15 March 2012

Hating the Book I Love

I've said it before but...a big part of why I choose to pursue coming to Uganda was because I read a book called A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, by Donald Miller. In it Miller talks about how we're called to tell good stories with our lives. Not simply wait around for a big, booming voice to tell us what to do. Not simply trying to earn enough money to just have a big house and new car. It's about thinking of our lives as stories and being an intentional characters in those stories. Characters that make good choices, take risks, face conflict, and love others.

And I love this concept. This book changed my life...it made me stop waiting around for the 'perfect' job and start thinking about how I could make a difference in the world. I love the idea of making my life about something bigger than myself. When I come to the end of my life I want to know I took risks and made choices that helped me tell a good story. I want to know that the story of my life was more interesting that simply accumulating stuff or advancing my career. I want to know that my character (me!) told a compelling story. I think Donald Miller's book has a lot of people thinking about the lives they're living and what they really want. And that's a good thing.

But I'm starting to wonder if this idea has a few flaws. Or maybe not flaws exactly but things that can be misleading if you haven't read the book.

Because I think that on the surface, the 'tell a good story with your life' idea can make people [read: me] think several things:
  1. They're not telling a good story if they're not traveling the world.
  2. They're not telling a good story if they don't have life changing stories or 'interesting' stories every day.
  3. That telling a good story means doing fun/exciting/unique things all the time.
  4. That telling a good story means doing something dramatic or drastic.
  5. That their current story is boring because they aren't doing any of the above.
  6. And so on.
Obviously, I packed up and moved to Uganda. And, yes, that was a huge change. But I have to believe that part of what involves a good story is more in our day to day decisions and less in the momentous decisions we make. And not everyone needs to move to Africa. And that the stories of people that live in the US aren't any less exciting or important. 

My favorite part of Million Miles is this where Miller talks about Victor Frankl, who survived the Holocaust. He talks about pain in our lives and how that's all part of a bigger story. "He said to me I was a tree in a story about a forest, and that it was arrogant of me to believe any differently. And he told me the story of the forest is better than the story of the tree...I sat by the fire until the sun came up; and asked God to help me understand the story of the forest and what it meant to be a tree in that story."

And that's the story I keep thinking about. Not my story. But Uganda's story. Africa's story. America's story. God's story. 

The stories we tell together, corporately, make a much larger, more beautiful story. We can't tell our stories alone. We need each other so that the story of humanity is beautiful. About peace and love and all those other beautiful things.

Telling a good story with our lives isn't just about running marathons, climbing mountains, moving to new countries, or working for non-profits. Although, those things are great and important and worth doing. [I don't want to offend anyone!] A good story is about more than simply doing cool/trendy things just to do cool/trendy things. Instead, I think, a good story is about loving others, even when it's hard. It's about learning from them. It's about having hard conversations about race, poverty, justice, love, pain. And doing something about that hard stuff. A good story is told in the quiet moments of laughter, love, and perseverance. It is about making choices to focus on things that are bigger than ourselves and our own selfish tendencies.

I'm not sure what has me thinking about all of this. Maybe it's the fact that I know I only have a few months left in Uganda and I'm scared out of my mind of going back to the US. Scared of going back, living in some quiet suburb, finding some 9-5 job, and telling a boring story again. Worried of getting caught up in the rat race of accumulating stuff. I'm terrified knowing that this chapter of my story will come to a close sooner than I'd like. Maybe I've listened to the lies that say a good story is only for those who do something drastic. That a good story can't be told in the quiet moments of the day. 

But I have to believe those lies aren't true. I have to believe that telling a good story--that the story of the forest--isn't about me at all.

[To read Miller's elements of a great story, you can check out this post on his blog.]


  1. I love that, from across the ocean, you are thinking similar thoughts to the ones that have been going through my mind this week. We're studying Acts & Corinthians this semester in my Bible study. Paul's entire point of his letter to the Corinthians is to remind them to always, always, always consider others before self, to avoid gluttony and self-centeredness, that living faithfully means loving God and loving others. Isn't it funny how living out a good story - the perfect story - sounds so simple and yet can seem so humdrum at times? I look forward to looking back years from now and seeing how perfectly God was weaving the details.

  2. Good stuff, Rachel! It is so easy to think we're/I'm not living a good story if we aren't doing the incredible. Thanks for the perspective. And about coming back to the U.S., I understand your fear. Ending a chapter of our "story" is not as easy thing to do, but the exciting part is that it is only one chapter, out of many to come. P.S. I think you should write a book.

