Observations from The Sacred Romance – Drawing Closer to the Heart of God (by Brent Curtis and John Eldredge) among a few friends. Even if you've never read the book, we hope our own experiences will give you some things to think about and that you'll get in on the conversation, too…
On this chapter, Candi shares about her personal loss and sorrow, while Amy Jo reveals her plan for simplicity in faith. Heather makes a strong case for getting off-line and in-to real relationship and I start to discover that I don't have my own story and hope God will notice me occasionally. I am part of HIS story!
Chapter Four: A Story Big Enough to Live In
Candi kicked it off with this chapter: Well, no wonder I've misunderstood the happenings of my life…I don't like fiction! Oh, as a child I used to read lots of fiction. I read tons of Nancy Drew, although my goal wasn't to enjoy the story, but rather be the one who had read all the books. My husband has forever made fun of me for loving to read instruction manuals. I'm a learner, an eternal student. I don't read anything unless it's to learn something. So I'm not interested in fiction, it takes too long. I'm also a speed reader so I'm able to swiftly read a story, figure out the plot and read the conclusion in a fraction of the time it would take to read the whole story (I'll have you know, though: I am reading this whole book line by line and being careful not to read ahead. I'm staying in the moment on this one!).
And guess what?! Page 39 says, "Story is the language of the heart. Our souls speak not in the naked facts of mathmatics (I love math and numbers) or the abstract propositions or systematic theology; they speak the images and emotions of story." And "God created man because He loves stories," it says on page 40. Just great, God loves fiction with a true-story twist!
As I've matured in my Christian walk, I can see how God has developed my own story. Thanks to my mom's wisdom, she'd always tell me that sometimes things seem a certain way and in the moment can be very emotional, but she'd remind me that God would reveal His intent in those circumstances due time.
What I'm realizing is that it's easier to apply this wisdom to life's random occurences that are difficult. For instance, last November I ended up in the hospital with a severe infection under the skin of my scalp. It spread to my face, around my eyes, and down my left cheek. It was very serious, and to top it all off, I also found out I was pregnant. I spent 3 days in the hospital being pumped full of antibiotics which, thankfully, stopped the infection. However, with much grief, I miscarried. I'm still dealing with this, but I'm trying to allow time in my busy life to hear God, to catch the message God has for my spirit. I'm still praying and I know God will answer.
Where I'm having the real difficulty accessing my Arrows and their messages is in the bad choices I've made and their consequences. Do I really want to reveal my "dark" side? Why is it that I have to let go of my pride and let others see who I really am – the sinner? In the big picture, I know God forgives and through this forgiveness God is glorified, but why does my story have to include the whole enchilada? Quite honestly, in ways, I don't want my story to be about a bigger story – I want to embrace our current Western culture where "life is just a sequence of images and emotions without rhyme or reason" (page 41).
I can appreciate the point the authors make that "our culture has been losing its story." We are fast-paced, living in technology, go getters. I like that I live in the age I do for its modern conveniences. We've accomplished more than any who've come before us, – or have we? I agree with page 43, "Without a past that was planned for us and a future that waits for us, we are trapped in the present. There's not enough room for our souls in the present." So the goal needs to be to interpret all of our personal experiences in the context of God's larger story and they need to incorporate both the Romance and the Arrows. "If our particular version fails to take both of life's messages into account, to grant them proper weight, it will destroy us" (page 43).
So, I'm intrigued to learn more about God's story, His cosmic drama and how it applies to my own Romance and Arrows. I trust the heart of God and what a journey this will be. Who knows? By the end of this book, I might just learn to enjoy fiction.
Amy Jo says: Ahhh….the story of my life…How do I explain the tough things that have happened and have yet to occur? The beautiful thing is that I simply don't think I can or have to explain them. I cannot know the mind of God or why He allows the circumstances that I don't understand beyond the fact that He loves me and wants what is best for me. Do I trust Him? Implicitly. Do I always act like I trust Him? Um, no. Often I operate under the illusion that I have control over my life circumstances, but the reality is that I can only control myself: how I react, how I treat people, whether or not I choose to rely on God. I do my best to live without regret, giving myself grace when I realize that the choices I have made in the past have been made using the tools I had at the time. They may not have been perfect, but they have helped to make me who I am. If I come to a place where I don't like what [my choices] have influenced me to be, I can simply chalk them up to experience – I've been there and done that, don't need to go there again.
That being said, I must say that I DO understand hopelessness…Does what I do matter? Is God pleased with me? I often fluctuate between the opinions that life goes by quickly and that life is interminable. In college, I came across philosophies I had never heard before: nihilism, fatalism, determinism, etc. After having only ever been exposed to Christian doctrine and forming my understanding of the world based solely on what I had been taught at church and youth group and private Christian school education, I really struggled with these "new" post-modern ideas! I suddenly [wondered] if everything I had been taught could be totally wrong: societal superstructures that mankind invented to help them feel they could explain their existance! I remember telling people that "all the file folders in my my mind" were gone. I had no place to neatly categorize information I used to "know" or had yet to encounter. All I could see was meaningless waste, and I experienced an extreme sense of loss and lost-ness, numbness, apathy and dark hopelessness.
I don't know how or if I would have survived that time in my life if God had not been right there with me in the midst of it. He allowed me to know three things for sure: 1. God loves me and loves people. 2. I am to love God and love people. 3. Worship – whatever form it takes – is never a waste of time. SO – Imagine living your life simply off those three truths. I believed that the reason for everything I did, anything that occupied my time (all the way down to brushing my teeth), absolutely HAD to come down to loving God or loving people.
Imagine living like this – put yourself in that place with me – get rid of all other opinions on politics, money, life goals, etc. What a way to live! At this stage in my life, I am able to say I know other things for sure [as well], but I do find myself longing for that kind of clarity again, that simplicity. And maybe I can have it.
