I read a book once that compared our lives to a story. The take-away was that we only find true purpose in life by realizing we play a role in a much grander Story full of other characters (who all depend on us in some form or fashion). There are many nuances involved with this expansive vision of life and realizing the importance of our shared stories.
I was introducing a high school English class to the concept of the “rising action” in a tale. I told my students that rising action is the place when the main characters meet the problems and conflicts of their various situations. One of my students piped up with the memorable line, “Well, Mr. Litton, I missed the bus, left my homework on the kitchen table, and have no lunch money, so today must be my rising action.”
Her day had clearly been full of “trials and tribulations.” It’s not a stretch to imagine our daily lives as the rising action of a story.
I think of the mother of four, whose beautiful, ordinary summer day with her children is interrupted by the call from her doctor and the grave realization that her test for cancer had come back positive. The friend who worked years for the promotion, only to find that someone else had been chosen for the job or the coworker who is barely surviving the grief of his recent divorce.They are all faced with challenges of the rising action.
I am learning that the people who inspire me, who move me closer to the person I want to be, who seem to live with a sense of joy (even in the depths of suffering), are the folks who have the uncanny ability to understand this idea that they are playing an important part in a larger Story that is shared by everyone. It seems these folks are somehow secure living right in the middle of all this tension.
When we are honest with ourselves, we get the feeling that the Story is going somewhere.
And therein lies the great choice for us.
You see, if there truly is a shared Story, then there must certainly be a turning point; there simply must be a resolution (the part of the story where all of the conflicts and problems are solved).
And understanding our lives in that way is hopeful and inspiring: It is truly good news.
For me, the resolution is grounded in three simple words uttered two thousand years ago: “It is finished.” If we understand life as the rising action then we choose to walk toward the conflict with joy and courage.
It is a way approaching our lives unaffected by the outcome of each particular problem… Think of the other “characters” (husband, family, and children) intimately involved with that mother’s battle against cancer. Think of the “characters” (the coworkers) whose lives may be affected by the way my friend deals with losing her dream job.
When we realize life as our role in the rising action of a more substantial story, thenit is no longer the problems and conflicts — it is no longer the wins or losses — the failures or successes that truly define us… we are defined rather by our belief that we play a part in the inexorable resolution.