What’s Your Story?

by Ethan Moore on February 5, 2013 · 15 comments

I suppose it is a story as old as time itself.  Man and woman, thrown together by circumstance.  Man tolerates the relationship while the woman is committed, heart and soul.  Eventually, woman finds a way (she believes) to bind her man to herself, to earn his heart-felt commitment once and for all.

A baby.

It is a formulaic storyline that fills our movies and programs, and for good reason.  It is a time-honored attempt to earn love, or something that emulates deep affection.  It’s also pretty life-like.  Don’t believe me?

Read Genesis 29:31-34.

Leah isn’t loved, but she’s pretty fertile.  The birth of Offspring #1 inspires her to dream: “Surely now my husband will love me.”  Offspring #2 prompts the thought, “…I am not loved…”  Finally, she realizes that it takes three kids to get that sort of committment she craves: “Now, surely my husband will become attached to me because I have given him three sons.”

We see Leah’s desperation again in the next chapter.  She brazenly trades food for Jacob’s attention, and after three more sons she confirms that this time – finally – she’s got him: “Now surely Jacob will honor me, because I have given him six sons.”

Wonder how that worked out for her.

What did Leah want?  Love.  She just wanted to be loved; not loved in spite of the fact that she had weak eyes and wasn’t Rachel, “…lovely in form and appearance.”  She just wanted love, honor, and attachment, deeply-rooted affection for who and what she was.  She named her kids to recall her struggles.  She battled her sister and bartered her food in an attempt to earn something that must be freely given.

Not so different from today, though; there really isn’t anything new under the sun.

It sounds remarkably like my friend Bethany, who, at the age of 45,  hides various decisions from her parents; fearing that their disapproval of her judgment will imply disapproval of her, Bethany dares not risk losing Mommy’s and Daddy’s love by having them know that she pays for the highest speed internet or bought her son a cheap cell phone.

It sounds like gifted choir member who insists that she can’t sing, can’t remember the words, lacks a decent voice.  She craves affirmation of her considerable skills because no one seems to care much for her as an individual.

Leah’s actions recall a guy I met back in the US, someone who made sure everyone knew his accomplishments, his acquaintances, his friends, his experiences so that they might give him the respect he wanted.  Ironically, his self-centered monologues turned people off, causing them to ignore him which, in turn, inspired more egocentric conversation in pursuit of elusive respect.

Our thinking seems to be, “If I have enough babies, he’ll love me.  If my decisions are perfect, they’ll care about me.  If I accomplish enough, they’ll respect me.  If I serve enough, people will treasure me….”  The problem though, is that our thoughts rarely stop at this point.  Too often we confuse the affections of others with worthiness of ourselves, and we end up thinking, “If I have enough babies, I will be innately loveable.  If my decisions are perfect, I’ll be worthy of approval.  If I accomplish enough, I will become inherently respectable.  If I serve enough, I will be a treasure in and of myself…”

Look around you, at work and in church, and observe some of the more odd patterns you see in others.  My friend PW tells me frequently, “Jeremy, any time you observe extreme behavior or an extreme point of view – anything that is at the far end of any particular spectrum – you’ve got to realize that there’s a reason for it. There’s always a story behind it. Always. Find the story, and you’ll likely understand the person. Usually, you’ll manage to love him as well.”

So, that guy at church who throws money around and makes power plays…what’s his story?  What is he seeking?  Power for the sake of power?  Or does he really need respect that he never got from people before he was wealthy?

The woman who serves - constantly, desperately, in every conceivable capacity - why doesn’t she ever go home?  Could it be she is chasing love and involvement that her husband/father/sons seem not to give?

Two observations spring to mind:

1.  On a personal level, loving is impossible without knowing.  We can love groups of people without knowing too much about that.  God’s sharing of His own divine love makes such a thing possible.  However, to love the most difficult people around us, sometimes we need to know their story.  We need to work at understanding what drives them, what makes their words and behaviors so outrageous.  We have to practice a certain amount of reflection and introspection, setting aside how we feel about people long enough to think about them, to know them.

2.  The stories that drive our behavior also inform our theology.  Stay with me here, because this might be a stretch.  I was recently talking about Chad, a difficult Christian brother, while complaining to my buddy, Terry.  I intended to end the conversation with, “But I’ll tell ya…that guy works really, really hard.”  Terry snorted and said, “Chad doesn’t have any choice.  In his mind, Chad still hears the voice of his daddy or momma telling him he’s not good enough, not smart enough, not holy enough.”  Interestingly enough, Chad is a pretty strong anti-Calvinism proponent, and why not?  Anyone who is driven to work hard in order to earn human favor will likely drift towards theological positions that allow him to earn divine favor as well.  Is it any coincidence that liberation theology came from communities that legitimately craved justice?

