Our story is one of desire, ache, and hope. It is our story because it is the story. At least in the chapters this side of heaven. The greater themes are laid out for us; there is a blueprint. As my friends at Sage Hill say, “Life is Tragic, God is faithful.”
In The Allure of Hope, Jan Meyers-Proett suggests the idea of staying in our story. When we stay in our story, we stay in the story. In moments when we would rather be someone or somewhere else, God whispers, Will you stay in your story?
Desire begins our story. It is not that we have desire. We are desire. Early in our life, we do not learn what to want. We just want. Love. Food. Attention. Touch. Later on, circumstances help us determine what more we want. To be married. A new job. To be cancer free. For a son to stay out of trouble. But what we desire rarely come easily. The things we deeply covet require help outside of our control and wrestling with the One who holds the power. The dreams and hopes we long for, the things which brings us great joy, depend on God coming through for us and/or extensive hard work on our part. The AA attendee knows this. His motto is “one day at a time”. To stay sober he must stay in his story in each moment. The glass of bourbon is his ticket out.
So the question becomes, what does it take to stay in your story? Not a story. Your story. In theory I love the idea. In practice, I do not. Desire leads us to our ache. I try to escape my story often. Even as I sit down to write, I fight the temptation to drown myself in the writings of others. I am tempted to read blogs or books on my book shelf. It would be my own literary whiskey lullaby. I want to escape what God has given me to write. I sabotage my own creative process with the success of others. To bask in the glory of others distracts from the work I am made to do.
The deeper question my heart asks is this: Is the story God has given me good enough? This has two levels. There is the story I sit down to write and the story I wake up to live. Like the alcoholic who cannot stay sober, I often run from the sobriety of producing my own content. To be sober is to live with desire and invite the ache which follows. Or as my friend says, sober translates, “Son Of a B-, Everything is Real”.
Suicide is the ultimate attempt to exit our story. But there are lesser ways. There is a vanity fair of options. Fantasy. Boredom. Success. Safety. Shame. Control. To purchase a ticket at any of these booths numbs our desire and lessons the ache. It is to look for relief rather than reality. In these terms, an afternoon of golf may be just as damaging as an hour at a strip club. We will not be aware of our inner work to be done until we are aware of our ache.
The real question we must ask is this: Can God meet me in my ache? Is God kind enough to care about my pain? If not, I must take matters into my own hands to provide the satisfaction my heart demands. My friend and colleague Jennifer wrote a blog post in which she used the adjective “gentle” to describe God. Those two words together halted my reading. Gentle God. The majority of the people I hear from cannot describe God as gentle. After all, the way we treat our own heart often reveals our picture of how we expect God to handle us.
But if I can envision God to be gentle, if I believe He can meet me in my ache, perhaps I can stay in my story to live with hope. The goal is always hope.
My wife and I just finished a Hobbit marathon. Up unit this week, neither of us had seen the first two installments of Peter Jackson’s latest tales in the Middle Earth saga. There is a moment near the beginning of An Unexpected Journey when Bilbo wakes up to an empty house. The previous night, he was frighteningly and graciously visited by thirteen dwarves and the wizard, Gandalf. The unannounced visitors ransacked his cupboards, caroused deep into the early morning, and planned their harrowing and ambitious strategy to take back their homeland from the fire-breathing dragon, Smaug. And Bilbo is invited. In this moment, it is not only his evening which has been interrupted; It is his life. Bilbo declines the invitation.
The next morning he awakens to a clean, abandoned house and realizes he has been left to live his story as if the dwarves and wizard had never visited. But the hopes and possibilities of the night before have become his story. To stay in his story he must chase after the band. He launches himself off his front porch to hunt a story in which he now belongs. Behind him on the steps sit three enemies of his heart: control, predictability, and comfort.
If the pattern and path of your life do not reflect the deeper blue print of the larger story: desire, ache, and hope, you are likely finding ways out of your story. To live the story is the invitation to desire, to feel our ache, and to hope. For the woman who longs to be married, it is to desire a husband, to feel the loneliness of singleness, and to wrestle God with her hope. For the parent whose daughter sits bald in the cancer clinic, it is to ask “why?” with tears and anger and sadness, and to find acceptance is not an avoidance but rather an all cried-out trust. For the dreamer, it is to cling to aspiration despite repeated failure with a willingness to continue to work.
We enter the room of hope after, not before, passing through the doorways of desire and ache.
This week I learned to stay in my story from the most unlikely of people. A friend has a son with a congenital heart defect. At seven days old, Max underwent surgery and thus began a life with a pacemaker and regular check-ups. Max’s first couple years of hospital visits were filled with thrashing and flailing on the cold table as the doctor attempted to check the pacemaker and heart readings. Not anymore. Now three years old, the little guy jumps up and lays perfectly still as the doctor performs the necessary procedures.
I want to learn from Max. He is accepting the story God has given him to bear. He used to fight his parents and doctors. Now he lays himself without resistance onto the examiner’s table. His arms and legs lay still as the metal instruments touch his chest. His limbs rest as his heart beats with trust. Max is learning to stay in his story. When it comes to role models, he is one to follow.