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Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Living a Better Story

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My LifeI finished reading A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller a week or so ago and I’m still thinking about a couple of passages from the book. But before I get to that, let me tell you about the essence of the book.

It is about pursuing your story. By that Miller means living life as if you were a protagonist in a novel who wants something, faces obstacles, gets shot down, gets up, gets shot down, gets up, gets really shot down, faces a major decision, then decides to go for it because living life without that one thing is not acceptable.

In the book, Miller talks about a friend of his named Jason whose 13-year-old daughter was into smoking pot and dating a guy who wasn’t good for her. As Jason told Miller about this, Miller, who had been studying the elements of story, said, “She’s not living a very good story. She’s caught up in a bad one.” A couple of months later, when the two men spoke again, everything had changed. 

Miller described it this way:
The night after we talked, Jason couldn’t sleep. He thought about the story his daughter was living and the role she was playing inside that story. He realized he hadn’t provided a better role for his daughter. He hadn’t mapped out a story for his family. And so his daughter had chosen another story, a story in which she was wanted, even if she was only being used.
Children at home run by
Jason began looking for a better story and he found one when he read about an organization that builds orphanages around the world. His wife and daughter weren’t keen on the idea at first, but after sleeping on it, his wife – who had been distant from Jason for a while – came into the kitchen, put her arms around him and told him she was proud of him. I’m pretty sure there’s nothing a woman can say to her man that makes him feel any better than that.

A few days later, their daughter came into their bedroom and asked if they could go to Mexico to build an orphanage. Their daughter ended up crawling in bed between Jason and his wife like she did when she was little. And she broke up with her boyfriend who had been using her. Presumably, the family is living a better story now.

What does this mean for the rest of us who are working 40 hours a week, bowling in a Monday night bowling league, attending small groups or Bible studies on Wednesday nights, and watching football on Sunday afternoons? Not everybody can, or even should, build an orphanage in another country.

But Miller isn’t really saying that. For him, finding a better story started by getting off the couch to engage life. He took a bike ride across America. He hiked the Inca Trail in Peru. He pursued a woman. He put down the remote control and his routines long enough to take chances – to explore.

At one point in the book, he said, “Part of me wonders if our stories aren’t being stolen by the easy life.” I don’t think I’ll ever forget that line.

He came to life, but when he did, he had to face something that was disturbing:
It’s an odd feeling to be awakened from a life of fantasy. You stand there looking at a bare mantel and the house gets an eerie feel, as though it were haunted by a kind of nothingness, an absence of something that could have been, an absence of people who could have been living there, interacting with me, forcing me out of my daydreams. I stood for a while and heard the voices of children who didn’t exist and felt the tender touch of a wife who wanted me to listen to her. I felt, at once, the absent glory of a life that could have been.
Who among us doesn’t fear the possibility of contemplating the absent glory of a life that could have been when lying on our deathbed?


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