A few years ago I heard someone say that asking “What do you do?” to a stranger has become outdated. “What do you do?” is, of course, code for “What is your job?” which, he thought, isn’t really the best way to get to know a person, especially a person who doesn’t identify with their line of work or is possibly out of work.
So he decided to drop “What do you do?” and start asking “What’s your story?” upon first meeting someone — an open-ended question with endless possibilities for ways to answer: chronological, order of importance, life stages. But when he tried it on me, I didn’t know how to answer. Plus I was like Buzz off! We just met! I shied away from the idea of telling my “story” because I wasn’t completely sure if I had anything worth telling at all.
We’re obsessed with stories, though, aren’t we? We fall in love with a TV series because we can’t wait to see what happens next. The first question after a friend gets engaged is “How did he do it?” We want the story. Books, movies, news — we’re conditioned to digest them, one after another. The suspense. The climax. The resolution. The happy ending. But when it comes to my own story, I’ve struggled to even write the first line.
I used to date someone who was really good at telling stories. His life seemed full of funny little adventures, and he articulated them in a way that made even the simplest moments seem significant. They had a beginning, a middle, and an end — the perfect little package. I rarely knew how to respond. The thought of responding with an anecdote about my normal, non-eventful day at work was so intimidating. I did much more listening in that relationship than talking, and it’s because I didn’t believe in my story.
I’m not sure if things are any different now. Since moving back to Indianapolis over two years ago, I’ve felt like a supporting character in everyone else’s story and never the leading lady. Huge celebration-worthy life moments have happened for so many people I love and adore. First loves, engagements, weddings, houses, babies, more babies. Plot points. Advancement of the story.
I’m always there in the background, sometimes even the sidekick. And stories need those people, right? They need secondary characters and subplots and cameos. It keeps things interesting. I’m honored to play that supporting role for my friends and family. But selfishly, I long for a better story to tell.
My sister is getting married this summer. I just attended two friends’ weddings, and I have one more coming up in August. Three dear friends have had babies this spring. Between showers and weddings and babies and even a cluster of birthdays, I’ve been celebrating new chapters in the stories of my loved ones for a few solid weeks, and I’ve loved every second of it. But now that there’s a lull and I’ve had a chance to exhale, that selfishness has reared its ugly head. There’s nothing to celebrate about ME.
It makes me think of this moment in the movie Bridesmaids when Annie says of her friend Lillian: “I feel like her life is going off and getting perfect and mine is just like *fart noise*.”
When I told my best friend Brittany I was feeling this way, her response was the best, most gracious bit of wisdom I could have ever received. She said this time in my life is special. It’s a time when I can support, love, and give in ways others can’t because of how their stories have advanced. She said her hope for me is that I can truly take comfort in knowing that God knows what I need. And those parts of the story I think I need — the relationship, the marriage, the family — none of those will ever fulfill me the way He will.
But the best thing she said, something I will never forget, is this: “I know sometimes life seems boring, but it won’t be that way forever. Life following Jesus isn’t like that. The calm is just a break.”
The calm is just a break.
It turns out I’ve been searching for a story that looks just like everyone else’s. In my jealousy and narrow view of my life’s purpose, I’ve considered my story boring, worthless, not worth telling. But life with Jesus isn’t like that! It’s exciting and meaningful and important. And I am all of those things, too.
Two weeks ago I sat in a muggy back yard and listened to my friend Tony deliver a message to a group of high school kids at Young Life club. It ended up being exactly what I needed to hear, too. Part of his message was a warning against filling in the blank.
You know the blank. Something like: “If I could just __________, then I’d be happy.”
The blank is a dangerous, alluring, tempting space where my selfish desires and pursuit of false fulfillment live. “But our hearts long for more than that,” he said. For more than what we see. For more than what we comprehend. For more than the stories we think we need. Our hearts long for our own unique God-authored stories.
Today is my 31st birthday. I guess I officially have to say I’m “in my 30s” now. (Don’t I sound so wise?) I don’t know what will happen this year. I don’t know how my story will advance. Maybe according to the world’s standards — and the ones I’m trying so desperately to break free from — it won’t. I probably won’t get married this year. I definitely won’t have a baby. Just to clarify: ZERO percent chance of baby. It’s possible that I might be doing the same thing 365 days from now that I’m doing at this exact moment: sitting in my bed, cuddling with my dog, writing about my feelings and stuff.
But 31 years ago today, God started writing a story, and he made me the star. There are chapters only He and I know about. There are parts that go unnoticed and uncelebrated. But it doesn’t mean they’re not worth sharing. I can tell you all about it, but you’ll have to sit through all the boring parts. I promise it won’t be boring forever, though. The calm is just a break.