Our Lives as Stories: Rebirth

Finally we arrive at my most favourite genre of story: the rebirth. I’m generally not a big “romance” romantic, but I do love and dream (and, perhaps, romanticize) about people’s lives and stories turning around, starting over, coming back from the ashes, and all of the other phrases that can go along with the notion of “rebirth”.

Rebirth is generally depicted in stories where the main characters are bad or unpleasant, who discover the error of their ways, and then their redemption occurs. And there are so many classic examples of this: A Christmas Carol, Beauty and the Beast, Despicable Me, and, of course, The Grinch.

via GIPHY

Different than a tragedy where you know defeat is inevitable, there is something so moving and hope-inducing in a rebirth story: despite the struggle, things will change. All shall be well again (perhaps not even again, perhaps for the first time!)

Whatever your opinion on the Bible, if you read through the four Gospels which tell the story of Jesus’ time on earth, one thing that stands out is how Jesus changed people’s lives. Jesus healed and showed compassion and care to people whom society had given up on or fully rejected: people who were unclean due to sickness, disease, and deformity, people who were rejected because of their actions and choices (thieves, tax collectors, prostitutes, and adulterers).

In fact, Jesus had the harshest words to say to those people who thought they had it all figured out — the people whose lives, from the outside, seemed to be all together.

The truth is that none of us have life fully figured out. We will always be human and will always make mistakes. We all need the chance to start again and again and again.

Exercise: When you think of your own story, your own humanness, your own propensity to be a Grinch or a Scrooge, the places and times where you miss out on the compassion and grace and joy that really is always there (albeit sometimes deep, deep down)… what might a big turn around look like for you? What might it look like for that ugly part of you to be reborn?

What habits, thoughts, or actions might you need to turn away from? What might you need to turn towards?

What is keeping you from this change?

And who or what might be helpful as you think about this process?


P.S. Sometimes it is easier to believe that change is possible for others but not ourselves. We are bystanders in the transformation of others (whether in real life or in fiction). Because we don’t feel the depths of others’ pain or walk their road to change, it makes sense that others’ stories can feel easier and our own journeys seem insurmountable.

And I think it’s just human nature to compare pain. Helpful? No. Human nature? Yes.

I would challenge you to deliberately think of others’ stories of redemption only in ways that are life-giving and encouraging.

When (notice I said “when” not “if”) your mind starts going down the road of comparison to either put down your journey or others’, simply stop that thought and use that moment that was meant for negativity to redirect you to positivity and compassion.

Use others’ progress to encourage you that change is possible. Cheer for them. Cheer for yourself.  Let’s work towards solidarity in our very human struggles.

(To be able to connect to all of the posts in the Our Lives as Stories series, go here.)

Our Lives as Stories: The Quest

Last time we talked about the classic triumph of good over evil story in Overcoming the Monster. Today’s storyline, “The Quest”, is pretty similar. Here the hero is searching for a specific prize and overcomes challenges and temptations, including his or her own flaws which must be conquered before the prize is won.

So who joins the hero on the quest? A group of friends with complementary attributes and skills to help and the support the hero on the journey.

(Incidentally, though it is not a “quest” story, other than perhaps the quest for honey or to live out every day life, one of my all-time favourite stories about friends is Winnie the Pooh. Each of the characters is so (almost unbearably) unique — Owl is wise, Piglet is afraid, Eeyore is depressed, Tigger is hyper, Rabbit is Type-A, Roo is innocent, Pooh is… hungry and oblivious. Each character’s excessive depiction of their individual traits used to make me so mad as a child. But now I love it and often like to imagine who in a group of people or friends is the Rabbit, the Eeyore, the Pooh, etc.)

For our purposes, though, we are going to look at the perfect Quest example: The Lord of the Rings. In this classic story, the hobbit, Frodo Baggins, is small, simple, and knows nothing of fighting and war and is thrust into the ultimate battle to destroy evil. Yet, it is precisely his nature that makes him perfect for the quest and allows him to get through Mordor unnoticed.

But Frodo doesn’t travel alone. He’s got the fellowship of a wizard, an elf, a dwarf, some warrior men, and a handful of hobbits to help him along the way. Each has their own limitations, but together they make a pretty good team. Well… until the fellowship fails and disbands. But, even in that, they each still contribute to the quest.

So, what does the fantasy story of a hobbit and a wizard and a ring have to do with our real life struggles?

First, it reminds us how easy it is to feel alone when we struggle. It’s easy to hide when life gets tough and to not let anyone see our fears and struggles. We might feel like no one will understand. We might not want to burden people. We might not feel like our problems are worth sharing. Or we might feel like they are just too huge and scary to name.

