~by Jill Clingan
Lately I have been thinking a lot about story. I recently picked up a book at the library by Donald Miller called A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: How I Learned to Live a Better Story. I had no idea what the book was about, but I like Donald Miller, and I love the idea of life as a story, so I was eager to read the book. The whole book is a lovely and inspiring thread about living life as a meaningful story, but the crux of the book is hidden at the end of the Author’s Note, when Miller says this: “The truth is, if what we choose to do with our lives won’t make a story meaningful, it won’t make a life meaningful either” (xiii).
One thing that struck me while reading the book is the role that I play in helping to create my children’s stories. They both watch me create my own story and follow along as I help lead them through the beginning chapters of their stories. Miller says this about children and family stories: “We teach our children good or bad stories, what is worth living for and what is worth dying for, what is worth pursuing, and the dignity with which a character engages his own narrative” (160). I know that there are many things about my children’s lives that I have little control over. And, truthfully, this drives me crazy sometimes.
But I love story.
I am living a story.
My children are living a story, too.
And I want them to get a strong narrative start as they weave their way through their life stories.
But how do I teach my children to live a beautiful and meaningful story?
How do I teach my children to live a beautiful and meaningful story when I don’t know that I am really living a beautiful and meaningful story?
Those are the questions that I am struggling with, the questions with answers that feel so aloof to me.
Matt and I are in the process of spending a bunch of time, late at night on our porch, discussing what type of story we want to tell as a family. At this very moment, I’m not exactly sure what that looks like. Our faith is important to us. Our family is important to us. Compassion is important to us. Living out in nature with our chickens and ducks and garden is important to us. But what does all that truly look like? How do we go about telling and living the story of what is important–how do we string together a real plot with real characters and a real theme and real dialogue in a real setting around these vague ideas?
Miller says that “the world needs for us to have courage. […] The world needs for us to write something better” (118). I long for the courage to write a better story with my family. I long for the courage to live a better story with my family.
But it’s a struggle–such a struggle, in fact, that this essay, which I can usually whip out without too much angst and anguish, has taken me DAYS to write. I have several other half-written essays about completely different topics that I have started as well. I have so many (dangerously unsaved) documents open on my laptop at the moment that it took me five minutes of toggling among windows just to find this screen again. But I keep coming back here. To this essay. To story.
I wish I could outline here a glowing, eloquent passage explaining our glorious goals for our family story. But alas, I cannot. The thing is, maybe whatever story we choose to live as a family might not be glowing or eloquent. Yes, we do have some bigger story ideas in mind, like a family mission trip (I am so hesitant to even type that out, the idea scares me so much), but honestly, I believe that our family story will probably be told more in short-story-like vignettes rather than in a big, dramatic plotline.
We have this verse that Matt and I toss around a lot whenever this idea of story comes up. It’s Micah 6:8: “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
That’s it, really. That’s the outline of our story, and now we need to figure out how to fill in the pages. That’s the legacy we long—we pray—to pass down to our children. And I believe, as we struggle through our messy narrative, that those words will be the thread that ties our story together:
Walk humbly with our God.
I’m not exactly sure what that will look like, but I believe it will be a story worth telling—and living.
What about you? What story is your heart prompting you to tell—and live out—with your family?