My tender-hearted children hated sad stories. Neither would let me read Oscar Wilde’s exquisite short stories to them, or even Hans Christian Andersen’s because they were too sad.
When I recommended a book or movie, they wanted to know if it was sad, and especially if it had a sad ending.
But there is no story without sadness, I keep telling them. It’s an old creative writing maxim: No story without conflict.
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Who needs the stress and emotional trauma of conflict with others? And who needs internal conflict—when the self is at war with itself, knowing what is good to do, but doing the very things it hates, punishing itself by over-eating, or over-working, or under-sleeping? By psycho-somatic illness?
But without this internal conflict–this struggle against our very selves: to corral ourselves to rise early, work hard, stay focused, self-educate, eat healthily, exercise, read, write–our lives would be flaccid and formless, with the structure of obstacles, both within and without, to overcome.
And, as Donald Miller writes in A Thousand Miles in a Million Years, dealing with these obstacles head-on (losing 150 pounds in his case, and tracking down the father who abandoned him) gives our lives a shapely story.
Because stories and blogs come out of sadness, and struggle, and failure, and eventual triumph over Resistance.
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And ironically, each failure, and sadness and step backwards gives us more of a story than our successes.
Where are stories found? Not in quiet times, not in scripture study, not in money you gave away, not in fasts, not in the meals you took around, or your turn in the coffee rota, these good, shiny things, which, anyway, by the strictest Scriptural injunction we are commanded to keep secret.
Where are our stories found?
In the places where you learn about yourself, and you learn about God, and you learn about shame and grace and self-forgiveness and God’s forgiveness in the crucible of failure.
When your daughter says, “I don’t want to play scrabble today, Mum, because you get snooty about my words,” and you say “Oh no, of course I won’t get snooty about your words!” and then you do indeed get so snooty!
When the house could so do with some loving up, and indeed, so could those who dwell in it, and you’ve resolved to do both, but words are flowing, and you dance in the flow.
When you had solemnly resolved on that run today and yoga, and weights—you know, flexibility, strength, cardio-vascular, the three elements of fitness!–but an idea presents itself, and you want to explore it, express it,
And the word count may be good at the end of the day, but your Pilgrim’s Progress….well, it hasn’t progressed.
And you wonder why today joy doesn’t throb,
Or peace flow like a river.
And you remember: He who loves his blog more than me is not worthy of me.
She who loves her writing more than me is not worthy of me.
And all you can say is Kyrie Eleison.
Lord, have mercy.
And you kneel down and repent
Till peace flows again.
And you say, “Lord, I am not worthy of you.
But say but the Word
and I shall be healed.”
And he says the Word.
The word like manna,
The word like honey
Coursing through your brain.
And you, the unworthy, are healed
And, again, sing.
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And, besides, you have a story!