  3. I love reading your thoughts. Before you left for Uganda you were not living a humdrum life. Sure, some things, many things, are repetitious and seemingly without meaning or significance. But, for you to find yourself in Uganda now, and a second go around at that, says to me that your story was a good one. And I have no doubt that your story, when you return to the states will be an extension of this richer, fuller experience in Uganda.
    Having said all that. And not having had the opportunity to read Miller's book. I would like to suggest that as believers, WE should not writing our stories. Instead we are, or are not, choosing daily to be guided down the more excellent path. And when we relinquish our will to our perfect Guide, we allow HIM to write our stories. You see. When it is all about HIM we don't care about our story....we care about HIM living in us and writing the story he intends for us.
    Okay. Having said all that. That's the way I think it should be. Taking myself out of the driver's seat....that is another story. For me, it's a moment by moment, hour by hour struggle. When I get it right....my story is a reflection of HIM....and when people say something like, "you have such great faith" I know they are seeing HIM, really, not me. And that is the best story.
    Another thought...I'm not sure that it's all about what we 'do' for God, or anyone else, but it's about having our minds "stayed on" Him. If we can get to that point, we will find ourselves serving/doing all kinds of things, maybe humble or maybe heroic, but it doesn't matter, what matters is are we abiding in Him? All of this gets worked out if we are abiding, because then we don't get in the way, and God's amazing plan can be played out to perfection.
    Hope you don't mind my rambling response.
    Your next chapter, your return to the states, has the potential to be breath-takingly amazing. Grab on to it for the God-sized ride it can be.

  4. I love this post, Rachel. I read a lot of blogs by people who write about how amazing their lives are as "location independent" people (read: they travel all the time, and have jobs they can do from anywhere, mostly programming and stuff like that), being smug about how few possessions they have and talking vaguely about how they make a difference in the world. I have to remind myself sometimes that I can live a good and interesting life where I am; traveling doesn't inherently make it better or more interesting. Even when I lived in central Illinois, I could remind myself that if I thought being in a similar-sized town in Mexico would be somehow more exciting or "better", that was silly--it isn't our locations that make or break our experiences or what we do. Now that I live in Seattle, I remind myself that people come from all over the world just to visit here. I live in a life in a tiny apartment in a great neighborhood that I would envy if I wasn't the one doing it! We have control over our own choices... we can choose not to have picket fences and weekly Target shopping trips. There are infinite ways of living everywhere in the US. I can't wait to hear what you do next, no matter what it is.

  5. Thanks, everyone, for your comments! This has been on my mind a lot lately, as I'm sure you can tell! :)

    @Hannah: Great minds think alike! :) You're right, sometimes a good story does seem humdrum. But I like to think of the future too...knowing that it's all woven together to make a much better story.

    @Becca: Thanks for the reminder. Sometimes I forget that one chapter is not the whole story. BTW I enjoy reading YOUR food blog. I've tried a few things here...with a few modifications. :) I've always been inspired by your ability to make up recipes!

    @Diane: Thanks for your thoughts. Actually, what I think Miller is saying is more along the lines that many people will use "I haven't heard what God is telling me to do" as an excuse to do nothing. Instead, he encourages people to take risks on dreams and goals they have that will help others. Instead of just waiting around for something to happen. Basically, he says that what makes a good story in a movie or book (characters who take risks and love others, etc.) are also things that can make our lives into good stories. So, it's not so much saying that we write our stories without God's help but rather we should make steps forward instead of doing nothing.

    @Wendy: I totally agree...there are so many interesting ways to live, right where we are! I was just talking with a friend how it's possible for people to live in Uganda but still live like they're in the US. It's really more about intentionality than about location. P.S. We need to plan another Grand Canyon-scale adventure for sometime next year after I get back. :)

  6. I've thought about this post for a few days and want to add encouragement to the idea that normal life can be a good story.

    I think about Laura Ingalls Wilder. She moved around as a child because of her parents' occupations, she married and moved because of her new family's occupation, her child grew up and was perhaps a bit more independent than a parent would have chosen. Sounds like a normal life to me and yet her story has captivated thousands of readers. Perhaps it is the telling more than the event that makes a story interesting?

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  8. Great post!

    It reminds me of Dr. Oakerson's FYI session so very many years ago, when he stated that nothing worth doing will be accomplished in our lifetimes. It was an extreme statement, and a reminder that God tells stories that span centuries and millennia, and he loves growing families through multiple generations.

  9. @Jill: Thanks so much for your encouragement! I hadn't thought about it but I think you're right. Some of our story is found simply in how we look at it. I really want to work on finding beautiful stories in the day to day.

    @Dan: Thanks for commenting! I forgot all about that FYI session. But it's such a good reminder. God was here before our stories and He'll be working when our part of the Story is finished. It's interesting because I sometimes think our generation has a 'save the world' mentality. We all want to go out and do amazing, life-changing things. Which is great. But I think we have to stay grounded and remember that it's all part of the bigger (longer) story of the forest that God is writing.

  10. Thank you so much Rachel for sharing your heart. I had forgotten the story of the forest, and I so desperately needed to be reminded.

    Bravery has been on my heart a lot lately. And sometimes I convince myself that brave means "crazy" by the world's standards. It means being a martyr, or a foreign missionary, or a mother to 18 adopted children... but this post reminds me that bravery means being faithful in the little things, as much as the big. It means doing what we're called to do as individuals, trusting God to do big things with our obedience.

    What a wonderful story, Rachel, and what a great time to be stumbling upon it. I'm sure I'm not the only tree that needed a nudge, to just keep being tree-y.

    1. Jen,
      Thanks for your thoughts! I agree...while I LOVE the idea of telling a good story with my life, I think we need to be careful how we define a good story. I've struggled with this a lot since coming to Africa...like, I jumped off the couch but I didn't necessarily become a better character. I realized it's the small moments that can make us better characters and tell a great story. Like you said we can be brave in the day to day decisions, which can tell a beautiful story!