Instead of critiquing theology in a vacuum or avoiding difficult individuals whose behavior is beyond bizarre, we need to listen.  We need to hear the stories of those who speak through their beliefs and actions.  We need to practice discernment and exercise our willingness to hear not just what is said by others, but also what is left out.  In knowing people and their positions in life, we will find it possible to love them and bring them into a deeper relationship with Christ and his church.

We’ve all got our stories, haven’t we?  We all bring our baggage and our history to our relationships and our theology.  What is my story, and what is yours?

1 theoldadam February 5, 2013 at 10:27 am

It’s good to be reminded that there are reasons behind why people are so messed up. And that we all have them.

Then we might understand a little better. Be able to forgive, and to love.

Thanks for a well-needed reminder.

2 Dale Pugh February 5, 2013 at 10:59 am

While I think I understand and, at some level, agree with your second observation, I just have to ask, “Did you really just make the correlation I think you made?”
“Interestingly enough, Chad is a pretty strong anti-Calvinism proponent, and why not? Anyone who is driven to work hard in order to earn human favor will likely drift towards theological positions that allow him to earn divine favor as well.”
Really?
Hold on a minute. The following is a run on sentence and it’s going to sound like I’m making a claim that I am not, in fact, making:
Could those of us who are not of the Calvinist bent then make the statement that the YRR’s are a generation that spent their college years in the dorm playing video games and that the concomitant laziness of such a lifestyle resulted in their move toward Calvinism since Calvinism offers a theology that depends on God and God alone thus giving them a free pass to trust Him with it all and amble in aimless doctrine?
A stretch? Yeah, just a bit of one…….

3 Rob Ayers February 5, 2013 at 11:14 am

Agreed. It was a pretty good read until the Calvinist quip. Anyone who is not a Calvinist has something missing in their spiritual life. We are lead to believe that all or most “Anti-Calvinists” (at least those who have a criticism of the system) are those who have to seek divine favor by doing deeds. Total and absolute poppycock, balderdash, and other unmentionables not worthy of a Christian message board. I am willing to give the writer a break, but it seems to me that with the end of the piece, it puts the whole thing as a bit of condescending claptrap with an “end your face” conclusion. Totally disappointing.

Rob

4 Jeremy Parks February 5, 2013 at 11:26 am

Forgive me….it wasn’t a Calvinist quip. It was just a case study, the first one that popped into my head. I have no axe to grind with Calvinists nor Arminians, and perhaps I should have seen disagreement coming.

I could have used the example of Robert, a childhood friend with a terrible childhood. His horrific experiences as a child have driven him to interpret “God is just” as a support of some sort of karmic-system. His thinking now is, “Bad things happened to me as a child, but it’s ok, because that means something good has to happen. That’s the essence of fairness, you know….balance.”

He is a Christian, but his story drives his theology. At first glance, the temptation is to brush him off as some misguided Christian wanna-be; if we listen, though, we hear where he is coming from and why.

Thanks for interacting.

5 Rob Ayers February 5, 2013 at 12:38 pm

Ok Jeremy. Thanks for the explanation. We all write things that “pop in our head” because it is in the heat of discussion (that more than likely we should avoid like the plague because there are always many posters who will want to take issue with it one side or the other :-) ). – I appreciate your other example and it was on point – and like I said it was a pretty good read. For the record I consider myself in the mussy middle in the Calvinist wars – I get flack from all sides.

Rob

6 Jeremy Parks February 5, 2013 at 11:18 am

I recognize it is a stretch, and it is an idea that would have to be really, really well-developed before holding any water. You’ve made a good point here by taking my idea to an extreme in order to illustrate its shortcomings.

Even so, I think our stories do inform our theology far more than we realize. As well, there is a difference between what we do and the stories behind our actions.

Taking your example, Vlad the college student essentially wants to coast through life, believing that he is entitled, in some fashion, to something easy. Entitlement, therefore, is the issue. It is his sense of entitlement, the idea that he is owed something, that drives his video-gaming behavior and his outrage over having to earn grades in school. His personal belief in his own rights are what will lead (potentially) to a theological position of spiritual entitlement. Now….what’s the story behind his entitlement? Where is it coming from? That’s the question I am asking, and that’s where I think we can serve Vlad.

