The other day, I was reminded of some good news.
I am not the hero in the story that is my life.
Think about that for a moment. This is really good news!
Our culture has encouraged us to view our lives as our personal stories, our narratives. From this perspective, my story is what defines me as an unique individual. As such, I am the master and commander of my life. And some of us can get pretty creative and fluid in writing our life’s narratives.
As Christians, it’s tempting to piggy-back on this idea and talk about “joining my story” to “Jesus’ Story.” While this is often taught with the best intentions, I believe it begins with a faulty premise.
In my life, I am not the hero of the story. In fact, it’s not even my story. Therefore, I can’t join “my story” to “Jesus’ Story” since it’s not my story to begin with. Rather, my life IS Jesus’ Story. He’s the leading character, the protagonist, the hero.
The Gospels present Jesus as Israel’s royal representative, the Messiah. Israel, in turn, was humanity’s representative in God’s unfolding story that climaxed in Jesus. Therefore, every human being’s life is not that individual’s story, but an unique facet of Jesus’ story experienced by that individual.
This subtle difference results in dramatic applications to how we live our lives.
Firstly, my life isn’t about me. Granted, I play an important part in that I’m experiencing everything through my body, mind and spirit. I’m thinking, feeling, acting, relating and living everything. But the narrative of my life is an unique first-person viewpoint about who Jesus is and what he’s doing from the unique perspective of my life. Paul puts it this way:
“I have been crucified with the Messiah. I am, however, alive — but it isn’t me, it’s the Messiah who lives in me. And the life I do still live in the flesh, I live within the faithfulness of the son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” -Galatians 2:20
Paul hasn’t simply merged “his story” with “Jesus’ story”. His life IS Jesus’ story. He lives it and experiences it through his body, but it’s Jesus’ life, Jesus’ story. We must not confuse our unique first-person perspective with actually being the main character. Jesus is the hero, not us.
Secondly, this is true for everyone else as well. So when we bump up against other people, we need to see Jesus’ Story unfolding in them. Mother Teresa once said:
“I see Jesus in every human being. I say to myself, this is hungry Jesus, I must feed him. This is sick Jesus. This one has leprosy or gangrene; I must wash him and tend to him. I serve because I love Jesus.”
Every person’s life is Jesus’ Story experienced from their unique perspective. Because we see everything from our first-person viewpoint, it’s easy to forget that the person in front of you in the grocery line is also living Jesus’ Story. It’s also true for the person taking forever to drop off their child at school in front of you; for the guy who almost clipped your car on the freeway; for the co-worker who’s in a bad mood; for the friend who betrayed your confidence.
All of them are living Jesus’ Story. He’s present in their lives as he is in ours. By recognizing Jesus’ Story in their lives, we can be more patient, merciful and compassionate, knowing his Story is unfolding in their lives.
Thirdly, we still play a very active role in Jesus’ Story in our lives. We’re not passively being carried along by the plot. While we may not be the main character, we do play an important supporting role. We are to cooperate with Jesus. In our supporting, cooperative roles, our thoughts, feelings, decisions and actions matter. They matter a lot because we don’t naturally cooperate with Jesus by default.
Jesus’ Story is about him unleashing an entirely new world order upon this broken creation. This new world order, God’s New Creation, requires entirely new ways of thinking, feeling, acting and relating. So Jesus’ Story in your life is about unleashing this new world order around you, in you and through you. But it requires you learning from and cooperating with him in order to become the living embodiment of this new world order.
Fourthly, anything that happens to us is actually part of Jesus’ Story unfolding in our lives. Even if the circumstance is not at all good, it is still incorporated and transformed into Jesus’ Story in your life. The accident or close-call, the failure or success, the unkind word or complement, the betrayal or support, the tragedy or good fortune — all of it is absorbed into the unique first-person perspective of Jesus’ Story in your life. And then through your cooperation with him in his Story, it becomes another substantial moment in Jesus’ narrative of your life.
So your life is a story. It’s just not your story. Nor are you the leading character. And that’s okay.