Toward a Happy and Productive New Year:
Although some may never write a book, we’re all composing a personal, nonfiction story. It’s the story of our life. Others read our story when they witness how we live. When that occurs, we are all teachers or storytellers, knowingly and willingly or not. As our story unfolds, it’s merged into the larger story, God’s story. “You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read by all men; you are manifestly an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, on the heart. Corinthians II 3:2-3 NKJV
The promotional description for Scott McClellan’s book, Tell Me a Story: Finding God (and Ourselves) Through Narrative, states the following: “Jesus called His followers witnesses. We are, in fact, witnesses to His unfolding story. This story is not only our calling; it’s the next generation’s best chance of identifying with the Church and changing the world. As we become storytellers, we learn to see the world in terms of stories being lived and told. We discover deeper insights into God, ourselves, and others.”
I am not referring to actually committing our stories to writing (that is, composing our autobiographies), but professional storywriter Donald Miller does recommend something closely approaching that outcome in his essay “How to Tell a Story.” He justifies writing it as a worthwhile exercise for everyone: “We are all on a journey, of course. We all want things for ourselves and our families and those desires launch us into stories. And stories are filled with risk and fear and joy and pain. In each of our stories, friends and guides have passed through and those friends have taught us things.” Miller continues this line of thought by adding personal reflection: “The point of any story is always character transformation. I am so grateful to have studied story if for no other reason than it’s helped me realize how much I’ve changed over the years as a human being. Story has given beauty and meaning to my life because it’s no longer passing by without me reflecting on it and noting its positive and negative turns and what those turns have done to me to make me a better person. I believe it’s true every person should write their memoir if for no other reason than it helps them understand who they are, what’s happened to them and who it is their lives have caused them to become. A person who understands themselves is easier to connect with, more settled and, most importantly, can see how their story interconnects with the stories of others.”
Writing for the grammarly.com blog, Allison VanNest expresses a similar sentiment to Miller’s. Stated more succinctly, she says: “The most valuable thing you have to offer is the story only you can tell.” By this, she seems to be expressing two convictions: that each life is a story possessing unique meaning and purpose, and thus it is worthwhile sharing; and that those who are creative storytellers with tales of fiction or nonfiction inside should seek either verbal or written expression.
Intentionally or not, personal character traits – good and bad – are woven intricately throughout our stories. Regarding this dichotomy, John Steinbeck offers a thought-provoking commentary that illustrates how society observes character. In his mini-novel Cannery Row, his protagonist, Doc (based on his close friend Ed Ricketts), states: “It has always seemed strange to me … The things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling, are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self-interest, are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first, they love the produce of the second.” Applying this on an individual level illustrates the continuous battle within everyone’s heart as we make the many character-defining decisions and choices that cumulatively create the essence and legacy of our lives.
During the lengthy experience of researching, sharing, and writing these stories, the following opportune definition emerged for uncommon character: exercising personal responsibility when no one is watching, when it costs or hurts us to do so, when we may have to act entirely alone, and when it benefits others – even our enemies – more than self. Therein is outlined a most worthy goal for every individual; a goal which has been met by the heroes comprising Stories of Uncommon Character.
Upon examining their progression from ordinary to extraordinary, the people in this book emerge as role models and mentors; and although our lives may not yet compare to theirs, the long-term plan is to embrace the Apostle Paul’s admonishment: “…Forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14). The end of the journey – the conclusion of our life story – is of more exemplary and eternal consequence than how we started or about the ups and downs along the way. Strive to finish well!