But it can make a world of difference to have someone to share with — someone who listens and cares. It can be so scary to make that first step of saying the words out loud to someone. It can be hard to find a person you trust. But, it is so important to find a place and a person with whom you can talk to about what is going on.

(Did you know that one of the first things counsellors assess with new clients is their social support network? We find out about their friends and family, whether they live nearby, and who they can rely on. Because IT MATTERS that you have people you can rely on!)

Often people don’t end up with the supports they need because they’re so good at hiding their struggles, no one knows there’s anything wrong! For example, how often have you heard the story of someone who has taken their life and people were so shocked because “She was so popular!” or “He was so successful!”?

We are not alone in our struggles –– that’s the second thing we can take away from The Lord of the Rings. Each of those characters had their own path and their own trials to overcome. And that’s just like life. We all have struggles as we go through the years of our lives. We are all unique individuals with stronger gifts (and “less strong” gifts) in different areas at different times.

Despite the fact that we are all individuals with particular skills and stories, it is so easy to compare our lives with others. What is more, we compare our lives with a moment in time of another person. We might be struggling with finances, for example, and look on with envy at the neighbour who is doing well (or appears to be doing well!). But we don’t know what the past has been like for them nor what the future holds.

Comparison is so rarely true, it is almost never helpful, and, more than anything, it isolates us.

Instead, acknowledging the journey of others can give us the courage to speak our own stories. And having even one or two people in our life that we know we can always go to is so important. Even if you’re at a place in life where there doesn’t seem to be anyone, there are always doctors, counsellors, and pastors who can listen and guide you to others who will listen.

Exercise: Stop for a moment and think about who might be helpful to you on your “quest”. (You might have people around you all the time, but they will not all be people with whom you should share burdens.) Is there one person who comes to mind who you know would listen and who you’d be willing to share a struggle with? And, because it can be so easy to put off these kind of scary, vulnerable conversations, plan a specific time in the next week or two that you could meet with this person to talk.

Be brave. You are not alone. Even if it feels that way, you are not the only one who is stressed or afraid today. You don’t have to go at this alone. It’s not about someone else having the answers for you; it’s about being willing to share yourself, your story with another.

(To be able to connect to all of the posts in the Our Lives As Stories series, go here.)

Our Lives as Stories: Overcoming the Monster

This week’s storyline is pretty basic. We all know it well: “overcoming the monster”. In fact, most of what I’m going to say doesn’t even divert much from what was said on the original site from which I got the basic storylines.

In an “overcoming the monster” story, you have a main character and a foe– an enemy or force standing in the way of the good of the main character. The odds are not in favour of this character and it will take strength and courage and resolve to triumph.

Do they win?

Yep. Pretty much every time in the movies these days. Think David and Goliath, Karate Kid, Star Wars, and pretty much every superhero movie. (Spoiler alert, by the way.)

Why are these movies so successful? It goes back to the discussion of why we love stories in the first place. It has something to do with the love/hate relationship we have with conflict in movies (when we get to watch it from the comfort of our chairs with popcorn in hand) and the hate/hate relationship with have with conflict in real life (when we are the ones in the centre of the action).

It can be so inspiring to watch monsters be defeated. But it can be so disheartening to try to defeat our own monsters.

Sigh…

And sigh again…

We know this storyline well– not just from the movies, from real life too.

Sometimes it can be hard to tell if we are the hero or the bedraggled monster on any given day…

So, in the spirit of the brave heroes and heroines I know are all in us, here is an exercise to encourage us in overcoming our own monsters.

Exercise:

What needs overcoming in your life? Big or small– what’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a “monster” that you might be facing these days? Does it feel like an impossible situation — one you won’t ever have the strength or courage or time to change? It might be anger or your attitude to a family member, it might be greed or insincerity or any number of temptations. Maybe the thing you need to overcome might be outside of yourself: standing up to a particular situation, for a friend, or an injustice.

There could be so many monsters in our lives.

Remember, neither the shepherd David or even Luke Skywalker knew going into battle that they were absolutely going to win. But that didn’t stop them from pursuing what they knew was good and right. Think about one real way that you can stand up to this monster. It can be something big or small. It just needs to be specific and an action that moves you onto the path of facing the monster. Once you have that specific action in mind, think about a time when you can do it. And then take a deep breath, think about the monster and the fears that come to the surface… What do you need to do to find the courage to do that one thing?

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” — Lao Tzu

Bonus: When you get really brave, stop and reflect on what your definition of “victory” or “success” is in this situation. We all need to do that once in a while… and probably more often than we think.

(To be able to connect to all of the posts in the Our Lives As Stories series, go here.)