The 1990 sci-fi thriller Total Recall (starring a young Arnold Schwarzenegger) is about a futuristic world in which people can buy a memory implant of a vacation they never took. The concept is simple: Since every vacation ends with only a memory of the event, why not buy the most fun filled, action packed memory possible without the potential misadventures of a real vacation? Great premise for a movie. Sadly, we aren’t allowed to compose an amazing life storyline then install it. True life stories happen to real people moving through unpredictable scenarios with limited control over the outcomes. As much as we want to steer the story of our lives, we are constantly reminded that the story has a mind of its own.
In many ways, counseling is all about examining genuine but raw life stories. Every day, all day I listen intently to narratives that shape and describe people’s existence. The stories contain the essence of each person’s values, priorities, character, motivation, and logic. Everything I need to know is imbedded in the story. People can give elaborate rationales and spin for their behavior but ultimately the details of the story will disclose the truth. Even mistruth is detectable in the story. You have to listen closely and hang on every word. But without a doubt, the story reveals all.
Often people come to counseling hoping I can offer an insight or strategy that will steer their story away from danger, loss, and sorrow toward safety and fulfillment. They see their story careening toward disaster and are desperate to change the course. Sometimes a few basic attitude and behavioral adjustments can turn the story to a better outcome. But more times than not, the significant factors of the story are beyond the person’s control. Illness, other people’s misbehavior, and nature will not cooperate with our best efforts to turn the Titanic from its collision course. As much as I want to help people implement solutions to control negative outcomes, the story’s countless moving parts defy regulation. How many times have we made literally hundreds of wise, mature and well thought out decisions in a day, but the story abruptly exploded in a single instance of someone else’s ill-advised maneuver? Our seemingly bullet proof plans for a success story are much more brittle and fragile than we ever imagined.
The story, as unmanageable and uncontrollable as it seems, is still the record of our legacies. When we are gone, our stories will remain. Never take the story for granted. Cherish it. Protect it. It is the enduring statement of your character, integrity, and soul. Here are a few thoughts to keep in mind as your legacy unfolds:
- As I mentioned earlier, and especially as I get older, I am increasingly aware of how little I control the story. When I was young, I thought I was the author of my own life script. After hearing thousands of people’s stories and examining my own, I am aware of how little impact I have on the narrative. My sovereignty is a joke. God’s sovereignty is dead serious. Obviously, I am responsible for how I conduct myself in the story but honestly, the story is profoundly beyond my control. That knowledge would scare me if I didn’t know the One who shapes the story according to His good and perfect will.
- The acceptance of my impotence goes hand in hand with my understanding of the story’s true focus. This older version of me recognizes that the story isn’t even about me. Sorry, but you and I don’t have our own autobiographies. We only have a part in a bigger one. Our story is imbedded in God’s story. He is the lead character in every story since eternity past. The story…all stories…are His. We are fortunate to occupy a small corner of it. Think about how honored you would feel if a famous person mentioned your name in his or her memoirs. Well, you are recorded in His. Live each day with that reality in mind.
- If you have little to say about the plot of the story, at least you can choose how you will be in the story. The trials, injustices, losses, and pain of life invade even the most virtuous storyline. In a fallen world, expect trouble that you didn’t cause. Expect to pay debts you didn’t make. In the end, you can only control how you were in the story. Did you choose to engage the story with faith and grace and courage or was your piece of the story tarnished by bitterness, self-pity and blame? Your legacy is less what you do and more about who you are. Choose a loving, faithful, generous Christlikeness. Those qualities fit perfectly into the nature of the story’s main attraction.
Remember what I said about the story revealing the person? That’s true about Him too. The Bible is the authorized and published version of His story. He reveals Himself in the stories of His Word. Look for Him. Focusing on the human biblical characters and contexts is important but if that’s all you do, you’ll miss the point. There is a massive, dynamic, personal God at the center of every biblical narrative. His Word reflects His glory. Apart from it, we can only guess at who and how He is in our corner of His story. Look closely at your piece of His story and you’ll see Him. Really. Look. He’s all over it.
Sorry about the long wait between fortnights. Nobody should wait months for fortnight. May the story of your fortnight reflect the glory of the One who wrote it.