Once upon a time, there was a girl who met a guy.
And they lived happily ever after.
Lamest story ever. (And, no, cynics in the back, this does not describe every chick flick ever made. I literally mean a story that’s made of only those two sentences.)
No one would be interested in a story like this? Why? As a writer, I should give a technical, jargon-filled explanation. But, let’s face it, it’s just boring. For us to think that something actually happened in a story, there must be some opposition. We have to be afraid for the main character and wonder if he’ll ever achieve his goal, or we won’t really feel like cheering at the end. We need conflict.
Except when it’s our story.
Then we want things to be easy. We expect them to be. If God is going to use us, He’s going to have to bless us, right?
Not always. I’ve always thought the cliché about hard times “building character” was a pretty hollow thing to say to someone who was hurting. So I don’t want to step out of line here, but this is an alternative that actually means something to me as a writer.
Maybe hard times really do build character…but not in the tough-it-up, slap-on-a-Band-Aid-and-get-over-it kind of way. Think of character in the literary sense: the hero of the story. If the character didn’t have anything to face, we wouldn’t care about him. If the character gave up halfway through, we’d be disappointed. The character we cheer for becomes stronger, fights back against evil, and triumphs.
That’s the kind of character I want to build out of myself, or, rather, the kind of character I want God to build me into.
In writing, one of the critiques that can force you to re-write a whole manuscript is “stuff is happening to your protagonist.” Other characters can get away with that. The hero can’t. They have to be reacting, changing, driving the plot.
As Christians, we have the ability do that no matter what circumstances we find ourselves in, because we have what others don’t: hope, purpose, a relationship with God, a spirit of power, of love, and of self discipline. That’s what keeps us going in the midst of suffering.
As with most things, there’s another extreme you can go to with this. You can decide that you need more conflict in your life and invite it in some way. You know, picking a fight or taking on too many responsibilities so you can suffer for the kingdom. Something like that.
I was rereading one of my journals from high school, and I had a bad case of this mentality. Since I read that Christians were supposed to suffer, and I hadn’t had my fair share of suffering yet, I pretty much told God to bring it on. Once I realized how ridiculous I was being, I described the process as “sitting outside on a beautiful, sunny day with an umbrella and complaining about how the storm was taking too long to get there.”
I think my problem was (and still is, to some extent), that I expected real, physical suffering. When God said to expect persecution, I expected to be the star of the sad country song, or, worse, a Greek tragedy where everyone ends up dead, insane, or cursed for the next billion generations by the gods so they wish they were dead.
In a strange way, I wanted to suffer. I wanted something to fight back against. (I get an epic-complex like that occasionally.)
Guess what? I realized I did have something to fight. I could fight temptation. I could fight the lies that Satan told me about myself to get me to doubt my worth. And, most of all, I could fight my lazy, arrogant, fearful, judgmental sinful nature, whether that meant dragging myself to the gym when I didn’t feel like it, reading my Bible every day whether I wanted to or not, or recognizing my self-deceptions and calling myself out on them.
There’s something beautiful about a happy ending to a story when you feel like the characters have earned it. I want to be able to look back on my life, and – despite all my flaws and failures – see that God has made me into a hero, one who took stands and fought back and endured hard times.
And then, when I’m all done with this world, I’ll live happily ever after, and it’ll be worth it.