Imagine your kids are in college, sitting around a dining hall table over lunch with their friends. They’re all about the same age, but they’re from different backgrounds and parts of the country. Their childhoods looked different from each other, but one huge event created a shared memory for them.
“Remember when the corona virus thing happened? And school got cancelled? And all the restaurants and stuff closed?”
They start sharing their memories of that time — this time, the one we are in right now. They compare notes about what “distance learning” looked like at their houses. Some admit they were scared and everyone around them seemed stressed out. Some remember it as fun. They were young and out of school, and Mom suddenly came up with all these fun activities to do together. They all remember a lot more family time, for better or worse.
Sitting where they are in this story, some years into the future, they know how this played out. They know who got the virus and who didn’t. They know if the healthcare system was able to keep up. They know if the economic crisis touched their home. They know the end of the story.
We don’t know any of those things right now, which is unnerving. As my own college student said on a phone call this week, “We don’t know what part of the story we’re in right now. I think that’s what’s so stressful for everyone.” Are we at the beginning? Have we reached the middle? How long is this story?
The college students we imagined in the dining hall were young when #coronavirus happened, so their memories are largely related to you, the adults in their lives. Which raises an important – and sobering – question: what story do you want them to tell when they look back on this time?
In ancient story structure – the same story structure you see today in great books and movies – there is a pattern that is followed almost every time. Joseph Campbell studied ancient myths and story structure in the 1940s and 50s, and he coined the phrase “The Hero’s Journey” to describe the pattern.
One truth in every great story is that the main character experiences a Transformation. The Hero is not the same person at the end of the story as he/she was at the beginning. The Hero changes in response to the elements of the story: the advice and gifts of the Mentor, the Tests, Allies and Enemies along the way, the Supreme Ordeal, the Road Back and the Resurrection.
It’s probably obvious, but this story pattern is what our real lives look like, too. We are wired for this pattern — wired to live it out, wired to respond to it, wired to grow through it.
Seeing your life in this way opens up an opportunity to step back for a moment and think about the story you’re in. We are each the Hero in our own story. We all rely on a Guide or Mentor to show us the way. And we all have the opportunity to play the figure of the Guide or Mentor to the people around us who are living out their own Hero’s Journey.
Authors of great stories almost always begin with the end in mind. J.K. Rowling famously wrote the last scene of the Harry Potter series first, then started at the beginning and proceeded to write toward that final scene for seven straight books.
Imagining the end of the story we are in right now is a powerful exercise for us. Ultimately this is a single chapter in the book of our lives. We don’t know where we are in the larger story, but we can control how we respond to it to a certain extent, and therefore how it changes us.
Remember that it is the Hero’s response to the events of the story that bring about the transformation, not the events themselves.
The question to ask in terms of Transformation is, “Who do you want to be at the end of the story?” (This is different than asking, “What do you want to do?” but it will determine the answer to that question as well.) A good way to dig into that question is to ask yourself how you would want people to describe you years from now. What words do they use?
When you think about what you would want someone to say about you years from now, you get in touch with who it is you really want to be. It’s OK that it isn’t who you are right now. We are all on a Journey toward Transformation. Knowing who we want to be at the end of the story helps us determine our next steps.
Back to those college students in the dining hall. Your child chimes in with, “My mom/dad …” How do you want that sentence to end? Does it end with a story about helping neighbors? Learning something new? Playing lots of board games together? Discovering that God shows up at “home church,” too? Maybe it’s a story about that time you all decided you’d been cooped up too long, so you decided to take up running or biking together. How did that work out?
Keep in mind, every story has ups and downs. This isn’t about avoiding all mistakes and never uttering a harsh word. (Those are really boring stories, actually.) It’s about keeping an eye on the ending of the story you are writing toward. It’s about asking, “If I’m going to get there, what is my next step?”
It’s about getting ahead of the story and moving forward thoughtfully and prayerfully. Remember, God knows the end of this story, and all the other stories you are going to live out. We are in the midst of a major plot twist right now, but it wasn’t a surprise to Him. The Guide appears when the Hero calls, and He has all sorts of useful gifts tucked away in His robes, just waiting for the Hero to ask for them.
by Amy Burgess, CCS Marketing Coordinator