Thursday, August 19, 2010

Book Review: A Million Miles in a Thousand Years

I have read several of Donald Miller’s books and I have enjoyed every one of them.  He has a fascinating way of telling stories and sharing his adventures.  This book falls right along with the rest of his books.  But the twist to this book is that he gets to reexamine his life now that a film crew wants to tell his story through a movie!  This causes Miller to think through the stories that have shaped him, and on a deeper level it forces him to come to grips with what really makes a story great!  In dealing with what makes a great story not only does Miller wrestle with the stories of his past but he also leaps into new stories with a sense of adventure.  I was fascinating to hear the stories that he plunged himself into such as hiking the Inca Trail, biking across America, meeting his father who walked out on the family when he was young, starting the Mentoring Project and of course coming to terms with the elements of what is a great story.

Miller opens up with the proposition that “ if what we choose to do with our lives won’t make a story meaningful, it won’t make a life meaningful either.” (p. xiii).  Does meaning just happen or does it become a reality because we are pursuing meaning in our lives?  He goes on to whet our appetites for what is coming by considering “I wonder if life could be lived more like a good story in the first place. I wondered whether a person could plan a story for his life and live it intentionally.” (p. 39).  This sounds uplifting and exciting but the reality is that many of us live safe lives that ultimately lead to boredom, cynicism, and negativity. 

Miller goes on to postulate that:

If I have a hope, it’s that God sat over the dark nothing and wrote you and me, specifically, into the story, and put us in with the sunset and the rainstorm as through to say, Enjoy your place in my story. The beauty of it means you matter, and you can create within it even as I have created you.  I’ve wondered, though, if one of the reasons we fail to acknowledge the brilliance of life is because we don’t want the responsibility inherent in the acknowledgment. We don’t want to be characters in a story because characters have to move and breathe and face conflict with courage. And if life isn’t remarkable, then we don’t have to do any of that: we can be unwilling victims rather than grateful participants. (p. 59).

God invited us into a great story.  But all too often we are motivated more by living a safe, boring life rather than living into bigger and better stories that can change and transform us into extraordinary people.    

Miller realizes that at times there is an internal struggle between the flesh and the spirit when it comes to living out great stories.  He confesses that “ . . . the Voice, the Writer who was not me, was trying to make a better story, a more meaningful series of experiences I could live through.  At first, even though I could feel God writing something different, I’d play the scene the way I wanted. This never worked. It would always have been better to obey the Writer, the one who knows the better story." (p. 88)

So this is not about just going out and living large like you are one of the Jersey Shore members.  This is about living into the story that God has created for you; listening with a sensitivity to the Holy Spirit to sense his leading and guiding within your life. 

Miller goes on to test out this theory with gusto jumping into various stories that push him to the limits.  In the midst of these experiences he came to realize that he was

. . . wanting even better stories.  And that’s the thing you’ll realize when you organize your life into the structure of story. You’ll get a taste for one story and then want another, and then another, and the stories will build until you’re living a kind of epic of risk and reward, and the whole thing will be molding you into the actual character whose roles you’ve been playing. And once you live a good story, you get a taste for a kind of meaning in life, and you can’t go back to being normal; you can’t go back to meaningless scenes stitched together by the forgettable thread of wasted time. The more practice stories I lived, the more I wanted an epic to climb inside of and see through till its end. (p. 154-155).

Once you step out of the mundane and meaningless, and instead, enter into a story that is rich with challenge, risk, adventure, something larger than yourself, you experience life in a much different way and you never want to go back.   

But the reality is that many, many times people start out strong in living out a great story and then for whatever reasons give up or “downgrade”.  Miller wrestles with this in pondering why
. . . most people give up on their stories.  They come out of college wanting to change the world, wanting to get married, wanting to have kids and change the way people buy office supplies.  But they get into the middle and discover it was harder than they thought. They can’t see the distant shore anymore, and they wonder it their paddling is moving them forward. None of the trees behind them are getting smaller and none of the trees ahead are getting bigger.  They take it out on their spouses, and they go looking for an easier story. (p. 179)

Unfortunately, I have seen this scenario play out all too often.  I am in the middle-age bracket and I have seen way too many friends give into the “mid-life crisis” and abandon their stories for an easier one.  It is sad and heart breaking to watch this play out as many people get hurt in the process. 

