I love a good story, don’t you?
One of my favorite ways to connect with others is to tell our stories. It just seems to happen when people gather. I think that so much of what we share is corralled into little narratives that we in turn offer to others. This is all an eloquent way of leading you, the reader, into my most recent experience with story.
My roommates and I hosted a few ladies for dinner on Friday night. My roommate was inquisitive that evening and asked one of our guests, who I’ll call Helen, about her life. Why is she doing the job she’s doing? How did she get there? We all work for the same church, but with it being such a large staff we often don’t get to hear the unique ways that we ended up here. Along the way, we discovered that she knew another friend of ours, who is newer to the faith. Our friend, I’ll call him Rob, has become our unofficial adopted brother. It has been a joy to get to know him as he is getting to know God.
We discovered that night that Helen had known Rob for years. Had gone to college with him and had been praying for him ever since she met him. All we knew before that evening was that Rob had watched a TED talk given by our pastor, showed up at our church, and the rest was, as they say, history. However, it quickly became clear that there was a larger, more complex story at play. And we had to hear it right then.
Helen went on to share how she’d met Rob in college and they ended up becoming good friends. She prayed that he would meet Jesus. She shared with him about her journey of faith with Christ. Towards the end of college she had invited Rob to a conference for people to just ask questions about Christianity. Rob went forward to accept Christ at the end of the weekend, but never really pursued a life of faith after that. Then he went off to live in another country. The two kept in touch, but Rob just seemed to be growing increasingly self-centered. Helen was discouraged and concerned for her friend. In the midst of this, she had finished school and ended up living back at her mom’s house – not what she had envisioned for her post-collegiate life. It was a frustrating and confusing time she described as a quarter life crisis.
One day, Rob contacted her and asked if she’d heard of Saddleback Church. What can you do in a moment like that, but laugh? Helen had grown up at the church and was now back as an intern. Rob had just watched a TED talk with Rick Warren and he had some questions. He moved back to the States and continued a dialogue with Helen. They texted back and forth, Rob wrestling through his questions about Christianity. No matter how exciting it was to see her friend being furiously pursued by God, her personal life continued to be challenging. Her life was going in such a different direction than she had envisioned and she had her own questions for God. Her ministry to Rob was not born out of having this perfect life, but out of a place of weakness and uncertainty. There is something so beautiful and real about that. Out of the ashy places in our hearts, God is working miracles that can only be attributed to him. After many months of questions, classes, and pondering, Rob chose a life with Christ.
I loved hearing Rob and Helen’s stories and the experience of it remained with me over the weekend. I think I was drawn to it, because I often feel trapped by my own story. Because my story feels limiting some days. I struggle to see the larger story, the metanarrative, or even to trust that such a larger story even exists. Yet, here was this story, in which there was clearly more to it than just one’ person’s experience. The story was amplified by my hearing multiple perspectives. It was a good story to begin with: man meets God through TED talk. But hearing Helen’s role in it made it a great story. This causes me to pause and wonder at the countless threads of stories God is orchestrating, which are constantly overlapping and impacting our daily experience of life. And most of the time we will have no idea that this is happening. It’s overwhelming, in the best sense of the word.
I wonder if heaven will be like that. Us sharing our stories and then the slow realizations of the full story: the dizzying amount of intersecting paths and the way God has clearly weaved a deeper narrative in our midst.
And then we will feast and sing and delight in these rich stories that we lived.
And we will worship God.
And some days, God gives us tiny glimpses of these realities here on earth.