Every life is a story. In the weeks since I announced my new job and my rapidly approaching move to Hawaii countless people have dreamed up epilogues for the next chapter of my life. Many believe this temporary position will somehow become permanent. Others predict that I won’t come back, that another job on the island will line itself up as this one concludes. One man thinks God may be calling me to plant a church on the islands. But the most common epilogue is a romance with a Hawaiian man which will be followed by marriage and cute Hawaiian babies. As I listen to person after person predict what will happen next, I fill with mixed emotions. On one hand, I’ve got a lot of grace; clearly I am well loved and people are excited for me. Meanwhile, the jaded side of me thinks – get real people, this is my life, not a novel!
Maxine, my creative writing professor in grad school, encouraged us students to resist tying up our pieces in a bow. Using countless examples, she showed us that often the most compelling stories don’t have anything close to fairy tale endings. Yes, great stories always have conflicts that need resolution, but often the conclusions of these stories are messy. Not every tale gets straightened out and wrapped up by the final page. And not every story needs a fairy tale ending – the unexpected return of a hero, rags to riches, marriage and babies – to be great. Sometimes a few tangles and lingering questions make the best ending because real life is messy.
After four years of relentless job searching, the stress of underemployment and an income too small to warrant a budget, the certainty of six months of full-time employment is epilogue enough for me. I’m luxuriating in the freedom from having to look for work for a few months. I get time to reconnect with some dear friends and to make new ones. And let’s be real, the fact that I get to live in Hawaii is a big, shiny bow. God has provided respite. I’m relieved and elated and ready to play in the ocean. I feel satisfied and more whole and hopeful than I have felt in years. So why does everyone else feel compelled to write an epilogue and turn my life into a fairy tale? People are speaking over my life like Simeon prophesied over baby Jesus. But if six months in Hawaii is enough for me, why is it not enough for others? And when I sit back and reflect on this epilogue phenomenon there is one, overarching theme – more. Everyone wants to know more and for me to get more. It’s like there has to be something even better than this.
I’ve learned many valuable lessons over the last four years. To me, the difference between need and want is now as glaring as a glass of water sitting next to a peanut butter milkshake. I know how to stretch money through lean times. Thanks to some early system failures, I’m better able to pace myself emotionally and spiritually in the midst of trial. As I shed some nasty layers off my sense of entitlement, I bulked up with perseverance. Simple nourishment, slowing down, shedding excess: these are the survival skills I learned in the spiritual desert. God wanted me to know that discipleship is about holding on to essentials.
It’s about less, not more.
Trust over certainty.
Waiting rather than self-indulgence.
These are the complexities that make up the Christian life. They are, in and of themselves, both conflict and resolution enough for any story, any life. And here is the most important lesson I’ve learned – the grandest exchange between a human being and God is love expressed through faithfulness.
The most compelling story my life can tell is one of daily faithfulness to God. I’m not talking about big gestures but simple things – apologizing when I speak unkindly to someone I love, extending warmth and welcome to strangers, nurturing friendships, keeping an eye out for others who are struggling, and offering help where I am able.
There has never been a time in my life when God was not faithful to me but his faithfulness has not always meant the provision of things I thought I needed. As days of struggle stretched into weeks, months and years, God’s faithfulness was to abide with me, to console and comfort me, and to give me hope that I could live today and today and today with purpose.
I’ve told many people that my job these last four years has not been to get a job. I discovered that my job is to be faithful. If I can wake up today and invite God in to the rain or shine of my day and make it to evening having loved God, others and myself with any sincerity, then this is a good day, a great story, and a true comedy. This is life without a fairy tale ending or a big crimson bow and it is enough.
Just as the Father has loved me, I have also loved you; abide in my love. John 15:9