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?