It’s a pretty picture – fairy tale turrets high on a summer mountain. But it’s far from my day-to-day.
Cloud-scuttled skies, yellow leaves plastered to crumbling sidewalks, crowded, rocking metro cars, glowing computer screens, and conference-room English classes. These are the scenes from my September. I feel harried, hunched over a keyboard – apartment blocks crowding out the sky; cigarette smoke crowding out my deep breaths. The days are flying by – shorter, darker, colder as winter approaches and I can only remember the faintest outlines of a very few of them.
How do you make such a fly-by season memorable? How do you add meaning to the moments, the years? Is it possible to escape from frittering them all away like dead, wind-blown leaves? How, in other words, can I make my life something worth living?
Donald Miller’s A Million Miles in a Thousand Years has been keeping me company on errands, classes, and clinic visits the past few weeks. It’s a FANTASTIC book – one of the best I’ve read in a while. His memoir-prose offers story as a model for living. Making your life meaningful, in other words, by thinking about it as a narrative. It’s had me thinking about how to tell a good story with my life.
I wish I could subject you to the entire retyped book right here on breakfastinmoscow, but will have to be content with a few quotes by way of Don-Miller-style advice.* Thus, with no further ado, the top ten on how to tell a good story with your life:
- To tell a good story, you need structure. Start thinking of your days as a story: “without story, experiences are just random.”
- Purpose – A story needs to move, and you need to know where you’re going, what you want: “As soon as you point toward a horizon, life no longer feels meaningless.” The best way to find out where someone is going is to ask them what they want.
- Character – perhaps the purpose of the whole story is character development: “…we were designed to live through something rather than to attain something, and the thing we were meant to live through was designed to change us. The point of a story is the character arc, the change.”
- Courage. You can’t tell a good story hiding in the closet – you have to get out there and DO something! Fight the dragons: “The character has to jump into the story, into the discomfort and the fear, otherwise the story will never happen.”
- Perseverance. It won’t be easy. As soon as you start living a good story, you will encounter problems. Keep going: “…resistance, a kind of feeling that comes against you when you point toward a distant horizon, is a sure sign that you are supposed to do the thing in the first place. The harder the resistance, the more important the task must be…”
- Realize the role of suffering and sacrifice. A great story is made with great sacrifice: “…every conflict, no matter how hard, comes back to bless the protagonist if he will face his fate with courage. There is no conflict man can endure that will not produce a blessing.”
- Make memorable scenes: “When we look back on our lives, what we will remember are the crazy things we did, the times we worked harder to make a day stand out.”
- Invite others along: “A good storyteller doesn’t just tell a better story, though. He invites other people into the story with him, giving them a better story too.”
- Enjoy! Living a good story doesn’t have to be complicated. Enjoy what you have! “It makes me wonder if that was the intention for man, to chase sticks and ducks, to name animals, to create families, and to keep looking back at God to feed off His pleasure at our pleasure.”
- Have hope. This hope is the thing you should point your compass towards; the horizon you should set your eyes on. Make sure you have hope: “The idea that Jesus will make everything better is a lie. It’s basically biblical theology translated into the language of infomercials. Can you imagine an infomercial with [the apostle] Paul, testifying to the amazing product of Jesus, saying that he once had power and authority, and since he tried Jesus he’s been moved from prison to prison, beaten, and routinely bitten by snakes? I don’t think many people would be buying that product…I think Jesus can make things better, but I don’t think He’s going to make things perfect. Not here, and not now. What I love about the true gospel of Jesus, though, is that it offers hope. Paul has hope our souls will be made complete. It will happen in heaven, where there will be a wedding and a feast. I wonder if that’s why so many happy stories end in weddings and feasts. Paul says Jesus is the hope that will not disappoint.”
And finally, there is the WHY. Why should we tell a good story?
We live in a world where bad stories are told, stories that teach us life doesn’t mean anything and that humanity has no great purpose. It’s a good calling, then, to speak a better story. How brightly a better story shines. How easily the world looks to it in wonder. How grateful we are to hear these stories, and how happy it makes us to repeat them. -Donald Miller