“I asked God to help me understand the story of the forest and what it means to be a tree in that story. He said to me I was a tree in a story about a forest, and that it was arrogant of me to believe any differently. And he told me the story of the forest is better than the story of the tree.” -Donald Miller
With drowsy, yet engaged, brown eyes and two tiny arms full of baby dolls, my Papa would sit with 5 year old me and tell me stories for hours on end. I couldn’t get enough. From pushing tires with sticks, to jumping onto trains as a runaway kid, to being in World War 2, his words would captivate me and take my young mind to a deeper place.
This past weekend, I spent time with good friends and was reminded that our lives are always telling a story. On Saturday evening, I had the honor of celebrating and taking photos at my amazing friend, Nancy’s, birthday party, which took place at this incredible historic restaurant with loads of WW2 memorabilia. The place had my Papa written all over it, and a train even went by as I wandered around outside. This venue had many stories to tell.
Then, last night, a bunch of friends from church gathered for a movie night where we watched Spike Lee’s “Do The Right Thing.” In chatting about the film afterward, it was clear to see that as humans, our pride, selfish choices, and ego often cause severe destruction and detachment from one another. I think it all comes down to our aching desire to be known, seen, appreciated, and understood for the unique and complex individuals we are.
The film painfully and accurately displays passive people forced into action. People in need of grace. People like you and me. All trying to be heard and understood, but instead, we end up trapping ourselves into cages, being quarantined to our own segregated stoops. And when we live in selfishness and don’t strive to understand others, connection and unity simply isn’t possible.
We live in a world where bad stories are told, stories that teach us life doesn’t mean anything and that humanity has no great purpose. It’s a good calling, then, to speak a better story. How easily the world looks to it in wonder. How grateful we are to hear these stories, and how happy it makes us to repeat them.
Recently I have had a few encounters with people who have made some judgments about me or my life without first attempting to know me. If I’m being perfectly honest, it hurt. But if I’m being even more honest, I’ve done the exact same thing. We all have. We are human. Oh, how easily offended we can become when someone doesn’t understand us. And instead of striving toward healthier communication, we put up walls and prepare our weapons.
Some of the best advice I’ve ever received was from my friend, David, who says:
“If you’re trying to meet and understand someone’s needs, and they are striving to meet and understand yours, then everyone’s needs are met.”
It sounds simple, but that is my goal. Living for ourselves will never bring change or true, fulfilling meaning. Living for others, for the bigger picture, the greater story, is what we were made for. I have come to a strange and somewhat confusing realization that I am fully capable of both owning my life and playing a leading role in it, while simultaneously not allowing the story to revolve around me. Isn’t that what the greatest heroes have taught us? I don’t have to lose myself in the midst of living for something greater.
We can be strong and necessary trees in an enormous forest. This makes us one. This allows us to grow toward the same goal and nurture the same home…bringing life to the “one.”
“When you fly across the country in an airplane the country seems vast; but it isn’t vast. It’s all connected by roads one can ride a bike down. If you watch the news and there’s a tragedy at a house in Kansas, that guy’s driveway connects with yours, and you’d be surprised by how few roads it takes to get there.” -Donald Miller