I loved Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz but frankly five years later, I can’t remember much of what it was about–just that it was a great ride of a read. However, five years from now, I’ll remember what A Million Miles in a Thousand Years is about: my life is a story that I’m writing.
Miller describes how the main elements of a story make up our own lives. Every story has a main character [that’s me] who wants something [ambitions, dreams, hopes] and has to overcome conflict [lack of money, lack of opportunity, lack of support, lack of courage] to get it [either succeeding or failing].
And this story, which God has given me the freedom to write, is just a short chapter in the biggest story–His epic story that covers all of history with a cast of millions and more conflict than five siblings in the back seat of a car.
In true form, Miller tells stories about some incredibly inspiring real people, many of whom started organizations out of their desire to care for people. By the time I finished reading, I felt I had sampled the ten course meal in Babette’s Feast.*
I also came away with a desire to be more thoughtful about the story of my life. It’s easy to go through the months and the years on autopilot. As fall begins, it’s a perfect time to pull back and examine if and how I want to revise the story I am living.
What’s my plot?
As Miller says, “All of us are living stories, and those stories teach other people to live stories. And what our stories are about matters, not just for us but for the world.”
Every day I have a new page to write. What will I write on this page? What do I want this chapter of my life to be about? What do I want the whole book of my life to tell?
What’s my driving desire?
The ambitions we have will become the stories we live. “If you want to know what a person’s story is about, just ask them what they want. If we don’t want anything, we are living boring stories.”
What do I want? What treasure am I hunting for? What mountain do I want to climb? What am I living for? Where is my heart?
What are the obstacles before me?
As Miller reminds us, things don’t always go well in a story. In fact, they never go well in a story. “You could say that a story is an experience that goes badly.”
What will I have to overcome to find my treasure, to climb my mountain? What conflict do I have to face? What are the dark forces working against me? What change am I resisting? [In stories, characters almost always have to be forced to change.] What will I have to sacrifice to get what I want?
How does it fit in the ultimate story?
What does God think about my driving desire? My plot? My character? How does my story fit into His epic? What is His ultimate story for me?
Another way to look at it, as Tim Chester points out, is that everyone has their own version of the ‘gospel’ story:
creation – who I am or who I should be
fall – what’s wrong with me and the world
redemption – what’s the solution
consummation – what I hope for
Miller himself goes through an awful experience and ends up in the pit of despair. “I didn’t want to get well, because if I got well, nobody would come and save me anymore. And I didn’t want to get well, because while I could not control my happiness, I could control my misery, and I would rather have had control than live in the tension of what if. “
But at the end, he has grown and changed.
“If the point of life is the same as the point of a story, the point of life is character transformation…
…in nearly every story, the protagonist is transformed. He’s a jerk at the beginning and nice at the end, or a coward at the beginning and brave at the end. If the character doesn’t change, the story hasn’t happened yet. And if story is derived from real life, if story is just a condensed version of life, then life itself may be designed to change us…”
I came away from reading this book with a profound sense of hope. My story is not finished. New chapters await me. Though I will not escape hard times, the Master Author will work with me to weave my story into His grand triumphant story. And I will live happily ever after.
Snack Bar Item: *Babette’s Feast
*Links to some of the stories Miller tells:
Jim Besinius:Bully-proofing youth
Gary Haugen: International Justice Mission
Bob Goff and Restore International
And Miller’s own:
The Mentoring Project