Based on a True Story

The problem with recasting one’s life as a story is that it’s tempting to write all the plot twists in. I do this all the time. I get anxious about any story with an “open” canon (until I was a teenager, I’d never got into a series that wasn’t finished) ‘Cause I want very badly to know what happens at the end. Partially because I want to know if all the energy I’ve invested in it is worth it, but also because I want to be able to analyse the thing as a whole, to see how all the parts fit and how everything affects everything else. If I’ve got that end in my hands and just haven’t read that far, it’s fine. When that end doesn’t exist yet…

So this whole “lifetime” thing doesn’t sit well with me. The canon’s got (hopefully) decades before it’s closed, and I’m hopping up and down in my seat, anxious to know how it goes. And unlike fiction, where one can make educated guesses about the future by what the author chooses to include, the sheer complexity of my story defeats me: there’s some obviously important parts, but there’s no telling what little bits will come back later, and which will fade away. (At least, for me, they’ll fade away; they could be pivotal to someone else.) I could be surrounded by Chekhov’s Guns and not even know it.

So I spend time writing my story in my head. Lots of different versions. Some of them I like better than others. Some of them are pretty outlandish. They generally end well, though given I’m a Christian, they kind of can’t not. But the real tempting thing is to put in plot twists that are beyond my (character’s) control. Which is fun, and exciting, to imagine these wacky things that could happen to me and how I would deal with them, but I have to be very careful not to assume they will happen. It wasn’t all that long ago that I made the mental adjustment of no longer assuming I was going to be married. It was a bit hard.

But more than that, I find myself setting up deadlines of when things should happen, or assuming not just what my life was going to be like, but how certain things would become important. I keep wanting certain things to happen now, while I’m young, or at least soon enough that I can enjoy them for a good long time. It’s like we have these scripts to follow, and part of them is that the happy ending is going to hit tomorrow, instead of a long time down the road. Or that we’re going to hit peaks and summits early on, so we don’t spend too much time in the valleys.

And it’s silly. We don’t know how these things work out. If we believe in any outside power or transcendant Author, it doesn’t follow that he’s going to do these things the way we think he will. For one, he is way more creative than we’ll ever be. Life is infinitely more surprising than anything the human brain could cook up. And we are guilty – even those of us who despise the conventions of popular storytelling with a passion – of putting limits on our story by thinking it must go this way or it should happen that way, when we don’t even know if whatever it is will happen at all. It doesn’t have to.

And the story will still be beautiful.

I want to know what happens in the end. But I need to learn to look at the step that’s in front of me, and the scene I’m in. Big things are made up of small things, and this day and this hour are all I can see, and even that imperfectly. But you know how it is with a good author: you’ll follow the story no matter where it goes because you know that however it ends, it will be wonderful. I believe that my story is being penned by a mighty and wonderful God. Who’m I to argue with his pacing, with his plot twists, his character development, and his endings most of all? The only thing I need to know is that if I follow where he leads, it all works out in the end.

In the words of the Weeping Prophet, who saw Jerusalem destroyed and the Chosen People deported as slaves:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11, ESV)

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