What Defines Your Life Narrative?
The American blogger Steve Cornell recently asked his readers the question: what narrative do you follow for life? His definition of a narrative for life is loose.....a combination of the things we base our lives on; visions we might follow and the things which motivate, define and matter to us. Cornell argues that a narrative is always supported by a way of thinking about life – about yourself, others, possessions, purposes, priorities, goals and, especially, how you view God. What are the narratives that define human beings today?
Firstly, ideas and philosophies like socialism, communism, nationalism, and fascism can powerfully underpin the narratives of both individuals and large groups of people. History teaches us that extreme ideology and political power are a toxic combination for individuals, groups and even entire nations.
Secondly, life experiences often shape the narratives people follow. When we experience significant loss, hurt, betrayal or injury — it can lead to narratives of despair, resentment, self-pity, anger, revenge and even violence. So a negative life-narrative rooted in different forms of abuse can leave the victim stuck, unable to escape from the negative effects of the abuse. Counselling, particularly when rooted in bogus so-called ‘psychotherapy’ like neuro-linguistic programming and imago therapy frequently brings no relief or hope for people who have been conned out of thousands of pounds by so called ‘Christian counsellors and psychotherapists’.
However, many people can and do escape from a life defining negative narrative onto a much more positive and fulfilling pathway. A powerful example of dramatic change of narrative is found in the Bible in the life of the Apostle Paul. His story is told in the New Testament book of Philippians. Paul followed the expected path to social recognition in the community of his day. He took a path to gain status and esteem among the people who mattered most. Paul was zealous as his description below bears out:
“Indeed, if others have reason for confidence in their own efforts, I have even more! I was circumcised when I was eight days old. I am a pure-blooded citizen of Israel and a member of the tribe of Benjamin—a real Hebrew if there ever was one! I was a member of the Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law. I was so zealous that I harshly persecuted the church. And as for righteousness, I obeyed the law without fault” (Philippians 3:4-6).
Paul was so zealous that he was party to the murder of Stephen, but when he met Jesus on the road to Damascus his life narrative was dramatically changed. Here’s how Paul reflects on his change of narrative: “I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ.”
The third definer of life narratives in the twenty first century is the quest for celebrity/fame and importance. Fuelled by social networking and the media, this quest for power and importance is not new. In Luke’s Gospel 22:24-27, Jesus directly confronted this narrative: “A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.”
When people today encounter Jesus as Saviour and Lord, He radically disrupts and reorients their life narrative. Paul in his second letter to the church in the city of Corinth gives an excellent short summary of this truth when he writes: “And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but (live) for him who died for them and was raised again.”