This is the latest installment of the “lessons learned from failure” series. You’ll find links to related posts at the bottom of this one.
Fifteen years ago I had a story I wanted to tell the world about my life.
It was the story of how moved from Texas to the Pacific Northwest to work with a small, struggling church. After a few years, the church doubled in size and then eventually became one of the largest churches in the region and then the country. It was going to be a tremendous story about all the amazing things I saw God do as the church grew.
But before I could tell it, I had to live it. So it never got told.
Eight years ago I had another story I planned to tell someday.
It was the story of how I moved from the Pacific Northwest to work with another struggling church in Oklahoma. The church was recovering from a season of great difficulty and hoping to recapture its former glory. Under my leadership the church experienced a time of great renewal and growth and became the definitive case study for turnaround churches. I dreamed of telling this inspirational story across the country.
But before I could tell it, I had to live it. It is another untold story.
Two-and-a-half years ago I had a story I wanted to tell.
It was the story of how I moved from Oklahoma to plant a church in Texas. It would be the kind of church where people who hate church would feel safe to come and hear the story of Jesus and explore what it means to follow him. It might not be the largest church in the city, but it would have a distinct ministry to those who were interested in Jesus but not church as they knew it. I would get to tell the story of how God blessed our experimental community and used us to break new ground in connecting with those who are far from God. It was going to be a great story and I was going to tell it well.
Again, I couldn’t really tell it until I lived it. So it remains untold.
Regret is the gap between the stories we once dreamed of telling about out lives and the stories we’re actually qualified to tell.
As we get older, we’re forced to come to terms with this gap. When we were young(er) we knew the stories we wanted to tell someday. We envisioned stories about how much we accomplished, how much money we made, how happy our marriage was, and how successful our kids turned out to be.
For the young, just launching into life, the greatest power they have is the stories they plan to tell someday. Wrapped in these stories are hopes, dreams, and ambitions. It’s fun to be around younger people telling stories about themselves set in the future. But sometimes it’s hard to resist jumping in and telling them they may end up with a different story to tell someday.
As the years pass, and as the gap of regret widens, we face a couple of perilous temptations.
One is to get caught up in the past and fixate on how the stories we thought we were going to tell never panned out. Where we once spent our time thinking about our future story, we can easily switch directions and spend our time living in the past and lamenting the passage of time, the making of mistakes, and the cruel twists of fate that rendered us ineligible to tell our dream stories. This is a deadly place to be because those who live in the past have no power to move forward because they’ve cut themselves off from their greatest source energy: the hope of a better future.
The other temptation is to keep conjuring up new stories we want to tell about our lives someday that have no connection to the stories we’ve already lived. Many of these stories are only one fairy-god-mother short of making it into a storybook. Those who live only in the future lack the maturity to move forward because they cut themselves off from their greatest source of wisdom—a disappointing past.
What we need is a vantage point from which we can turn the eye of wisdom to the past and the eye of hope toward the future. This can only be done when we root ourselves in the present moment. In the present, we have access to both the maturity from our past and the energy from our future. Together, they keep us moving forward with realistic hope.
The most powerful tool we have in the present is our life story. Not the story we thought we would live to tell back when were twenty-one or the story we still hope to tell when we’re eighty-one, but the story we’ve lived to tell up until this point.
I still have a story I want to tell with my life. One that I hope I can tell twenty years from now, but I understand something now that I didn’t fifteen years ago. Whatever story I tell in twenty years isn’t going to drop out of the sky as a stand alone narrative. The story I tell someday can only grow out of the story I’ve already lived. The story I will tell someday isn’t set in the future, it’s happening right now. I’m making it up as I go along. As important as it is to have a hopeful story set in the future, the most powerful tool I have at my disposal is the story I’m living right now.
I have a story to tell and I’m sticking to it, because it’s the only story I’ve got. I’m qualified to tell it, because I’m living it.
What story have your mistakes, disappointments, and failures qualified you to tell?
Please don’t ever be afraid to tell it.