[Note, June 2016: This post was written while I was still wrestling with the aftermath of an intense experience of spiritual desolation. I leave the post here as is out of respect for my journey and the rightful place of doubt, questioning, and wrestling with God in all of our spiritual journeys, and as a testimony to the importance of telling my story, which has, as it turns out, come together in beautiful ways over the past four years!]
There was a trend in many areas of study toward the end of the 20th century towards narrative approaches, that is, to understanding their disciplines in terms of story. This recognizes the basic human tendency to understand and interpret the world in stories: hence the ubiquity of myth, legend, and story-telling in human cultures.
I have long found the concept of narrative personally enlightening in understanding history, theology, and most especially my own psychology: interpreting and reinterpreting my own story as my life situation changes.
This process has hit a major snag over the past of couple years, though, as there has been a significant rupture in my story. While I’m sure I’ll get into some of the details of this rupture at some point here, in this post I’d like to think through the more ‘meta’ issue of what such ruptures mean and how they can be processed within a narrative framework.
Two years ago my story made sense. All the strands of my life had come — and were were increasingly coming — together in a way that was nice and tidy and narratively pleasing. Now I’m in a place where my experiences have cast a great shadow over vast swaths of my life. The story, while clearly still evolving, doesn’t make sense anymore. It’s ragged, incomplete, and fraught with inconsistencies. Major characters have disappeared without satisfactory explanation and the most important themes have flipped on end.
A good friend who has seen much of my story unfold over the years recently asked me how I would now tell my story, or how I would now understand and interpret it. The truth is I don’t know. Partly things are still so fresh and new that they haven’t had time to sort themselves out, so the cliffhanger is to some extent legitimate: a lack of resolution or understanding now doesn’t mean that it won’t ever be found. But in other ways it feels like I’ve found myself in another story altogether, where the protagonist and cast of characters are largely the same, but everything else has changed. It’s as though I were playing a game and had the rules change entirely part way through. So I really don’t know how to answer my friend and I am unsure if I’m okay with that. Not understanding the story of my own life — the story of which I’m the main player and, to a great degree, author — is unnerving for me.
I guess if I want to find a moral in the story as it stands now it’s simply that life isn’t simple or neat or tidy. We don’t control much of what we face: culture, era, race, family background, genetics, the behavior and attitudes of others. The truth is there is very little we can influence and even less we can control. This isn’t to say we are helpless — far from it — but the lack of control over so much means that life is going to be messy and complicated, and our stories don’t come neatly wrapped with string and bow.