Let me tell you a little bit about Donald Miller’s book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. In this fantastic book Don talks about how our lives are like stories. Some stories are better than others. Good stories make us cry at the end (Some of us cry more than others. I cried at the end of The Little Mermaid in first grade. Most people don’t cry during animated films, with the exception of Pixar's Up, which will wring tears from a statue. Something that emotionally flammable is a health hazard for me. I actually stopped breathing for a few seconds when I saw it in the theater). Yet other stories don’t affect us at all. A movie about a person who really wants a Volvo and works hard to save up for one doesn’t bring tears to your eyes as the main character drives off testing out the windshield wipers. It’s not a satisfying story, because it’s not meaningful. Your life isn't going to be satisfying with that plot either.
Part of Donald Miller’s story is that he grew up without a dad. Now he is bringing meaning into his story by taking on fatherlessness in the United States with his organization The Mentoring Project. Check out this video they made:
As I finished reading A Million Miles I started asking myself the question, “What kind of story am I living?” Frankly, there’s a lot that I like about my life right now. On day one of this year I decided 2010 was going to be about being bold, taking risks and kicking butt. And it has been. I signed up with a personal trainer at my gym and have been loosing inches. I delved into the second draft of my novel, determined to whip it into shape. Where I used to think, “That’s not me,” or “I couldn’t do that” I now think, “Why not?” It’s been an entertaining and adventurous story.
But is it a good story? Is it a meaningful story? I’m not ending fatherlessness and shutting down 20% of prisons like Donald Miller is trying to do. I don’t have a major cause that I’m fighting for. I started thinking I needed to get myself a cause. I also started stressing myself out.
Then someone died. I didn't know the woman personally, but she was the mother of someone dear to me, and I was given the opportunity to help with some of the preparations for her memorial service. After I’d printed and folded hundreds of papers for the program, gathered food and trays for the reception, and made sure there was waterproof mascara on hand I realized what an honor it was to be able to do such practical and tangible tasks for someone during their time of loss. That is meaningful.
I thought a meaningful storyline would have a specific direction, a focused determination making a big difference in the world. It's certainly easy to see how a life like that would have lots of meaning. But couldn't it also be more of a wandering path? The journey to find meaningful bits in each day could be the storyline itself. I have to believe so, because what about all the women who are mothers, at home with their children every day, raising them in love, teaching them what life is about? That is a worthy cause, is it not? But it is not something you log your hours in for, nor something that gets recognized when filling out applications for fellowships and nominations. But it is a calling I hope to join some day. And I've heard that it is a struggle to feel like your life is meaningful when you are at home with the kids day after day. Much of my job is wrapped up in doing those motherly tasks, so I need it to be true for me right now as well. I want and I need to take the time to practice finding those meaningful moments. I need to allow myself to count the seemingly small things as important. Because it's all too easy for me to dismiss whatever it is that I'm doing with, "Well, that doesn't count."
If our lives feel meaningless, is it because they lack meaning, or that we lack trust that what it is we are doing actually is meaningful? I have a feeling that even if I were working for the greatest cause in the world I would find a way to discount it and not feel like I was doing enough. Maybe I am working for the greatest cause in the world and I don't even realize it.