On Living a Good Story {And Maybe Why You Shouldn’t Try So Hard}

by Laura on August 5, 2011

“So the question is, when the credits roll in your life, are people going to think your story sucked?” – donmilleris.com

There’s been a lot of talk about living a Good Story this past year.  I’ve read Donald Miller’s A Million Miles in a Thousand Years {and loved it}, which has been a catalyst for me in the idea that our lives are stories, played out in our years on earth.   And bloggers have written about it, and reviewers have reviewed about it, and one of my closest friends went to a conference about it, and the conversation has left me honestly questioning my own life lately.

Because sometimes I wonder if we {my husband Matt and I} have lived the dramatic story for the wrong reasons. And here’s my question– does a heroine spend the two-hours of the movie pursuing the most gloriously-dramatic film, or does a gloriously-dramatic film just naturally tumble out of her pursuit of more important things, like love, redemption, victory, the cure for cancer, that kind-of thing?

Shouldn’t a Good Story be the result, not the motivator, of an epic life, a faith worth remembering?

And here’s where I’m coming from . . .  I feel like Matt and I have gone with gusto after the wild, epic-kind-of life {or what we understood that to mean in our youthful, take-the-world-by-storm twenties}.  We read John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart after college, and we were all about pursuing a career that filled our hearts and a journey that pushed the envelope of  ‘safe’.  We sold everything and moved to Saipan and then did it again to do ministry in New Zealand.  We’ve thrown ourselves into 4 businesses which took great risk {all of which have failed miserably, but that’s beside the point}.  Matt’s led trips overseas  and done edgy things that would make your grandmother nervous, in an effort to connect with teenagers.  We’ve packed up babies and a life, and moved halfway around the globe . . . for the sake of the girl in some dark room somewhere, for following where we believed God to be leading . . .

and, maybe, maybe, in part, {should I admit it?} for the sake of a more Dramatic Story.

And I think I am learning, that this final motivation, isn’t really a right one.

I had several people tell me during our recent visit to the states, “You are doing something so important.  And it just makes my life feel so behind, so normal.”

And the older I get, the more I realize that maybe the true heroes, the ones really living out brilliant stories, are the ones who never make much of a headline, anyway . . .

It’s the ex-wife who forgives her cheating ex-husband, even if he doesn’t ask for it.

It’s the daughter who takes her Alzheimer’s-afflicted mother to doctor’s appointments and McDonald’s, every week.

It’s the husband who works a job he doesn’t like, for the sake of the family he loves like crazy.

It’s the man who leaves a hugely-ridiculous tip to the waitress, because he sees she’s gotta-be 8 months pregnant and there’s no ring on her finger.

And I think one of the greatest lies we can believe about our lives is that if it doesn’t have the setting and the scenes of a summer blockbuster, then it’s not really that valuable, or seeped in God-reality, or the stuff of epic-goodness. And that has to be a lie, right?

Because Mary didn’t set out to be Jesus’s mother.

And Peter was just fishing with his buddies.

And I can’t see Gandhi or Mother Theresa clawing for the spotlight at any point.

And those guys who started To Write Love on Her Arms weren’t motivated by a sprawling NGO with cool t-shirts that popular bands wear, either.

Those dramatic stories just naturally played out; I’m not so sure they were sought out, from the opening scenes, when the boat first shoved off the dock.

And maybe it’s me.  Maybe I’m the one splitting hairs that don’t really matter all that much anyway, but as I sit and think about my own story and the living of it, I wonder if I haven’t gotten a little too caught up in a quest for drama I wonder if I haven’t followed my own idea of a Good Story, assuming that a Good Story has to be Hollywood-epic, on par with Braveheart or The Last of the Mohicans or Titanic or something.

Because while it’s true that no one wants to order popcorn and watch a two hour depiction of a single mom working two jobs, checking her kid’s homework, forgiving the guy that abused her, slipping an extra ten into the offering plate, and cleaning the toilets on a Saturday morning, maybe that’s more the makings of a Good Story than we realize.

Or applaud.


Thoughts on what it means to live out a Good Story in your life?  What, in dramatic or non-dramatic reality, does that look like?

Do we, especially in the Christian Community, put too much emphasis on the “dramatic” Christ-following?


Donald Miller is one of my all-time favorite authors.  If you haven’t read Blue Like Jazz yet {Nonreligious thoughts on Christian Spirituality}, then you just gotta.