The authors of our book constantly tease us with the promise of understanding our place in the larger story. They continually reference the elements of all good stories: good versus evil. My hope is that we will discover freedom as we read this book together – freedom to live unfettered and confident in the outcome of the story: we win! Why? Because God wins. All of the injustices we witness in this life – real or imagined – will be righted in the end, when our God comes to restore His Kingdom. Let me live in the light of this truth! Let me be bold, let me be wise, let me be Romanced by the King.
Here is what Heather is thinking: I want to start this chapter by first saying that Chapter 3, (The Message of the Arrows) has been on my mind quite often. I have asked God to show me some of the arrows that have been stuck in my heart and the lies I've believed because of them. It's just a beginning, but it's been really interesting to see some of the things that God's been waiting to uproot within me. I see freedom right around the corner from some of the chains I've allowed to be shackled to my ankles. It's brought hope to me.
Now about Chapter 4: A Story big enough to live in.
A great chapter! I was excited by the chapter title, because it felt "story-tale-like". I want to be a part of a fairy tale! I want to be rescued, I want to be courageous and fight for noble causes and the weak. I want to be whisked away into the happily ever after. Now, whether or not I want to be the brave warrior or the princess depends on the day (giggling here), but really, I want adventure!!
The chapter starts off with this: "Is there a reality that corresponds to the deepest desires of our heart?" Okay, you could stop right there, because that is a fabulous question! I have experienced my reality and the deepest desires of my heart becoming one, in total unity and harmony during different seasons of my life. They were times of challenge, courage and sacrifice. There were unknowns and possibilities of difficulty around every corner, but it was TOTALLY worth it! It makes my heart pound and excitment rise up in me just to think about it.
"The deepest convictions of our heart are formed by stories and reside there in the images and emotions of story, " page 38. I found myself thinking of how my life's story has affected me. In many ways my story has spurred me on to be the best I can be, while trying not to perpetuate the painful cycles of my life into the next generation. Good stuff to be sure, many can relate, I imagine. But this is not the totality of my story. The imagery in my mind is that of running forward, yet looking back over my shoulder. That is not living the Story I am meant to live, and if that is what I am doing, I'm missing out on so much! I know I haven't always been this way, I know there are passions in my heart, but I think that maybe the plot to my Story has been muddied and it's become unclear.
On page 43, "…we are searching desperately for a larger story in which to life and find our role." I so feel this to the core of my being. For many years I've considered being a parent as my place in the larger story. My role is to raise up the girls I have and equip them for the journey that awaits them. But the truth is, we are equipped while in the midst of the situations in which we need the equipping! In 2 Tim. 3 we are told that God equips us for every good work. He gives us the tools at the perfect time, at the exact moment we need them some times. He does NOT heap upon us every skill and ability we'll ever need all in one moment. So, I must live out my role so that I can be prepared for the days ahead and for my kids. Do I take my place in the Story only for their benefit? Of course not, but if I'm truly honest, they are what inspires me to press onward many days.
On page 40 the authors talk about how our culture has been losing its story. I feel this in the core of my being as well. I feel like we are grasping at the very remnants of what was once a great interweaving of people and their collective Stories. It saddens me that we have become so detached from one another. We don't talk to people, we aren't a people oriented country. People are the reason for the great Story! I bet there are arrows hidden within the hearts of us all that have caused us to cling to our little electronic trinkets instead of looking each other in the eyes to see what our Stories are actually saying. It really grieves me.
I am really praying that God will just do open heart surgery on me with this. I want to see my heart awaken to the Story I was meant to live. I know that in doing so He's going to need to pull out the arrows first, however. And while I want Him to do that, I can tell you that I've become quite comfortable with the familiarity of those arrows, and it's already becoming painfully obvious that this journey will be very uncomfortable. Purify me, Lord. You know where I'm at.
And finally, Jeanie: It seems so easy to understand how everyone else is called and a part of God's larger story, but we barely hope to believe that could be true of us. And if I have understanding of it at all, if there is any part of me that truly knows how integral I am in history to God's plan of the ages ("for such a time as this"), it would be because I am now a mom of grown children and a "Nonna." So, I am finally getting some insight into this whole thing: my husband?…my children?…the people they have married, the granchildren they have given me?…They're the reason I was born!
And because I haven't always understood that and could not see my place in the big story, I have truly misinterpreted so much of life, and even continue to, if I may be totally honest. I really want to get ahold of wisdom and understanding, though. I really want to become a better, more discerning interpreter of my life in the light of God's plan.
Each year around my birthday, I become very melancholy, and it really isn't so much about getting older (since I can never remember how old I actually am, it is not a big deal to me), but just a general, vague wondering: why was I born and am I fulfilling all God had in mind? Each year as the fall comes and the anniversary of my time on earth is marked by the calendar, I long to hear the story, once again, of how they didn't know if my mom would actually be able to carry a child to term due to serious miscarriages in which her life was endangered. But during his time in prayer one January night, God told my dad that in 10 months, they'd have a baby girl. For whatever reason, I need to be assurred of that on my birthday. I just need reminding.
How exciting, though, to realize that the closer I get to God's heart, the closer I will be to everything I ever really have needed to know! To quote a certain book about purpose a few years back: "it's not about me."
NOTE TO THE READERS/WRITERS: I'm a total non-fiction kind of woman, too, Candi! I always get surprised when some one convinces me to read a novel and I find out that I can learn from it, too. And your plan for a simple, uncomplicated faith sounds a lot like the great commandment Jesus taught in the New Testament, Amy Jo. And Heather-how your strong and tireless belief in relationship has pulled me from the brink many times!
We're just getting good and started!…Jeanie
NOTE TO SELF: My story? It is in Him!