Articles and thoughts by Steve Green.
If I had been asked a few weeks ago to tell my story I would have given the familiar points that I’ve rehearsed and shared many times. I thought I knew my story well. Yet, through his book, ‘To Be Told’, Dan Allender led me on a journey to discover chapters of my life that needed re-editing, re-interpreting and embracing. The greatest challenge perhaps, was the invitation to love my story, the good, the bad and the ugly, by acknowledging God’s authorship and presence through it all. My story was written for His glory and my participation in His redemption.
Dan walks his readers through the necessary steps of not only beginning to write their story, but more importantly, of letting others see the goodness and the glory of God by sharing our stories with them.
The book begins with a simple reminder… Each of us is a story, well-written with intentionality and authored by the greatest Writer of all time. To know our stories we must know the characters who have shaped our character. Each scene of our lives has key players as well as those hidden in the wings. Who are the people, those we remember with fondness or those we would rather forget, whose presence formed the themes of our lives? The plot of our personal story follows the common story of humankind. Creation – how we came to be, the Fall – how we lost ourselves, Redemption – what it means to discover the name God has written for us, and Consummation – how the ending of our story reflects the great consummation of God’s story.
Life is a journey to discover our true name. All along the way we have been named by the words and actions of others… names that mark, mar and cripple, or names that set us on the endless and exhausting journey of meeting the expectations of those we allowed to have power over us. God intends for us to bear the name He has given. Yet the pathway to discovering that name can be unsettling and even terrifying because it requires us to revisit painful parts of our story.
We love stories as long as they happen to someone else. In our case, we want quick resolution and an end to our messes. Yet, instead of providing easy answers, our stories offer perspective. Every story begins with Shalom… an Eden’s rest, the time when our hearts were at peace, secure and protected. Dan states that inevitably, “Shalom is shattered by sin, the intrusion of a lie, the distortion of truth. The shattering makes us feel alone and in danger.” But tragedy introduces us to ourselves and our deepest passions. “Each human story involves moments of being unnamed through abandonment, betrayal and shame. But God reveals Himself to be the Person who perfectly meets the needs of each one.” So, what will we do with the broken and shame-filled parts of our lives? Is it possible to love our own stories? The surprising twist is that our plight is also our redemption. God uses our flaws and the sins of others to create the backdrop of His glorious redemption. Dan writes, “We will only learn to love our stories when we see the glory that seeps through our most significant shattering. To see that glory we must enter into and read our tragedies with the confidence that they will end better than we could ever have imagined.”
Lest we get stuck in self-preoccupation, readers are reminded that redemption is not just for personal benefit, but within God’s greater story, our redeemed lives are meant to battle some unique effect of the Fall. To do this we must identify the theme of our lives and form a missional statement that unearths our desires, articulates our passion and sets us on a course to follow the story God has written for us. But how do we find the theme of our lives? The unexpected answer is that we find the prominent theme by tracing the thread of life’s pain and tragedy. This exercise can only be done through prayer and fasting… but not in the traditionally understood way. Dan explains that, “Desperation causes us to utter our deepest and finest prayers, surrendering to God’s authorship and asking for mercy. He answers our prayers by building burdens in us through our own experience of being orphaned, exiled and widowed, and then sends us to live out our lives with those who need us.” Fasting helps expose our aching souls and identify the lesser gods, making room for the one God, who alone can heal the orphaned, exiled and widowed heart.
Finally, ‘To Be Told’ stresses the importance of giving our story away… our broken story that compels others to taste and see that God is both odd and good. In doing so, we are granted the privilege of participating in God’s redemption and receive the surprising joy of seeing the beauty of God’s working in others.
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