The Narrative

October 4, 2014

If there’s something I have learned from watching politicians and various media sources during my adult life it is this: how you tell the story changes how people understand events. The narrative that is presented determines a lot about how people will react and respond. News agencies can tell a story in a way that creates sympathy for one entity and disdain for another…or they can spin it completely the other way! Agencies determine which story they want to tell and they share and highlight the pictures, facts, and anecdotes that tell that particular story. You can flip to another news channel to see a different telling, usually.

For my Spiritual Formation Group this past August, I read a book by Donald Miller called A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: How I Learned To Live A Better Story. It wasn’t my favorite book of all time, but it did get me doing some thinking about story and about inviting the people around me to live a better story, even as I try to live the best story too. It has me thinking a lot about how my story will be told and how people will understand my life’s purpose through that telling.

image1The Psalmist’s prayer in Psalm 139 reminds me of this:

For it was you who formed my inward parts;
   you knit me together in my mother’s womb. 
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
   Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well. 
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
   intricately woven in the depths of the earth. 
Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
In your book were written
all the days that were formed for me,
   when none of them as yet existed.

Psalm 139:13-16

God and I are writing a story together and we have been for 36 years. Oh, I reach out and bat at the pen sometimes because I’d rather something different be written. And sometimes I go off script and make a mess of things. Sometimes a tragedy appears on the page and needs to be navigated. And sometimes other people, even people I love, change the story for the worse.

This world is a broken place and we are all in it making decisions. Some decisions are for the better and create hope and love, and some decisions hurt others and change their stories in a tragic way.

I don’t always have control over my story, but I can always choose how I react to the events that happen and I can often choose how my story is told. My actions and attitudes will determine the narrative.

That narrative could be “Look at the terrible things that happened in her life and what a mess it is. She deserves to be angry and depressed. How is she supposed to deal with that? It’s no wonder she’s having trouble.”

or

That narrative could be “Look how she overcame when she was faced with terrible circumstances! She dealt with the bad choices of others by trusting God and living her story in the best way. She’s strong and  inspires others!”

(Forgive the slight amount of hyperbole in the above examples.)

If MSNBC and Fox News can do it, so can we. We don’t always get to choose the story we’re telling, but we can always choose the way we tell it and teach others to tell it.

And I have to believe that no matter how the world (or the main character) jostles the author’s pen, God will continue writing until all of those unexpected plot points turn into the very best ending eventually.