All the cool kids these days are talking about the idea of “life as story.” This was the theme of Donald Miller’s 2011 book A Million Miles In A Thousand Years: How I Learned To Live A Better Story and subsequent Story conferences. N.D. Wilson explored the theme first in Notes From The Tilt-A-Whirl and again in Death By Living.
I love the concept of understanding life as a story. I mean, come on, who doesn’t like a good story? Stories can convey truth without preaching. Stories can disarm people. Parties are always better with good stories. Find the person with the best stories and you’re likely to find a crowd as well.
And, unless the person is just a big fat liar, good stories aren’t easy to come by. They require effort because they require us to actually live. No one wants to hear about how you sat on the couch for six hours eating cereal and watching reruns of Family Matters. N.D. Wilson says:
“There is a difference between asserting that life is a story and actually living life like a story. And then there is another difference between living life like a story and living life like a good story.”
The reason so many of us don’t have good stories is because we don’t understand what it means to live like a story. Imagine your life up to this point as a story. And don’t pick a particular genre (romance, travel, adventure, etc.) because good biographies include many “cross-genre” elements. Would you buy the book of your life? Would you even read it? Would anyone else? Would anyone want the movie rights?
This is probably a good place to pause and say that to live life like a story does not mean that you have to constantly try and place yourself in dangerous or even necessarily exciting scenarios. You don’t have to risk your life everyday. But you have to be a character worth reading about. N.D. Wilson says it this way:
“which character are you? Who are you? Are you the guy who is there just to make the actual hero look good? Are you the guy who is there to die just as a morality tale, as a lesson, a cautionary tale for other people? And you might not be one of the real villains, you might not be a lecherous youth pastor or an unfaithful husband. You might not be egregiously bad, but you might be, well, you are something. You are the backstabbing friend, you are the irritable Dad, you are the horrible boyfriend, you are the gossip of a girlfriend. You are a complainer, you are a whiner, you are someone. And you are someone that you would probably not actually like if you saw them on screen. You probably wouldn’t like that character if you read that character as described by a master novelist.”
Living life like a story simply means living well. Be the kind of person you would like to read about. And understand that, this too, wherever you are currently at in life, no matter what you’re going through, good or bad, happy or sad, shall become part of your backstory. There will come a day in the future when you will tell the story of this phase of your life. Will you have to fudge the details to make it more interesting? Or will you rise to the occasion and life the good story?