Earlier this week, I lamented (in rather killjoy fashion) that getting caught up in one’s own life narrative is only to get caught up in something that doesn’t have to be.
Allow me to clarify why this is a thing.
Speaking from my own experience and by observation, I’ve seen many a person—myself included—get frustrated when their life’s narrative is thrown off or altered in some way.
“But I was at peace with going to law school!” (Yours truly)
“But I was supposed to solve [fill in the blank] crisis!”
“But I felt like I was supposed to marry him/her!”
“But I thought I was going to land my dream role at my dream company!”
The “but” in all of these situations is this: but you forgot nothing is guaranteed about this mortal life. Nothing.
And that’s OK.
Life is versatile, and it requires the collaboration (if not downright collusion) of countless others’ agency to make what we want to have happen in our story actually happen.
I know a lot of political-philosophy dreamers out there, starting with myself. The biggest illusion we fall under is that once we figure out what’s wrong with “the system,” we have this dream that people will somehow submit themselves to our solutions and all will be well.
First, people must be convinced there’s a problem. Then that our solution is the right solution. And then we all have to, you know, do it. Unless we’re willing to coerce other people, they’re likely not going to submit themselves to our bidding. This realization is disappointing, but it’s less disappointing then having a world of independent thinkers and autonomous political actors trying to live in the same space. It really is a miracle we are able to get things done at all, if one thinks about it!
The key is that people have agency, and at the end of the day people do as they do. Yes, God can intervene as He wills, but in my experience, He doesn’t send the rain and the flood and the fire very often. His voice isn’t in those, anyway.
How about when it feels like God is promising us something? We get excited, we feel confident, we move forward—all good things. But then what if things change? (They almost always do.) What if we are severely disappointed by results that are different than what we felt was guaranteed? After all, wasn’t God’s stamp of approval on it?
I believe in a God who holds to His promises; otherwise, He would not be God. Yet I have noticed in my own life that I mistake direction for guarantees; I misconstrue promises for predictions.
To return to the narrative of needing a narrative, I have found that this often stems from needing to latch onto something concrete in the future so I can have surety that His promises will indeed come true. In an odd way, it may actually be a shallowness of faith. It’s as if I’m reading a novel, constantly skipping to the end so that I can know if the climax is any good.
Fact of the matter is we can’t read the end of our novel. To us, the rest of the book doesn’t exist. If it does indeed exist, it would exist only to God (or so I want to say). Personally, I’m not sure how it works. But I know from experience that a promise from God is a secure promise 1) insomuch that many things happen in the meantime, according to my own agency and to others (for example, it takes the agency of two to enter an eternal marriage); and 2) insofar as I trust that regardless of the outcome, God’s promises will be fulfilled in His time, in His way, and by His will.
By superimposing the narrative that I feel my life should have, I will likely be disallusioned at some point, because I wouldn’t be following the natural flow of mortal life or the will of God.
This makes me wonder what comes next, then. If I can’t see my life as a story, and myself as a character in it, then what am I supposed to do? How can I possibly find meaning in my life’s saga?
Well, certainly we can be more creative than seeing our lives in such a linear fashion. Perhaps our lives are more like paintings than books. Imagine our live, beginning as blank canvas, and us, the artists, equipped with the necessary oils and acrylics. Our painting is ever fascinating because it is never truly complete until the materials run out. Even as we paint, we may feel like our painting is finished, and yet we must keep painting. As earlier layers and dry up, we begin to paint over them, creating as many layers to our art as time allows. Each layer is still a part of the art, and even though we may take snapshots of our product from time to time, we know that the masterpiece isn’t complete—that the oil is still drying.
Imagine what beautiful images can surface as the vision matures and the artist’s hands become trained. Imagine the many layers of amazing strokes and messy touchups that go into the finished product.
This way of life isn’t linear so much as it is layered. It’s always a few strokes away from looking very different, while yet remaining the same painting. There is no hero or villain, no definite peak or climax, no close to any chapters; it’s organic and evolving and fantastic.
So now I turn the question on myself: rather than asking what is supposed to happen next, I ask myself what next can I start painting? What are my next strokes? Where can I make some touchups, or fill in some color? When I step back, what is my big picture—what is the vision?
Ignore the need for narrative. Disregard the imposing need for self-assurance that the character you play in your story will come forth triumphant in the end. Delve into your acrylics and colors, and if you don’t know what to paint next, allow Him to be your guiding hand, or to provide for you the possibility of the vision. He knows your head and your heart: he formed them, after all. He is the Father of your creative spirit. He is the master artist, and you the “master of [your] fate.”
That’s how I want my life splashed onto the paper—not by font, but by finish; not by sentence, but by stroke.
To read “Lost in the narrative, part one,” click here.