Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The story within a Story

It's probably not shocking to anyone who knows me or has read my writing, that I tend to be a bit of an introvert. Oh, don't get me wrong, I'm not, like, socially awkward (most of the time) and I get a lot of joy from being around people (most of the time). But after a few days of straight people time or busyness, I notice the gas light goes on in my soul and I need to withdraw, just for a few hours, or maybe most of a day, to rest and refuel. And so during this refueling time, I guess I can live in the life of my mind. I love to think and mentally dig around and ponder, about a lot of things, and sometimes that means I can think way too much. I've learned, over the years, that this introspection can work for me or it can work against me. Balancing it, however, does not always come easily.

So it shouldn't come as a huge shock to anyone who knows me, either, that when I think about the story I've been living the past two years, I can think myself into a frustrating hole. I see a lot of positives, and I can admit to a great deal of growth, and I can see God's unmistakeable fingerprints all over the process. But when I look at this story with an eye to decipher it, explain it, or prove some kind of success through it, I come up short. I admit, after all I've unlearned over this journey, I still gravitate toward understanding this story I'm in as if there's a Point A, moving toward a Point B in some linear fashion, with some distinguishable markers in between. Garbage, that's what that mindset is, but still I have remnants of it that I'm trying to shed.

For some reason, this Two-Year mark that looms ahead of me is huge and somewhat intimidating, maybe even more so than the One-Year mark. Why? Well, it's like I picture myself standing in front of a mixed audience, of strangers and acquaintances and coworkers and friends and family, in a business suit that's a little too tight and Armani for my taste. I'm projecting a Powerpoint presentation, with my bullet points and pie charts and hard data, hoping to convince them that I've done something with my life and with this tragedy of losing my dad and everything else that followed, something that explains why it looks like I'm off the charts in No Man's land, wandering between Point A and B, like I may never make it to Point B. And I'm starting to sweat and my face is turning a shade of pink, because somehow, I've got to account for that deviation from the path I was on. I've got to justify the Plan. I've got to prove my success. Little do they know, or maybe they're all well aware, I've got no Plan, at least not in the way I used to define it. It looks like I'm winging it, and hey, maybe I am.

And in this little scenario I've pictured, things are not going so well, because I know I can't fool the audience with some numbers and figures and data, and quite frankly, I don't want to. I've long grown weary of the Powerpoint presentation approach to life. And that's when I remember something I've heard from the mouths of several different people from different places, something that's stuck with me because it sounded more like something God would say than someone like me or you would say. And that something I heard, please don't pass over it too quickly because on first glance it seems cliche, but in pondering, it's actually life-altering. Really.

God isn't interested in my being successful; He'd rather I be faithful.

I can't explain why I am where I am two years after my dad's death. I can't answer when I'll move on from Starbucks to find a "real" job (whatever that means), or how I'll use the degrees I have to earn a living, or why I finished grad school in the first place when I knew I didn't want to be a counselor. I don't have an answer for when I'll go to Africa or Haiti or some other place overseas where I would like to be, or what I'll do when I get there. But somehow, when I think about that something I've heard, I feel a huge weight rolling off my shoulders, and the sweating stops and I unbutton my suit and begin to breathe normally again. I shut off the projector, close down the Powerpoint, and take a seat. This is no longer the definition of success I have to live up to. The greater thing, the thing that is, over the long haul, much more difficult and yet far more rewarding, is that I learn faithfulness. But what exactly is faithfulness? I found it helpful to look at some synonyms for that answer (compliments of The American Heritage Dictionary).

Faithful, loyal, true, constant, fast, steadfast, staunch
These adjectives mean adhering firmly and devotedly to someone or something
that elicits or demands one's fidelity.
Faithful and loyal both suggest undeviating attachment.
True implies steadiness, sincerity, and reliability.
Constant stresses uniformity and invariability.
Fast suggests loyalty that is not easily deflected.
Steadfast strongly implies fixed, unswerving loyalty.
Staunch even more strongly suggests unshakable attachment and allegiance.

So this is more like God's definition of success. It also happens to be a good description of his character. I can't say I fit that bill, but it sure beats any five or ten year goals I could have for my career or personal life. I can't accomplish this with my resume or sheer determination, only with grace as my constant fuel. There is no "arriving" at faithfulness, only moving deeper into its realm. So, with the Two-Year mark in view, I refuel my tank with grace and press on, press deeper, that my story in this next year would be woven with the beautiful threads of faithfulness.

The story within the Story, however, is that God's faithfulness to me will always, always far outshine my faithfulness to him. That, more than mine, is the Story I wish to live and tell.

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