The freedom of being a small character

flower close upI just finished Still by Lauren Winner, an author who rises higher on my favorite list every time I read another of her books. (Follow the link above to her Amazon page to see all of them.) Still is about what she calls a mid-faith crisis–the doubting, dull doldrums–and what still keeps her in the faith and allows her, ultimately, to remain still in it.

One of my freelance assignments right now is a week of devotions on the “walk humbly” portion of Micah 6:8, and I’ve been simmering in that phrase before I begin the actual writing. Perhaps that is why the quote below from Still caught my eye. Whatever the reason for my first attraction, I have returned to it several times since, and I want to share it with you. If you are wondering this day about the specific purpose of your life; if you have thought “What am I doing?”; if you’re struggling with your significance/success–or seeming lack of it; if you’re shamed by failure, this one’s for you.

“It turns out the Christian story is a good story in which to learn to fail. As the ethicist *Samuel Wells has written, some stories feature heroes and some stories feature saints and the difference between them matters: ‘Stories…told with…heroes at the centre of them…are told to laud the virtues of the heroes–for if the hero failed, all would be lost. By contrast, a saint can fail in a way that the hero can’t, because the failure of the saint reveals the forgiveness and the new possibilities made in God, and the saint is just a small character in a story that’s always fundamentally about God.'”**

That last line (emphasis mine) keeps grabbing me. A load rolls off when I sit with it. I sigh with relief and gratitude. Yes! I breathe, yes!

white flowersFather, you are the Playwright of the greatest story ever, and you’ve given me a role in it, a small but somehow still important role. This story is about You; it’s for you; it’s by You. I come to you now and ask that You would simply show me what You have for me today in this story. Help me to release the big story to You, to let Your capable pen write it. Help me to live into the part you have for me, one small scene at a time. Give me great joy in doing my best for You. Remind me that You empower me to live out my role. May my bit part–and all our parts collectively–glorify You.

Just on a whim, I did a search on the word “story” on Bible Gateway. I specifically chose The Message to search from because I thought it might use the word “story” in a symbolic sense as well as in a literal one. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, but I found some beautiful, arresting passages. I’ve included some of them below.

“You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You keep meticulous account books, tithing on every nickel and dime you get, but on the meat of God’s Law, things like fairness and compassion and commitment—the absolute basics!—you carelessly take it or leave it. Careful bookkeeping is commendable, but the basics are required. Do you have any idea how silly you look, writing a life story that’s wrong from start to finish, nitpicking over commas and semicolons? ***Matthew 23:23-24

[ Trusting God ] So how do we fit what we know of Abraham, our first father in the faith, into this new way of looking at things? If Abraham, by what he did for God, got God to approve him, he could certainly have taken credit for it. But the story we’re given is a God-story, not an Abraham-story. What we read in Scripture is, “Abraham entered into what God was doing for him, and that was the turning point. He trusted God to set him right instead of trying to be right on his own.” ***Romans 4:1-3

I’ve preached you to the whole congregation,
    I’ve kept back nothing, God—you know that.
I didn’t keep the news of your ways
    a secret, didn’t keep it to myself.
I told it all, how dependable you are, how thorough.
    I didn’t hold back pieces of love and truth
For myself alone. I told it all,
    let the congregation know the whole story. ***Psalm 40:9-10

*The Samuel Wells link leads to a piece he wrote for The Christian Century about Bonhoeffer. It doesn’t link specifically to this topic, but it’s a really good read and what he wrote near the end of the article about Bonhoeffer’s assumptions about his own life’s “success” really do flesh out the quote above (which is not from that article).

**The quote is linked to the specific page it can be found on in the book God’s Advocates: Christian Thinkers in Conversation. It’s a Google book, so the entire thing is available for reading on that page.

***The Scripture links lead to a parallel versions (Message, NIV, Amplified) of that passage, allowing you to see other translations alongside Peterson’s work.

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