Story, continued

Breaking up is a long, drawn-out, painful process.  I have never felt a sense of loss like this before.  The past three months have been the story of me giving things up.  The hard parts of that relationship, the things that I didn’t like and which ultimately led to our breakup, were fairly easy to get over.  It’s easy to lose something you never wanted in the first place.

What has been much more difficult is giving up on the good parts.  One of the great things about my relationship with this girl was that we had a great story.  We’d known each other since middle school, grew up next door to each other, our families were (and are!) really close, and we had big dreams for life.  We were going to live in a commune with other young, edgy evangelical couples and get master’s degrees and change the world.  I liked this story a lot; I was very committed to it.

What my commitment to this story concealed, however, in my mind, was that it never seemed to me that we could make the relationship work in the here and now.  The past and the future made so much sense.  The present was a little trickier.  I never let myself admit this while I was in the relationship, because I always expected the happy future to become the happy present.  When it didn’t—well, you see where this is going.

Humans are story-tellers.  We love to tell stories because we derive from them a sense of meaning and purpose.  This is a natural thing.  But I think we have to be very careful.

I think that stories can easily become idols.  What if the stories we want to tell about ourselves are not the stories that God wants to tell?  Indeed, how do we know that the stories we want to tell are not, in fact, in conflict with the stories God wants to tell?  We can’t live in the stories we create, because we created them!  The meaning-making that comes through story-telling—that is, the sense of identity we derive from the stories we tell about ourselves—is a rather arbitrary process.  We tend to pick and choose events that flatter us, and tell those stories to others.  This is natural enough as well.  It just isn’t very honest, and it doesn’t acknowledge the interpretive role we play as story-tellers.

I haven’t quite thought this through yet, but to me it seems that we have two options here: one, to insist on being much more tentative about our stories than we usually are, or two, to abandon story-telling about ourselves entirely.  We must have the humility to admit that we don’t quite understand how our past got us to our present, and that we can’t even begin to know where the future might take us.  In short, we must live in the present, not the past or the future.  We must not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will take care of itself.  Today’s duties are the only duties.

What does it mean to abandon the search for meaning and live in the eternal present?  To submit oneself to the story that God will someday tell about us, rather than worshiping the stories we ourselves have created?

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4 Responses to Story, continued

  1. youngromantic says:

    Another fantastic, thought-provoking post, and something I’ve been going through as well (the break-up thing).

    What I’m wondering though, is how to abandon story-telling about yourself when that is what you were called to do, as a writer, and how to abandon the search for meaning when that is what you were trained to do, as an English major? 🙂

    • urbanfall says:

      That’s a good point!

      I suppose one way to look at it, if you want to keep the literary metaphor going, is to understand that we live as characters, not as authors. As characters, we experience meaning, but we don’t necessarily create it. And ultimately, the meaning we experience might not be the meaning of the broader story: Romeo and Juliet probably didn’t experience the same meaning in their stories that we do be watching them, or that Shakespeare intended when he wrote the two of them into a narrative.

      Like I said, though, we humans are meaning-making creatures. I don’t think we could stop if we tried. The important thing is to remember just how tentative and provisional this process really is.

      From another angle, another thing to remember is that we aren’t the protagonists of God’s story. Our stories are subplots: subplots that God cares about and is fine-tuning and adapting with and working into the broader narrative . . . but subplots nonetheless. So we shouldn’t get so entranced by our own smaller stories that we forget the role we play in the bigger one.

      Hmmm . . . metaphors are fun.

  2. jessica says:

    do you ever sense that the phrase “everything happens for a reason” isn’t actually helpful to hear?

    thanks for the challenge to live today. much appreciated reminder.

    from one subplot character to another,

  3. kiraness says:

    i love this. i know this.
    And I am happy story is important to you. that means that whatever story you DO choose to live in the here and now will be a beautiful gift I know many people will want to share in. and maybe someone will want to share it all the way into the future.
    You are blessed, and you are living a great story. I see it, I crave it, and I feel the connection only stories can make between people.

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