  • http://atotalmonet.blogspot.com Emma Leitch

    Yes Laura! Our stories unfold in the simple things as well as the big, as we tune our ears and hearts to the Lord, and choose obedience. Obedience is better than sacrifice. Sometimes obedience takes us to Thailand, and sometimes obedience it takes us to our kitchen to make a meal for someone, to a friend’s house to pray with her, to a cafe to spend an hour really listening to someone, and home to serve our families with a cheerful heart.
    Don’t second guess that a sliver of wrong motive mixed in with the right, cancels out His purpose for you: He IS using you, and he is writing many stories in your life, your children’s and the children you serve.
    Love Emma

    • http://www.lauraleighparker.com Laura

      Emma, thanks for your encouragement . . . esp this:

      Don’t second guess that a sliver of wrong motive mixed in with the right, cancels out His purpose for you . . .

      A good reminder for me today.

  • http://bahava.wordpress.com Katy

    I love your thoughts here! There similar to what God has been teaching me…that I can make an idol out of a “good story” and set out on this never-ending quest to do “big, good” things for God, which aren’t bad in and of themselves, but that’s it’s more about going back to the basics of remembering that He’s more concerned about who I am and my holiness than He is about me living a dramatic story in the way that I want it to look…for me that’s looked like going the unfamiliar route and staying for now when I so wanted to go back on the mission field right away. Not a bad thing, but not what God has for me yet.

    I know that I often forget about all the preparation and waiting that goes into the great stories of the Bible. I want to skip ahead to the dramatic, big parts rather than see that a great story is totally lived out in the day to day faithfulness and obedience to whatever God has called me to do each day. The men with the talents had to first use and be faithful with the talent before they could move forward.

    So, while do I think we should all be totally out there living great stories for God? Absolutely. But it’s just remember that God’s ways aren’t our ways and they’re definitely not the world’s ways. So, it’s living a great story that He’s writing…not us. =)

    • http://www.lauraleighparker.com Laura

      Loved you writing this:

      “that I can make an idol out of a “good story” and set out on this never-ending quest to do “big, good” things for God, . . . ”

      I sooo feel that, so have LIVED that, I think.

      And I LOVED your point about the waiting, the preparation that takes places before and in between those “big dramatic” moments in life. Those arent as fun to watch, to remember, but they definitely are an important part of the process nonetheless . . .

  • http://www.angiewashington.com @ngie

    Reading this post of yours brought to mind an old song…

    It’s not in trying but in trusting
    Not in running but in resting
    Not in wondering but in praying
    That we find the strength of the Lord

    Slightly off topic, but sort of the same thing. With so much pressure to strive, accomplish, be relevant, succeed, put wins on the board, be excellent, go big or go home, [insert favored buzzword here] I think at times we do miss it.

  • http://heathcotesafari.blogspot.com/ Miranda

    A great post, and I have to agree. I think I too have made decisions based on a desire to be ‘hardcore’ and, having done so, realized that there are far more adventurous choices that don’t look that way … like raising kids, staying married and – now – returning to one’s country of origin. All of these are more difficult for me than setting off for the wilds of Mozambique with just a backpack!

    Wish I could meet you … I think we’d get along 😉

    • http://www.lauraleighparker.com Laura

      Yes, I think we would, Miranda.

      And I am the same way . . . in some ways the “easier” obedience for me is in moving around, starting over, beginning a new adventure. And the harder one is the sticking, the planting, the digging in, the being quietly faithful.

  • Erin

    Big surprise, but this is something I wrestle with as well. Am I walking toward Uganda in search of the dramatic life that points to Christ…or…is it something that’s slowly come out of a life pointing to Christ. Most days, I feel I stumbled onto this road and find myself looking around saying to myself “huh? What? How did I get HERE?”

    I think this is an intrinisic battle for the mission life. Satan wants us to get into it for the applause, the drama, but the Lord for the quiet submissive service. It depends on who we choose each moment, I guess.

    Don’t be discouraged, though. The Lord makes good from everything! I KNOW He’s using you where you are and the heart I’ve seen and sense in you is one who just.wants.Him. Focus on that, it doesn’t have to be any more complicated. (and yes, talking to myself w/ that one too :) )

    • http://www.agodthatmovesmountains.com Lexi

      Erin- I am moving to Eastern Uganda in less than 1 month! I would love to learn more about what God is leading you to there!

