Life as a Narrative
by Ray Mayhew
Someone said that it is easier for us to move through space (geography) than it is for us through time. And I think they are right. All of us find it easy to get on a train or plane and just take off. But most of our pilgrimage is not through space but rather through the much tougher terrain of time. And although we find it hard to use well, it is the fabric on which the narrative of our lives will be woven.
Much like Israel, our lives are not a set of principles strung together that we either do or don’t live up to: but a journey, a narrative, a story in the making. And when the story is finally read by others it will be unique. What will emerge is not a technique or a score card, but something deeply human. It will comprise episodes of success and failure, hope and fear, ambition and disappointment, joy and grief, and pain interlaced with pleasure.
Unlike a business venture, there is no bottom line to measure it by. For the Christian it is a quest, a pilgrimage, a following of the cloud – with days of sunshine and others of cold and rain. And like Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, and David, we will be “read”, and people will learn from us: some lessons emerging from our successes and some, equally important, from our failures.
Our culture sees life as a trajectory dictated by success, and success is linked to following the principles and practices of the successful and prosperous. If all the pieces come together, the product is a model, a set piece, a conveyor belt product to be reproduced as frequently as possible in society.
But not so with the Abrahams, Isaacs and Jacobs of the Bible. Weakness, faith, joy, failure, years of monotony, days of romance, times of grief, and periods of struggle abounded. Never the less, their stories are our inheritance, our legacy. Treasures to make us smile, laugh, learn, weep, and become (much of the time) the north star of our own journeys. And, thank the Lord, they had the courage to write of failure that was intensely private—just so that we could know. (Who of us would have written about selling our wives twice into a harem?)
One day our stories will be read by our children and friends. Their charm will not be our successes (or failures). But the hidden acts of courage, the intimate moments of costly obedience, the periods of prosperity, and the astonishing grace underpinned the whole journey.
We must not hide our failures but rather in humility hang them out for all to see and learn from. They will not be despised, but bathed in sympathy and understanding (often too much!). We will be one of the band of little hobbits, foolish, loving, trusting, failing, but on a great quest—the wonder of simply having been here.
And if we have had children, our story will run on down the generations. Through David came Jesus; through us will come scientists, evangelists, athletes and joyful fun loving families—the treasures and first fruits of new creation. And if we have not had our own prodigy our legacy will be just as rich: our lives a stone in the pond, rippling out beyond what we can imagine.
And for the believer, One journeys with us, encouraging, forgiving, directing, chastising, providing, and always loving and forgiving.
Paul modeled his life and theology on the narrative of the cross. It was cruciform—the narrative at the heart of the narrative. Cruciformity is costly and while many of us continue to prefer traveling through space, the real story will be how we travelled through time. It is a tapestry that all of us are inevitably creating—and the grace of God is with us so that despite failure, we are weaving an heirloom, something beautiful to bequeath both to our Lord and to the generations to come.