Mark Sayers
Breathe

Storyline: Understand Your Story

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Story is an excellent metaphor for understanding your life. A story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. It has a theme, characters, subplots, trajectory, tone and genre. It helps to see your story as a subplot in the bigger story that we call “history”, which is really about God’s story in the world. Seeing your life in that context gives it new meaning and significance.

God’s story is huge. It began before time began and it will continue when time is no more. Ultimately, the Bible is a story - a narrative of God at work in history – even though it contains many genres of literature, such as poems, songs, prophecies, laws, and visions. In many ways it tells a love story and a sad story (a world that ignores its Creator), yet with a great ending. God’s story is still unfolding …

The dictionary defines a “story” as a plot or succession of incidents, a narration of an incident or series of events. Best selling author, Donald Miller, in his book Storyline (also, check out Donald Miller's BLOG: www.storylineblog.com), defines as a story as simply this: “a character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it.” Think of your favourite movie or novel and you’ll see the pattern. Have you ever thought of what God wants? He desires relationship with the people he created. Yet he has to overcome conflict to achieve that – primarily us exercising our free will to choose other loves or pursuits, sometimes ignoring our Creator.

A story can be plotted as a series of successive events. Each incident can be called a ‘story turn’. It is an event that takes place in which the character will never be the same. It’s like a doorway, in which there is no going back. It’s amazing to see how each person, including God, has both positive and negative turns in their story. There is joy and pain. Life is hard at times and can be like a roller coaster of emotions.

As we take time to reflect on the story turns in our own life, sometimes we can discover a redemptive perspective to our pain. Joseph went through a lot of hard times but God was with him. At end of the story, Joseph said the hard events in his life were given to him so God could use him to “save many lives” (Gen.50:20). Negatives stay negatives but they can help prepare us for our future contribution. Not all things are good nor does God cause all things (we make choices that have consequences and other people also make choices that affect us), but he does take everything in our life and orchestrates it for an ultimate purpose (Rom.8:28). During the process, he promises to never leave us or forsake us (Heb.13:5). We all experience joy and pain but God is with us all the time. Looking back, its more obvious.

What do you want?

Today is in many ways a blank page - waiting for you to write on it. A story is about a character who wants something. Unfortunately, many people spend more time planning their next holiday than planning their life. Thankfully, God has plans for us (Jer.29:11-12) and a unique contribution for us to make (Eph.2:10). But he wants us to plan too.

Donald Miller goes on to say, “If you want to live a meaningful life, imagine yourself ten years from now, then ask yourself what you’ll wish you’d done (or become) by then. Then do those things.” It’s amazing how priorities float to the top when we consider our lives in hindsight. Think about the roles that you play and imagine the kind of person you’d like to become. Examine your desires (Ps.37:4), what problem you could help solve, what makes you angry, and what gifts you have to offer to the world. We all have soul cravings – including a craving for belonging, meaning, significance and contribution. Emptying ourselves of these desires is not what God wants, but rather a pursuit of them in right ways.

We all need something to live for, a project to give our time and energy to. When we have nothing to move towards, we lose our bearings, become directionless, and have no sense of meaning. God gave Adam the task of naming all the animals – that was a BIG project that required his best creative energies. God could have done this himself but he realized that he created us as teleological beings who need to be distracted by a noble cause. What do you want? Pray over each role in your life. Write it out. Once you decide, your story starts to move forward. Don't fear failure. Get moving.

How is Conflict Working in Your Story

As soon as you decide what you want and start moving towards it, it is inevitable that you will face challenge and potentially conflict. Movement creates friction. Yet it is conflict and challenge that moves your story forward. It’s during the times of pressure that we often change and grow the most. Don’t buy into the crippling belief that life was meant to be easy and pain free (John 16:33).

At the end of your life, when the credits roll, you probably wont be able to say you had an easy life, but by God’s grace will have lived a meaningful life (Acts 13:36. 2 Tim.4:7-8).

Reflection Questions

1. Reflect on your life so far? What ‘genre’ would you describe the dominant theme of your story?

2. What are the five most positive events in your life so far? Describe what happened and how each event affected you. In what ways have you never been the same since?

3. What are the five most painful events in your story so far? Describe what happened and how each event affected you. In what ways have you never been the same since?

You might want to write these events down on some post it notes (for example, blue for positive and pink for negative) and create a bit of a timeline of your life so far. In what ways have they shaped who you are today?

4. Reflect on the negative events of your life. Without trying to naively turn them into a positive, what good could come out of them and how might God use them to prepare you for what’s ahead?

5. Do you feel stuck in a painful event or moment in your life? Without trying to move on prematurely or just ‘get over it’, pray that God would give you grace in this moment, to process the situation, to find healing, and to find a way forward. Who knows, in just a moment, a significant new positive turn can occur.

6. Do you feel stuck at the end of a particular chapter in your life? Maybe today is the day to turn the page and move forward. Life has ‘necessary endings’. Stories finish. Let go. Take the next step. Pray for courage to enter the new chapter God has for you.

7. In what ways can we contribute to the positive events that occur in another person’s story?