In his book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, Donald Miller tells a powerful story he calls, “How Jason Saved His Family.” After returning from Los Angeles, where he took part in a storytelling workshop, Don got together with his friend, Jason, and learned of some trouble Jason and his wife were having with their 13-year-old daughter.
She was dating a guy who was bad news; she was even experimenting with drugs.
With the workshop fresh on his mind, Don made an offhand comment that Jason’s daughter “wasn’t living a very good story.” Jason was intrigued and asked Don to tell him more about the elements of a good story.
You Can Rewrite Your Story
A few months later, Don saw Jason again and things had changed. Jason said his family was living a better story. Now it was Don’s turn to be intrigued.
Jason explained that during their previous conversation he realized that his daughter wasn’t, in fact, living a very good story. And it dawned on him that he hadn’t mapped out a story for his family, so his daughter had chosen her own story, one in which she was wanted, even if she was only being used.
Jason decided to create a better story to invite her into.
Remembering that every good story involves someone who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it, one night he heard about an organization that builds orphanages. He found out that it costs $25,000 to build an orphanage and on the spot decided that his family would fund one even though they didn’t have the money.
It sounded like a story worth living.
It Won’t Be Easy
When Jason told his wife and daughter about it, they were so mad they both refused to talk to him. He realized, of course, that it was a mistake not to have included his wife in the decision. However, after explaining that they weren’t taking any risks – they weren’t helping anyone – and how their daughter was losing interest, his wife got on board.
Soon enough, his daughter got interested. So much so that she wanted to visit the country where the orphanage would be built, take pictures of the kids, post them on her web site, and see if others would help.
Then she broke up with her boyfriend.
As Jason explained it, “No girl who plays the role of a hero dates a guy who uses her. She knows who she is. She just forgot for a little while.”
I love that.
Living for Something Larger
As I read that story, I remembered the words of one of the leading researchers on human happiness, Martin Seligman. He said a meaningful life is one that attaches itself to something larger than we are, and the larger that something is, the more meaning in our lives.
Donald Miller puts it this way: “People can’t live without a story, without a role to play.”
Recently over dinner with our family, Aziz came up in conversation. He’s a boy in Burkina Faso we sponsor through Compassion International. When we’ve sent him extra money in the past, he has sent back pictures of what he did with the money. One shows him with soap he bought for his family. Another time he bought extra rice.
My wife, Jude, mentioned that Aziz has a birthday coming up and one of our kids was quick to suggest that we all chip in to send him some extra money. They were all genuinely excited about contributing to the cause.
We’re not funding an orphanage (at least, not this year!). We’re just sending some money to one young boy who has so much less than we have. But it’s a good step, a very tangible way we can work as a family to invest in something larger than ourselves.
Is Your Story Big Enough?
If you listen to the chatter of our culture, it’s easy to think that our lives are mostly about cars and clothes and where we’re going on vacation this year. It isn’t that such things are unimportant or that we should feel guilty for pursing them. But I think deep down we all know who we are. We know we were made for a bigger story.
We just forget sometimes.
What is it for you? What’s the bigger financial story you’re pursuing? And what story of making a difference in other people’s lives are you inviting your kids into?