      • http://www.lauraleighparker.com Laura

        Erin and Lexi . . .

        would love to hear what you BOTH are doing in Uganda? I love knowing people’s stories . . .

        • Erin

          I will let you know as soon as it’s solid. Things are still up in the air. Praying for an acceptance into an organization to come SOON! :)

    • http://www.lauraleighparker.com Laura

      Erin . . . such powerful ideas as you head overseas to Africa in the near future. I think in all things, it’s just good to stop every once in a while and honestly ask ourselves, “Okay, WHY am I doing this?” Because you are right, the desire for applause can sneak into the motivation, even if it started off completely purely . . .

  • http://www.alyssasantos.com Alyssa

    so true — quietly lived good stories hold power, too.

  • nenang

    Would it be easier if we could reallyreally understand that we are ‘playing’ to an audience of One? (Who happens to be the Author.)

  • http://www.agodthatmovesmountains.com Lexi

    This post stirred lots of emotions in me… I still need to sort through.

    My initial thoughts… I fully agree that daring lives shouldn’t be about us or organizations, but rather about the glory of God.

    I think we can fall into the trap though of all too often living complacent lives. The Bible is very clear that our two missions are to bring glory to God and make disciples of all nations. That can be done in a variety of contexts: marriage, parenthood, work, volunteering, global outreach….etc.

    Of the 11,000 people groups in the world 6,000 still have NEVER heard to good news of Jesus Christ….and will have no opportunities in the near future. That is urgent. That is dramatic. It requires a serious searching of our hearts about our motives for staying or at least not being a part of sending others to do that Kingdom work.

    All that being said, as a missionary, my biggest pet peeve is when other diminish the calling God has placed on their lives because “it’s not as exciting as jetting off to Africa”.

    • http://www.lauraleighparker.com Laura

      Lexi . . . you are on the verge of a huge faith walk– Uganda soon! Please keep us posted as I can’t wait to hear your story there!

      Yes, there are awful things going on in the world that need “radical” sacrifice. I think, like you, I just am sad when we all start comparing or trying to define “radical” as the dramatic, and not maybe the simple faithful.

      Praying for you during this next month, friend!

    • http://www.lauraleighparker.com Laura

      Can i just say, too, Lexi ( and everyone),
      That I do think we humans NEED inspiration. We need to be called into something larger than ourselves. That’s just true and some of us (maybe those who are more emotional, intuitive) thrive on that more, reach out for it more than perhaps others with different personalities do. I guess it is why Braveheart makes everyone want to fight for something and paint themselves blue and give a good speech or something. I get that . . . and it IS important to be inspired.

      It just so happens that it’s typically the “dramatic” that does the inspiring.

      And maybe on some levels, that’s not such a bad thing.

  • http://heathcotesafari.blogspot.com/ Miranda
    • http://www.lauraleighparker.com Laura

      Oh, thanks for the link . . .will go check it out.

  • http://www.twitter.com/aliciamc AliciaMc

    This idea and struggle really resonates with me right now because I just (two weeks ago) moved back home from South Korea after ‘failing’ in my quest to live abroad as an ESL teacher for a year (I only lasted 5 months). I love the idea of licit a good story bu I definitely made the mistake of pursuing that instead of allowing it to come naturally out of where God was leading me. Instead if livin out this epic adventure I found myself engulfed in panic attacks and depression which then caused me to question whether or not I was even capable of living a good story. Thankfully, God is starting to show me that I have to pursue him first, but my goodness I think that temptation to try for the more dramatic story is going to be hard to keep in context. As much as I loved “A Million Miles In a Thousand Years” I really wish Don had spent more time talking about living a less dramatic good story (of course it’s been awhile since I’ve read it, so it might have just been my own biases/want of adventure coloring my perceptions of the book).

    • http://www.lauraleighparker.com Laura

      Oh, wow, Alicia– your story is a hard one! Girl, let me just say, living overseas can really, really SUCK. I get it. We moved to NZ once and had to turn around 3 months later and move back b/c things turned out so disastrous, so I totally understand the feeling of failure. It’s a hard place to be and may take some time to heal from, ya know? I know for us, it took about a year for us to start to see the good fruit that came out of our “disaster”– but now, we would totally not have changed it for the world. We learned so much about ourselves, GOd, ministry, people . . . such valuable lessons.

