Our Lives as Stories

What makes a book or a movie great? What is one key element in every story arch? What is the thing that carries the characters from point A to point B?

The answer, of course, is conflict.

Our movie theatres and bookstores would pretty much be empty if stories had no conflict. We wouldn’t want to read them. And yet, what’s the one thing we dream and long for our lives to be without?

The answer, of course, is conflict.

I grew up in the 1980s and I spent every lunch hour eating Chef Boyardee and watching The Flintstones on television. I watched it every day. And I hated it every day. I hated that 18 of the 21 minutes of the episode would involve Fred trying to fix whatever mess he’d gotten himself into. It was infuriating. I had the personality where I really, really wanted things to go smoothly without failure or friction or stress along the way. Yet I kept watching it.

Conflict is what sets stories in motion.

Imagine the great, iconic stories without conflict. The Lord of the Rings where the ring drives people to goodness instead of greed and malice. The Wizard of Oz with no wicked witch, no winding yellow brick road, no leaving Kansas at all. Harry Potter with no Voldemort. Anne of Green Gables with no Rachel Lynde. And… dare I say it?… Dora the Explorer with no Swiper the Fox.

Conflict is what makes stories great, moving, and powerful.

Yet, when we look at our own lives, we pray for there to be no conflict or struggle. Nobody likes conflict in their life. In fact, there are thousands of books written on how to help us deal with (remove!) conflict in our lives: in our marriages, with our children, our families, our work, our finances, and on and on.

Because conflict is hard. Conflict is frustrating. Conflict seems like it prevents us from getting us to where we should be.

Is there a way to reframe our view of conflict? Is it possible to look at the struggle and conflict in our lives the way we look at conflict in movies and books — as the thing that makes it amazing… great… worth living… instead of worth avoiding…?

I gave a talk to my husband’s youth group a few weeks back where I went through the traditional plot lines of books and movies*, guiding the kids in exercises where they could examine their own lives within those plot structures. It was a worthwhile exercise. And so I am going to share some of that here as well.

Sure, teens are more likely to view their lives in extreme, all or nothing, “this is the best” or “this is the worst” terms. But we, adults, can think like that too sometimes. So I think this will be helpful for us all.

Each post will look at a different story line/plot line: what makes it great, what makes it not so great, and then we will get to reflect on where and in what ways our lives might feel like one of those story lines.

But for today I leave you with conflict, stress, uncertainty.

You’re welcome. 🙂

Exercise: I’m sure as you look back on your life, you have moments where you see how a struggle has changed you for the better, has brought you growth and goodness that you could not see when you were in the middle of the struggle.

Reflect on one of those past struggles. How hard was it to be in the middle of it? How did you get through it? When did the struggle begin to lessen and how? When did you begin to see the smallest bit of goodness come from it? What are all the positive ways you (and others) have been shaped by this struggle as the years have passed?

(Bonus question: can you imagine there ever being a time when you can see one of your current struggles in a positive way — might there be some growth and goodness in there somewhere?)

Want to engage with the entire series of Our Lives as Stories?
Here are all the genres in order:

*These genres were adapted from Sparkol’s “7 Universal Story Plots

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