7 Dale Pugh February 5, 2013 at 11:44 am

I understand your question, and I think it’s a valid one. I was just a bit befuddled by the non sequitur that arose from a “why not” approach.
A few of my seminary professors were enamored with St. John of the Cross and his “Dark Night of the Soul.” They saw deep and powerful meaning in his writings. When I read it, along with a little of his biography, I saw a man more influenced by his own manic depression and self-destructive tendencies than some deeply spiritual giant of Christian thought. I pitied him and his shallow approach to the Christian life.
We all come to this thing that’s called Christian discipleship with our own history. The key is that we get caught up in God’s story and carried along by full devotion to Him in spite of where we come from.

8 Dave Miller February 5, 2013 at 11:36 am

Guys, I’ve read pretty much everything Jeremy has written here, and I think I can make one pretty safe observation.

Calvinism (pro or con) is not one of the great passions for him. He’s never written on it or argued it over here.

So, I think the idea that he is taking some kind of Calvinism-related shot at anyone is probably not accurate.

9 Dale Pugh February 5, 2013 at 11:46 am

Some of us don’t have the same intimacy with all he’s written, Dave. That’s why I asked the question and made my ridiculous observation above. That’s all. I’m not trying to start anything.

10 Jeremy Parks February 5, 2013 at 12:33 pm

Wait a minute: “…pretty much everything…”?

Thanks. Nice to know where I rank.

11 Bruce H. February 5, 2013 at 11:54 am

We must realize that the events in our lives conform us to the image of Christ. I do not understand the events of my life as of this response, but I have to know that God, through Jesus Christ, is conforming me to the image of Christ. I have to be aware of this and respond appropriately as scripture states. That is my faith and my daily walk no matter what the end results are. We will know more in heaven.

12 Christiane February 5, 2013 at 12:13 pm

We had both parents working hard jobs (my father, an immigrant, worked sixteen hours a day, full Saturdays, half Sundays). Both parents denied themselves to save money for our educations.

Witnessing that led to some serious kids who didn’t want to let those parents down, and didn’t.
I often wonder if my father had had opportunities to study at university level, if his life would have been easier for him. He never complained.

You would think we would have ended up as over-achievers with guilt-trips trying to please our good parents,
but the truth is, we were children who honored them and were thankful for them . . . very thankful, and looking back I think we were awed by them, too.

Not much in the material world impresses me these days
but when I see hard-working humble folk who want better for their children, I see something in them that reminds me of to whom I owe my own ‘story’ of a better life that came as a result of selfless parents.

My brother, my sister, and I stand on the shoulders of decent humble, very hard-working parents of blessed memory. And we know it.

13 Greg Harvey February 5, 2013 at 12:23 pm

For the record: I read the original blog and had the same concern regarding the Calvinism comment. I do recognize why Jeremy wrote it, but I figured it would generate more than a couple of comments.

Other than that, though, I thought the blog was quite thought provoking. I’m not sure that we necessarily always have an understandable story behind our quirks. I do believe a narrative can be constructed that permits another person to ‘accept’ them as ‘reasonable’. But mental illness centers on some potentially non-rational behavior (if not entirely non-rational) and in some cases it is a better explanation than a constructed narrative. I mention this just as kind of a caution against looking for an easy story.

The real question is this: is the Gospel transformative for those with mental illness or not. That isn’t the question of Jeremy’s blog so I won’t dissect it further. I will offer that in my experience I’m aware of at least one person who due to coming to belief went from homelessness to being a productive member of society largely due to a group of men who reached out to him, brought him into their house, helped him get cleaned up, helped him get a job, and continued supporting him as very close friends. I think that story neatly supports Jeremy’s points while offering at least one example of a rather stark improvement in what we might call mental unhealthiness (at least).

More importantly, it demonstrated that some people who come to belief–perhaps all, but at least some–benefit greatly from current believers extending deep friendship to those who have not yet expressed faith in Jesus Christ. In my growing up years, my deepest frustration with “personal evangelism” was how very impersonal it often was…

14 Jim Pemberton February 5, 2013 at 5:22 pm

I really resonate with this article, Jeremy.

15 Jon February 5, 2013 at 9:33 pm

Very good! Sometimes what we believe says more about us than anything else.

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