In Life & In Literature (Rough Cut)

What do we do when it seems our story stalls?

It is so easy to take a happy ending for granted. Oftentimes suspense doesn’t seem to come from the conclusion but rather the actions that bring the reader there. The Ring will get to Mordor- but how? Harry will defeat Voldemort- but at what cost? Sherlock will uncover the truth- but what could that be? It seems silly and nihilistic to spend thousands of words on the triumph of darkness (the greatest fiction). Humans were programmed for hope, after all, and the story of our race and the God that made it- the one from which all stories spring- indicates that evil will not have the final say.

As a reader who favors certain fictions to the point of exhaustion, it oftentimes becomes essential to sort of- feel- with those beloved characters, to step back from their situations a moment and try color it in with my own experiences. It helps to understand better what I am reading and, to be truthful, to keep the material fresh. It is in moments like these that you realize that Frodo did not trek with inherent confidence in his success; Harry did not assume that Voldemort would fall at his hand, and Sherlock- well, Sherlock was probably quite certain of his abilities, but that is beside the point.

I think of Elizabeth Bennet’s despair after it seems to her that she’s lost Mr. Darcy forever; I consider Anne Shirley lamenting her potential return to the orphanage from which she was so recently freed; of Cosette afraid to fetch water from the well so deep in the woods. In moments like this, with a cup of tea in one hand and the resolution to all these (conveniently) far-away problems in another, we forget that these characters had no idea of their happy endings.Their resolutions were as mysterious to them as our tomorrows are to us. Their lives were difficult, unknowable, and oftentimes incredibly hard.

Yet- and this seems rather- indelicate, but it’s true: A good story is good because there is conflict and there is resolution. We are not necessarily entertained by tales of happy people in a constant state of delight. Comedy is astute and honest observation; tragedy is the inevitable, and life mixes it all. Even the frothiest fiction composed for babies has  its own kind of anguish, or at least a muddy puppy, a formerly white sofa, and a mother at the end of her rope. I say this with much sensitivity: in our own realities, the frustrations, heartaches, and unknowables are what makes our story readable.

I would describe this strange time of transition in my life as not necessarily a conflict but most definitely a time of deep frustration. Most seems stagnant, where very little changes and nothing much improves. I am constantly battling my emotions-a topic for another post- and reminding myself of two truths, an amalgam of book-born common sense (my pastor once said that “we often learn better from parable than from principle”-PREACH) and Biblical reality.

1. I am not the Author. I do not have the final say. Acknowledging this is and letting go of control is incredibly hard. Trust me. But imagine if “Pride and Prejudice” was written by it’s heroine, the aforementioned Elizabeth Bennet. Her faulty “first impression” (wink) would have rendered one of literature’s most-adored romances a disastrous disappointment. Jane Austen had a plan. So does God. And unlike Lizzie, I have the luxury of knowing my Author, of being forthright with Him, of looking to His word to see what He says about me. He knows intimately the hearts, words, and ways of all His characters (Psalm 139 vs 4-5, 15-16; Proverbs 5:23). He promises “to work all things together for our good” (Romans 8:28), a good that He understands better than we ourselves do. He cannot lie (Hebrews 6:18)- these verses aren’t niceties!

2. Remember: a good story resolves its conflict. I am not pretending that life is flawless, nor that all our issues find themselves conveniently wrapped in a precious little bow. However, as sure as I am told by the Lord that I will have trouble (John 16:33), I’m also told that He is preparing rooms for me in Heaven (John 14:2), is a source of rest and peace on the other side of it (Matthew 11:30), and that He is with me always (Matthew 28:20). Furthermore, the Bible assures me that He can do “immeasurably more than we ask or imagine.” (Ephesians 3:20)  Indeed, I believe that Eternity, seeing the Lord face-to-face, and the complete and utter defeat of evil is an incredibly satisfying end. However, I think that the Lord wants us to have victory and resolution before that day comes. If He didn’t, why would we be instructed in Philippians to “not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.” (4:6)  Consider the Fruits of the Spirit- love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self control. All wonderful, good things. Why would the Lord give us His aid, share with us His character, strength, and wisdom if He wanted to keep us in conflict? The Lord’s work is indeed the opposite. Said Jesus, “”The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free…’” (Luke 4:18)

These truths give me courage at a time when I am honestly waging a war for the belief that the Lord will eventually change my situation. Yet perhaps the most important thing I can do when it seems like my story has stalled  is to be reminded of the biggest, best, most beautiful story of all: that of an Author loving his characters with such passion that He became intimately involved in their plots, taking their conflict and making it His own- dying on the cross to rid me of it, and you of it, and defeating death three days later in the biggest twist in history. One of the things I love about Jesus, a God-man who was fond of stories, too, is that He can’t mess anything up.

And He doesn’t let anything stall.

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