This morning I attended an annual conference of judges and lawyers who gathered not to talk about legal issues, but to share personal spiritual issues. A judge spoke of a life-threatening cancer, and the wayward actions of an adolescent child. A highly respected older practitioner spoke of a long journey that led him away from and then back to a Catholic spirituality. He spoke also of the loss of his one love and only wife to an autoimmune disease some years earlier. A young woman spoke of being a law professor and litigator repeatedly “thrown to the wolves” for Christian viewpoints. She too experienced a life-threatening incident caused by a bleeding artery in her brain, and emergency surgery. Another practitioner, tops in his Berkeley law school class, spoke of his mixed feelings at being abandoned by his biological parents and accepted by his adoptive parents. He spoke too of losing his job, and nearly losing his family to divorce. For each, the practice of law was a background to a primary tale of finding God.
I am a writer. When I hear stories I cannot help but look for the dramatic tension, the moment when the character experiences the “inciting incident.” I sometimes think that my fiction is disconnected from what really happens in life. When I hear stories like I heard this morning, I realize my fiction hardly touches some of the bizarre aspects of “real life.”
It seems to me that we try to present our most bland of stories to the public, afraid that the true drama of our lives would shock and repel our friends. I believe that many of us purposely cling to our sanitized stories because we are afraid to really look at how wild and unpredictable life really is.
One of the speakers said today: “God likes to put us in places that we can’t get out of because that is where he will reveal his power.” Writers like to do the same thing. We take some fictional character who is enjoying life on easy street, and we throw him into the most unlikely crises. Then we watch what he does with that.
The writer most of the time knows exactly what he is up to. But we humans are not given that advantage when God is writing the story. It seems we must always go through some trial, and if we are lucky enough to survive, we begin to piece together God’s intention in retrospect.
What I saw this morning were four people who could have worn the cloak of respectability. They could have hidden the reality of their despair, their grief, their anger, their disillusionment, and their depression. Yet, every one of the speakers this morning shared those feelings. Why? Why would a person step in front of a crowd of people who are very achievement and image oriented, to disclose just how broken they felt?
Because their encounters with God transformed them. Each of them found God at the end of their rope. Each told a personal story and a “God-story.”
In classical dramatic literature, the hero is thrust from his normal life into a crisis. His first response is usually inadequate, and he struggles with confusion, inner doubt, and the lack of resources. But he does not give up. He gathers his energies, obtains new resources, sizes up his enemy, and fights back. He gets knocked down more than once. But he gets up one more time than he gets knocked down. After the battle, he may be wounded, but he has also gained wisdom. He is “transformed.” It is not a perfect life, and he is not a perfect hero. But he is a better person.
For the writer, comfortable situations where people are just managing, produce no change or interest.. God is a good dramatist. He is not interested in our comfort, but in our growth. He writes us into dramatic situations, puts us in places we cannot get out of, suddenly seems to take away all options, and then, I think, steps back, because we are allowed this incredible privilege of being co-dramatists. How we choose, and whether we choose Him, will decide our fate. If our stories are well told, they will impact many others, the “readers” of our lives.