"Another good thing about stories: stories respect our freedom. They don't manipulate us, don't force us, don't distract us from life. But not all stories, of course, are honest. There are some sentimentalizing ones that seduce us into escaping from life; that attempt to enlist us in a cause or bully is into a stereotyped response.
Telling a story is the primary verbal way of accounting for life the way we live it in actual day-to-day reality. And so when we lose touch with our lives, our souls- our moral, bodily, spiritual, God-personal lives- story is the best verbal way of getting us back in touch again."
-Eugene Peterson, The Jesus Way
There is something about stories. Whether they are accounts we read in a book by a famous author over the course of weeks or a recap of the day by a friend or a loved one told to us in five minutes, stories are things we listen to, invite, and hear all the time.
Our words tell our stories- and so, to the discerning ear, does our silence. And our lives tell a story, the one most representative of us of all.
And, as the book I am reading and have quoted about suggests, when we lose touch with life, stories are often the best way back: hearing others' for guidance, and gaining the voice to tell our own.
Even before I believed in God or knew God, I felt a sense of something, some bigger thing happening in my life, some more overall narration happening- like the events of life, no matter how disconnected or confusing or painful they may have felt at the time, had to connect. Maybe you could call this what I was afraid to call it, for some reason, for a long time: hope.
I think now it was a natural, human, heart-felt awareness: something bigger, something real, has a relational connection to my life. Something enormous, actually. Something miraculous, beyond my comprehension.
Hope always connects things. At church this weekend some words of the pastor struck me: he said that God always marries love and truth. God uses love to reveal His truth, and that truth- you cannot argue for it, or logically explain it, or throw other religions into the fire to make it seem like the right one, no- that truth, God's truth, you have to experience through love.
This is a real way to experience, through our human senses, God: He give His spirit to those who humbly ask for it above all other things, and He sends them out. The Holy Spirit cannot live in the self-guided, self-enlightened, 'spiritually overt' person. The Holy Spirit of God can only live in the humble, the person who has signed on to use their live for His glory, not their own.
Everything I create and write on this blog is a matter of love, of seeing a story unfolding in life all the time, and doing my part to narrate it a little bit. Life doesn't come from 'a religious body of knowledge' or 'knowing a lot about my path'- it comes from a relationship with God through Christ and knowing that the work I do as a human being is motivated by the Holy Spirit, not my ego. It is seeing God in everything.
Yes, this is a story. Art and writing, these very words; all this life is a story. All any life is a story. Creative output is the evidence of my one human life in real time. It is not a collection of facts or religious information or arguments: it is creation, an act of love.
In the end, acts of love are all that really touch anybody. In the end, acts of love are what we realize we mean by feeling the truth. Anything else maybe helps bolster us up a little, of course, and can be great for a time, but really doesn't lead us anywhere in particular.
But sooner or later, we find ourselves having to go where God calls us: to His love. He pursues us, He wants us- and when we see it, we want Him back. We want Him more than anything. We see how much He wants us, no matter how disastrous we think we are, and that makes us want to learn to love Him. The Gospel is a great love story, a romance, as Billy Graham would call it; 'an excitement, an adventure; something extremely real, something that should last a lifetime."
We find ourselves catching glimpses of what God is doing as ultimate author in our story- so far beyond what we are doing (or not doing)- and we want in. We want to know Him. We want to know Him because when we do, we get to better know us. Ourselves, in all our raw, spiritual, unbounded, pure beauty, real identity.
There is no other way. The deepest understanding of the purpose of our life and of the identity of who we are is through the One who made us.
There is no other way to claim that we are love than to define love as it relates to us, to see how we are a very piece of it, that we come from it; to see and believe in love's most ultimate expression: God sending Himself into the world to suffer just like we suffer, and to die just as we will die- but to cleanse and deliver us from death by doing so if we believe in Him, in a more ultimate way then we could ever cleanse or deliver ourselves.
We all die, but the Christian sees no emptiness in that, because the Christian sees the soul, and the soul is eternal: made not for this world, but for forever. We can be at peace with death because are at peace with life. There is no end; it is going home to a specific state. For our time on earth, it is beautiful to walk with others who also know this (we feel a strong brotherly sense of heading in the same direction and living for the same higher purpose); and it is beautiful to share God's love, to guide others to know it so that they too can be part of our eternal- our real, our spiritual, our deepest- life, our overall story.
"Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed His love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins." -1 John 4:7-10
Sacrificing yourself to love another who is not strong, whole, confident, or loving enough of themselves to love you: that is Christian love. It's not a philosophy of thinking, of the mind, that we can will ourselves into. It's a decision for God's virtue, not ours. And if we're willing to submit to God, He'll ask us exercise this love a lot, with all of our relationships- because it's a love a lot of people need.
Christian love says, and will always say, what God said to us: while we were un-savable, lost, irreconcilable, fallen, unlovable- He loved us. That is love. That is the love story we pass on. It's not a 'fact' or a religious tidbit. It is an action, a way of heart.
That is the Christian story, the Christian experience: it is not an argument, not a "sentimentalizing story that seduces us into escaping from life; that attempts to enlist us in a cause or bully is into a stereotyped response." We love because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). We love because we are loved; that is the state we exist in. We have allowed the experience of God's love into our empty, broken, helpless selves and so we extend that love outward. We can give only what we have, and God is the only resource that regenerates.
In a way, I look at faith like this: to believe God's love is to dare to believe that I (not my achievements, not my degree, not my job, not who loves me; not my strengths, not what I know or what I think, no, I) am worth something. Because of who God is, not who I think I am.
If we are literally feeding on love- on the Word of God, the awareness of God, the presence of God in our life; praying to receive council and guidance, listening to the Spirit of God so that we can act according to His will and not our fear- then the fruit of our life will be love.
If we are feeding on philosophies, or religious ideology, or doctrine alone, then the fruit of our life- the output- will match. If we are spiritually empty or uncommitted all together, then we are lost entirely. But a lot of the time, this is the depth where God most readily reaches us- and changes us. I know that was the case for me, and for lots of people I know. God's love wasn't even something I thought about, religion or belief never anything I thought I needed at all. In hindsight, it is only God who can shed light on the darkness that comes from that depth.
That's how the story goes. That's how we reconnect with our own, real lives, the best version of our day-to-day reality. Knowledge changes some things. Information changes things gradually, over time. Religion changes the way things look. Only God, only Love, changes- in the world that is the human soul- absolutely everything.