What story is your life telling?
By Leila Jennings
‘Narrative is the central function … of the human mind. We turn everything into a story in order to make sense of life.’ - James Bryan Smith
Andy Frost’s new book, Long Story Short, provides insight into the narratives that we use to define our path in life. Many of us see life as the pursuit of happiness: we follow whatever makes us happy, whether that’s in the moment or in the longer term. Others choose the path of safety: we reject the ambiguities of life in favour of a belief system that sometimes stops us from taking risks and moving beyond what we think we know. Others follow the significance narrative: if we believe that what we are doing is meaningful and makes a difference in the world, we can make sense of the chaos of modern existence
But are these narratives really enough to live for? Will they give us purpose?
Frost argues that ‘without a bigger story, we are left believing that what we do is not important; how we live is not important. We live for small stories and these smaller stories end up defining us’. Instead, his book asks us to consider a bigger story: the God story.
Ivan Illich once claimed that ‘if you want to change a society then you have to tell an alternative story’. Frost takes Jesus’s parables as an alternative to the narratives we believe and internalize on a daily basis. For example, he uses the parable of The Rich Fool (Luke 12) who makes a huge amount of surplus from his harvest. He thinks to himself: ‘I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’ This sounds like the plan that many of us have for our lives – we tell ourselves that we’ll achieve financial success and then we’ll be happy. But however materially rich the man is, he is spiritually poor: he is completely unprepared for death, and his wealth is hardly going to help him get into heaven.
The Bible frames our story as humans by beginning with Adam and Eve, who are sent away from Eden. It reflects a truth still recognizable today of brokenness in our relationships with each other, with God, and even with ourselves. But all is not lost, because ‘the Bible takes us on a journey through the unfolding God story – God on a mission to restore broken relationships’.
Frost illustrates how we could begin to reshape our lives for a greater narrative: ‘We can pray for the brokenness of the world but we also need, in part, to become the answer to those prayers’.
By learning about what this book calls the ‘meta-narrative’ of God’s plan for humanity, and by seeing our individual journey as part of a collective one, we can begin to answer the questions of who we are and what we are truly here for.
Andy Frost provides a clear and thought-provoking look at the way we see our lives, and gives hope to those who might have lost sight of what they were living for. I would recommend this book as a guide for anyone who might have reached success but who doesn’t feel fulfilled, or for anyone who is looking for an alternative to the stories the world tells us.