“Good stories,” Dan Allender says, “tell about the intersection of desire and tragedy. A story begins when our desires collide head-on with reality.”
There is no better verb than collide when it comes to the story of my father: his life was shortened by a collision on a lonely Alberta back-road when I was barely 15 months old. That collision would catapult me along a spiritual journey where I would eventually recognize what Douglas Steere described as:
“… the love of the One who is actively concerned in awakening each live to its true centre is already lapping at the shores of that life… prayer is only cooperation with God’s active love in besieging this life.”
Like waves that continually lap our shores, our stories recur with familiarity and sometimes wash up new memories that have to be found among the jetsam and flotsam. There is something to be re-discovered in our stories as Dan Allender writes in his book “To Be Told: God Invites You to Coauthor Your Future“:
“God writes our story with great passion and desire, and he reveals our own passions and desires as we read and listen to our story.”
Last Sunday a school teacher in our church (thanks Alison!) recalled an incident where she was reading a story about family to her Grade 6 students. She told us how she began to get emotional as she read the story, and how two others began to whimper. But is was how her class responded that was so healing: they went to surround these two fellow students who had recently lost their fathers, and they began to pray for them. It was an altogether powerful moment, and it shocked me into an old memory long forgotten.
As I listened, I allowed myself to be transported to my Grade 5 class, and I thought about what it would have been like if what happened in Alison’s class had happened in mine. I would likely have been one of those fatherless students crying (or trying to hide crying) in the corner. In Grade 5 – I had un-expectantly become re-aquainted with – or overly focussed on being fatherless. I was doing fine without this awareness until then.
In that Grade 5 class, we were to write stories; mine were tales about war with explosions and death. It was my attempt to concoct a myth about my dad from the war years – weaving together shreds of evidence into a mythological whole. My teacher, as I recall, eventually “had enough” of my broken-record storylines, and told me to stop writing. Then when she told my mother (gasp), the horror of being exposed was too much. This memory had laid dormant until Alison spoke up in church.
I didn’t have the vocabulary then, nor did I have the emotional maturity to even identify what was going on inside. I didn’t have a helpful narrative with my family about this unknown person. I don’t know if any of the rest of my siblings ever talked about our experience; I simply don’t remember if we did.
So I tried to imagine what it would’ve been like to be in a class where my loss would have been recognized, explored, and prayed over. Odd that it is at this stage of life that I enter into prayerful imagination with my good friend to picture Jesus:
Waiting, watching, listening
there beside me in foolish exposure;
Are you embarrassed to be found with me?
I see You looking painfully at me
for You feel mine, and yet You are
open armed and open hearted.
After my tale You take me with You
to touch the void, the loss, the forgotten.
You are not ashamed or shameful.
Why now, after all these years,
must I visit that moment?
What do You have for me that only fits now?
Now is the teachable minute out of the million before
Where I can finally listen
to hear You say:
“My friend, my Abba’s beloved,
You were never overlooked
and I know you…”
For more, see “No Storyless Prayers.”
After my wife (Mercy) read this, she directed me to a song by “Mercy Me” (what a great coincidence, eh?) – titled “Dear Younger Me.” I especially resonate with the lines:
If I knew then what I know now
condemnation would’ve had no power
my joy, my pain would’ve
never been my worth…
Dear younger me,
it’s not your fault
You were never meant
to carry this beyond the cross…