      I think maybe the key for you is NOT to buy into the lie that you screwed it up and now there’s no more good story . .. b/c that couldn’t be further from the truth.

      Thanks for sharing honestly . . . it’s a gift to hear YOUR story . . .

  • Kellee

    Nope. I get that we are called into janitorial seasons…yet even in the obedient living there can be passion and purpose. Telling a great story with our lives with the intent of saving and serving many is expected of us. I say we keep dreaming big. Mary and the fishermen may not have been looking for a bigger story but God zapped them with one. I anticipate the same from God. Jesus was a master story-teller. I want to be one too.

    • http://www.lauraleighparker.com Laura

      Kellee . . . i am in love with your statement about “janitorial seasons.” What a perfect picture. Reminds me of Brother Lawrence, the monk from a kajillion years ago, who wrote about practicing the presence of God, even in the kitchen, where he was the cook.

  • http://annkroeker.com Ann Kroeker

    You’ve got me thinking so hard about this, I’m not even sure how to respond.

    Enjoying the comment stream very much.

    And wondering.

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  • http://www.stumblingaroundinthelight.com Teri @ StumblingAroundInTheLight

    We absolutely appreciate Don’s book on pursuing life-story. It was our family summer reading last year (read out loud, together as a family), and has greatly impacted us.

    And no – I don’t think you’re splitting hairs. Motivation is important, for sure. If we’re pursuing a glory-story purely for the glory…well, then, yuck. It’s not really gonna be a good story – and all our “Lord, Lord” is just gonna end up with Him saying, “I didn’t know you…” Sometimes those waters are muddy tho – and our stinky ego can get all twisted up in the beautiful truth of His calling – so that it can be difficult to discern the root of our motivation.

    Seems like most of us humanoids are walking around apathetically, frittering away our lives; nothing more than “meaningless scenes stitched together with the forgettable thread of wasted time.” And so to pursue glory – on any level – sure seems a better option than apathy. Y’know?

    • http://www.lauraleighparker.com Laura

      Teri, great thoughts here, friend. I totally think motivation is my struggle. It seems the action, for me, seems easier to “get right-er” than the truest purest motivation to do the action.

      And your last question . . . man, that’s a good one.

      I guess for me, I am asking myself if it is MY OWN glory I am seeking too much . . .

      And how cool is it that you read this with your kids?

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  • http://www.carriebalvin.blogspot.com Carrie

    Such a fabulous post! Thanks for being open and honest.

    I definitely struggle with this. Living in Guatemala, I often think my life should look more like a dramatic story, that since I am living in a third-world country, I should be doing all these amazing things and such.

    But it doesn’t. It basically looks like being a newlywed, still trying to understand culture and make friends, still questioning what my purpose is.

    I love your thought about how those people in the Bible didn’t go looking for a big story, they were just living their lives and being faithful.

    Maybe that is the key for me – to stop worrying about or trying to create my own story and instead focus on knowing God and loving others and realizing like you said, those things alone make my life big.

    Such a great post that speaks to much of what has been on my hear and my mind lately – I have so much more to process about this!

    • http://www.lauraleighparker.com Laura

      I love that idea, Carrie . . . that maybe we shouldn’t try so dag-gum hard. Maybe we just simply stress ourselves out too much, ya know?

      Blessings . . . just learning how to be a newlywed is aplenty to learn, too. Don’t underestimate the importance of that. :)

  • Bryce

    Loved this post– thanks for your encouragement even while you need encouraging! I heard/read a quote from Christy Nockles (not sure if it originated from her or not), but it was talking about “finding the glorious in the mundane”. If we’re doing everything to the glory of Him who made us, whether it’s playing legos with our kids, changing diapers, or in a hut in Africa leading people to Christ, we can find something glorious in all we do, because we’re doing it for the Lord and not for men. Very hard to remember at times, for sure (I couldn’t seem to remember it at all a couple weeks ago….).

  • http://www.lovewellblog.com Kelly @ Love Well

    Great post, Laura. You’ve got me all worked up.

    I’ve struggled with this too — and while I hardly have it all figured out, I think some of the answer lies in knowing thyself. Like you, it’s easier for me to start a new adventure, do something daring, make a change than it is for me to stay in the boring, dull status quo. So when people say Go Live A Story, my pulse beats and I’m all YEAH BABY and I run off (run away?) from the normal.

