Who doesnt love a good movie? Watching a movie, we can see people fight battles, travel through time, realize they are married to a spy, etc. However, all along, we know they are just stories. We enjoy the emotion they bring for a couple of hours; if theyre really good they get us thinking, we learn something, and then we continue on with our own life.
However, I find it interesting how easy it is to get wrapped up in a story when it is my story. I think back to the parable of the Chinese farmer, watching the ebbs and flows of his life, remaining calm and present, never holding judgment over good news or bad news. He kept perspective on his reality that everything is just a story.
A recent experience with an old, dear friend brought this concept to life for me in the most incredible way. This friend had been one of my very best friends since I was 14. She was the kind of friend that I shared everything withmy struggles, my triumphs, my faith, my frustrations with faith I cant think of a thing I wouldnt tell her. And then we didnt speak for 6 1/2 years by her choice. I had no idea why, I really missed her, and I tried hard to find her. Out of the blue, I got a very long letter from her apologizing and seeking reconciliation. It happened that I was going to be in her area the next week, and we went to dinner.
The amazing experience was what happened as I updated her on 6 1/2 years of my life. In other circumstances where I havent seen people that long (think reunions), the stories that are shared are usually the circumstantial highs and lowswhat we do, when we moved, what our friends are up to, how many kids we have, etc. But not with Sarah; with Sarah it was the emotional highs and lows. In addition to the good stuff, I told her about the deepest struggles that I had faced, the darkest times, and the hardest moments. Some of the things I shared with her I hadnt even told some of my closest friends that I have spoken to regularly through these experiences. As I lived through some of those dark times, I had literally cried myself to sleep.
Yet as we talked, it became so clear that they were all just stories. My personal Chinese farmer parables of good? bad? who knows. They are just the stories that make up the happenings of my life. Something that had left me crying for months a few years ago was shared without tears, occupying the space between getting my water and ordering tuna. The real heartbreak of these stories would be my inability to see them as stories; taking them as defining me (or others in my life), and not letting them pass.
So I thought, what if we could live through our own stories as if were watching a movie? We could watch what happens, enjoy a bit of emotion (the laughter and the tears), think about the lessons, and then continue on. Does this sound like a tall order? Maybe it is. But Im convinced that there is a way to move away from the drawn out emotions that some of us experience. And I believe that answer can be found in gratitude.
In retrospect, and before talking to her, I had come to a place of gratitude for even the hardest experiences I have faced as I have seen where they have deepened me as a person, lead to greater blessings and better relationships, and helped me see the grace of God. But at the time, they didnt feel so easy. I think if I werent thankful for what those experiences had taught me or resulted in, I wouldnt have been able to share them without the same emotions I experienced as I went through them because I would still be living them as I did when they were painful.
Also, as Sarah and I wrapped up two long evenings of catching up, she really knew me again. But she had no idea what I did for a living, what kind of car I drive, how many square feet my house is, how many shirts are in my closet, or how much money is in my bank account. Its easy to get caught up in the tangible things of the world, but there is really little meaning there. Those things dont define me, and yet we spend a lot of our time consumed by them.
So I leave this story with a renewed mission, to find gratitude always. Be thankful in all circumstances. This has always been my mission, but I see it in a new light. Maybe I knew conceptually before, and now I experience it as reality. And I leave that for you to consider
– what stories in your life are just stories?
– what things are just things?
– what would it be like if you saw your stories as storiesexperienced them, learned from them, and continued on?
– how would it change how you see yourself?
– how would it change the relationships that you have with others and with God?