. So I was saddened to see my friend about to make a huge life decision without first asking: Who am I? What about God am I most uniquely suited to reveal to others? And how is that meaning in my life best lived out? My friend wasn’t listening to his own story to gain direction for his decision about the future.
I’m grateful that he accepted the counsel of a self-confessed fool and answered a series of questions that I asked him to consider. You will be asked to answer the same questions as you read this book. To answer these simple questions, you must study your own story. You must listen to the heartache and hope that are etched in the narrative of your life. And you must find the meaning God has written there.
I asked my friend to join God in writing the next paragraph and then the next page of the story that is his life. I’m asking you to do the same. Allow others to read and edit and critique and join in the glory of the great story God is telling through you. Your story helps reveal the Greatest Story, the story that God is telling about himself. God intends for each of us to live for a greater glory, and a greater story, than our own.
So take seriously the story that God has given you to live. It’s time to read your own life, because your story is the one that could set us all ablaze.
Writing Your Story
In addition to listening to your story, you need to write your story. At the very minimum, this means you need to name your story. And naming means saying far more than “My parents largely ignored me, and I felt abandoned.” Or even “I had a happy childhood. I never knew life could be so hard until I grew up.”
In my work as a psychotherapist, I often hear these statements. But when I ask the person to narrate, to tell the stories of life that brought him or her to make these statements, I usually get nothing more than a stare. I might as well ask the person to tell me the meaning of E=MC2 and to do so in Farsi.
If we can admit the pain and loss and injustice of the past, then why is it so difficult to tell about the day just prior to each incident that marked our life with shame or anger or emptiness? Why can we not decipher the themes of our life up to that point? And what about the setting—the sounds and words and sights and smells—of each damaging incident?
We know our stories very well. We just don’t yet know how well.
Your story has power in your own life, and it has power and meaning to bring to others. I want your story to stir me, draw me to tears, compel me to ask hard questions. I want to enter your heartache and join you in the hope of redemption. But your story can’t do these things if you can’t tell it. You can’t tell your story until you know it. And you can’t truly know it without owning your part in writing it. And you won’t write a really glorious story until you’ve wrestled with the Author who has already written long chapters of your life, many of them not to your liking.
We resist telling a story we don’t like, and we don’t like our own stories. But consider this: if you don’t like your story, then you must not like the Author. Or conversely: if you love the Author, then you must love the story he has written in and for your life.
Let’s engage the Author of our story so we can enter into the joy he holds before us if we live out our story for the sake of others. If we come to know our story and then give it away, we will discover the deepest meaning in our lives. We will discover the Author who is embedded in our story, and we will know the glory he has designed for each one of us to reveal.
It is toward this good end that we now set out.