Writing a Better Story

Nearly every day in the summer, I take my dog to Westmoreland Park, where she plays in the creek. She runs up and down through the creek bed, diving headlong into the water, chasing ducks. Sometimes when I watch her I think about how good life can be, if we only lose ourselves in our stories. Lucy doesn’t read self-help books about how to be a dog; she just is a dog. All she wants to do is chase ducks and sticks and do other things that make both her and me happy. It makes me wonder if that was the intention for man, to chase sticks and ducks, to name animals, to create families, and to keep looking back at God to feed off His pleasure at our pleasure.

It’s interesting that in the Bible, in the book of Ecclesiastes, the only practical advice given about living a meaningful life is to find a job you like, enjoy your marriage, and obey God. It’s as though God is saying, Write a good story, take somebody with you, and let me help.

Sometimes, when I’m writing stories, it feels this way. I mean, when I’m sitting at the computer like I am now, I lose track of time and feel as though I’m jumping through the water in the creek, while God is sitting on the shore, pleased at my pleasure.

Before I learned about story, I was becoming a fatalist. I was starting to believe you couldn’t feel meaning in life because there wasn’t any meaning to be found. But I don’t believe that anymore. It’s a shame, because you can make good money being a writer and a fatalist. Nietzsche did it with relative success. Not personal success, mind you, because he rarely got out of bed. But he’s huge with twenty-something intellectuals. He’s the Justin Timberlake of depressed Germans, and there are a lot of depressed Germans.

I don’t ever want to go back to believing life is meaningless. I know there are biochemical causes for some forms of depression, but I wish people who struggle against dark thoughts would risk their hopes on living a good story — by that I mean finding a team of people doing hard work for a noble cause, and joining them. I think they’d be surprised at how soon their sad thoughts would dissipate, if for no other reason than they didn’t have time to think them anymore. There would be too much work to do, too many scenes to write.

In addressing men in his concentration camp, (Holocaust survivor and psychiatrist) Victor Frankl spoke of the need to move their thoughts beyond their own despondency, into direct action that affirmed a greater meaning in life:

We had to learn ourselves and, furthermore, we had to teach the despairing men, that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life — daily and hourly. Our answer must exist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answers to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets before each individual.

We live in a world where bad stories are told, stories that teach us life doesn’t mean anything and that humanity has no great purpose. It’s a good calling, then, to speak a better story. How brightly a better story shines. How easily the world looks to it in wonder. How grateful we are to hear these stories, and how happy it makes us to repeat them.

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Excerpted with permission from A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: How I Learned to Live a Better Story by Donald Miller, copyright Donald Miller.

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Your Turn

Remember Him — before the silver cord is severed, and the golden bowl is broken; before the pitcher is shattered at the spring, and the wheel broken at the well, and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.
Ecclesiastes 12:6-7

How can you to begin to live a better story with your life? How does it change your perspective to imagine God being “pleased at your pleasure?” We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

 

 

Donald Miller

Donald Miller wants to help people live better stories. In his bestselling memoirs like Blue Like Jazz, Scary Close, and A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, he offers honest, hopeful insights on faith & how to tell a better story with your life. He is now the CEO of StoryBrand where he helps businesses clarify their messaging so they can grow & do more great work. His latest book is titled Building a StoryBrand.

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