It is not just abandoning great stories that is the problem within our culture, but it is also avoiding stepping into a great story.  Miller comes to grips with “ . . . how much our lives are spent trying to avoid conflict. Half the commercials on television are selling us something that will make life easier. Part of me wonders if our stories aren’t being stolen by the easy life." (p. 186).  There is so much truth to this when you consider how we in America seem to always be seeking out entertainment and our own pleasure so much that we seem to be oblivious at times to the bigger issues of what is going on around the world.   We settle for the easy life instead of the epic life.  And the fact is, the easy life is incredibly unsatisfactory.  Eventually we wake up and see the meaninglessness of the bubble we have hidden ourselves in. 

Also, so many of us have become afraid of change, conflict, or pain.  We do what we can to avoid any situation that may have some of these outcomes.  But Miller points out that “. . . every conflict, no matter how hard, comes back to bless the protagonist if he will face his fate with courage. There is no conflict man can endure that will not produce a blessing.” (p. 188).  Difficult situations in life have a way of producing blessings if we face it with courage.  Overcoming any obstacles in life will have its rewards.  But when we run away from those difficulties, we lose out on the transformative experience and the reward of overcoming.  

One of my most favorite books of the Bible is Ecclesiastes.  Miller makes reference to it by commenting that “It’s interesting that in the Bible, in the book of Ecclesiastes, the only practical advice given about living a meaningful life is to find a job you like, enjoy your marriage, and obey God.  It’s as though God is saying, Write a good story, take somebody with you, and let me help." (p. 247).  God encourages us to join Him in making a great story!  He has given us the ability to love Him and love others in extraordinary ways.  And the fact is, for many of us the big challenge is that this begins with our family: to love our spouses, and love our kids the way that would honor God and help them live into the stories that God has written for them. 

Miller concludes with recognizing that “We live in a world where bad stories are told, stories that teach us life doesn’t mean anything and that humanity has no great purpose. It’s a good calling, then, to speak a better story. How brightly a better story shines. How easily the world looks to it in wonder. How grateful we are to hear these stories, and how happy it makes us to repeat them.” (p. 248).  Miller tells a lot of fascinating stories about his own adventures in living into his story and breaking out of the boredom he found himself stuck in.  But the reality is that we are all a part of a grand story that we have learned about through Scripture.  The very story of Jesus is the ultimate, most epic, most transforming, and incredible story of all.  And the truth is that we are invited into that story.  It is not a story of safety and comfort and security but instead it can be a story that will cause pain, discomfort, and insecurity but all too often it is just that kind of situation in which we see our need to trust even more in God and depend on Him to help us live through our stories with courage, honor and integrity.  And in the midst of living into these kinds of stories, we will grow a deeper, richer faith, and our relationships will have greater meaning and depth. 

As a youth pastor I would love to see more and more teenagers believe this with all of their hearts.  If that happened I think that they could have the power to change the world.  There would be less drug and alcohol abuse, less teenage pregnancy, less self abuse and suicide, etc., etc., etc.  Young people with a compelling vision from God and a solid belief that they can make a difference could be just the thing to turn this world upside-down in a really good way.  Every time I read Donald Miller he makes me want to kick myself because I wish I could have lived my single years like he did.  To seize crazy opportunities and pursue them with courage in a spontaneous way that only a single person can get away with!  But I am living into the adventure that God has called me to now and that is to love my wife, raise my kids in the love of Christ, and create experiences for a bunch of teenagers at my church that help them create compelling stories that help them live into a dynamic and active faith.  I don’t believe in an easy, spoon-fed Christianity.  BORING!  It is a fun adventure that I am on right now!  But some day my kids will be raised and I just might run off with some friends and hike the Appalachian Trail, or bike across America for some great cause, or move to Africa with my wife and find another completely insane adventure that will make me feel like God’s very own Indiana Jones!

1 comment:

Lisa said...

Wow, this is great stuff and I can really identify. I want to encourage youth and adults alike. God is calling each of you and your life not only matters but is a necessary part to fulfilling God's Will in the world. He has an important role for each of you. Some of us discover it early, others of us have a series of "stories" that happen and when we sit down and link them we see the circle our life forms to create a new opportunity or transforming change. Don't be afraid of the change. Don't let your human nature get in the way of God's divine placement. The miles, the struggles are all worth it. I am so blessed! Peace~ Lisa