    Slowly (oh so slowly), I’m learning that FOR ME, the answer to growing a heart more like Jesus might be to NOT go, to NOT start a new adventure but to learn to walk in the everyday and be content with it.

    Someone else, with different motivations? They might need to fight against the desire for things to stay safe.

    I think a clue might be if someone says “This scares me to death.” Personally? I’m not scared to death of change. I’m scared to death of the mundane. Which is why I think it’s wise for me to let Jesus meet me there.

    (Did I just write a book?)

    • http://www.lauraleighparker.com Laura

      You didn’t write a book . . . but, hey, maybe you should!

      I totally agree . . . perhaps the following looks completely different for each of us. My “radical” may be staying. And her “radical” might be going. Yes, totally hear you.

      I get ya, girl. You described me, like exactly.

  • http://www.sixbrickshigh.com Jamie @ Six Bricks High

    Hey Laura, thanks for throwing your thoughts out here for us — so honest and I love that. God’s been talking to my heart a lot lately about this sort of thing, this living out my story. And the giving of what I have and from the very place I’m in. So if I’m here among my family and all I have is some love and words, then give it and give it well. If I’m at the grocery store with strangers and all I have is a smile and a small kind deed, then give it. It doesn’t have to grand and dramatic to be the very thing He wants from me.

    I think all too often I’m deriving my value from the bigness of my story. This story of mine is the epitome of average. And since it doesn’t seem very big, and I deem it (the story and my living) of little value.

    I know that isn’t what God intended but I fight my thoughts from dwelling in that place.

    • http://www.lauraleighparker.com Laura

      Jamie, I totally think lots of people would agree with you here:

      I think all too often I’m deriving my value from the bigness of my story. This story of mine is the epitome of average. And since it doesn’t seem very big, and I deem it (the story and my living) of little value.

      Well spoken. And I think something so many of us can totally relate to . . .

      Keep fighting the lie that it doesn’t matter. . .

  • Tamara

    Oh! I will look for the book bc this is a struggle that has come up for me over and over and I hear it often from others.
    Here’s what it boils down to: INTENT and MINDFULNESS.
    If my intention is to follow God’s will, then I’m listening / looking for where He wants me and I go.
    If I go, then I must be mindful of His call / His purpose in the going – day by day – or I slip off into why it’s so great for ME and how wonderful I am for serving the Lord.
    The same is true whether I’m off living in the bush to bring people toward Christ or if I’m right here in white-as-white bread “normal” WP. I’m often reminded of a young woman I know who surprisingly chose to be in a sorority in college. ( thought she was way to good a Christian girl to do THAT silly stuff.) She explained that it was a “wide open mission field.” and proceeded to bring other young women to Christ, lead them in Bible studies and service, train them up to leave them 4 years later as the most Christ-alive, hoppin’ sorority ever! Was her story mundane bc she wasn’t spending her college time off on a traditional mission? Was her story impactful for Christ?
    All of our stories can be impactful for Christ in all the different settings in which He brings us. We just gotta keep our eyes on Him (soooooo easy, huh?). Maybe we keep our eyes on Him by encouraging these good discussions with each other!!
    Hugs from here!

    • http://www.lauraleighparker.com Laura

      Tamara, love your comment about INTENT and MINDFULNESS. Excellent points to “boil it down to” . . .

  • http://convergemissionary.com/ Brian Stankich

    Hey, stop exposing our weak motives, desire for significance, schemes at self-promotion, and the fact that we blow our ministries way out of proportion – and think that God is pleased about it. Just stop that kind of talk – people might wake up and smell the coffee. Brian

  • http://amylsullivan.blogspot.com/ Amy Sullivan

    Had to quote you on this one at my place. . .so, so good.

    • http://www.lauraleighparker.com Laura

      Oh, thanks, friend. So, so much. :)

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  • Grenshaw

    Hi Laura,  Not sure if you are even reading and writing this blog anymore, but I had to write.  Maybe just to myself.  I stumbled across your blog on a mission site and found myself reading several.  My husband and I moved to Singapore with TWR 6 months ago.  WE have moved many times with a career in the US Army and I have been a high school teacher for 27 years and have led countless short term mission trips from Thailand to Russia to NYC, but none of that compared to this move to Singapore.  As I read your articles I could relate to many of your struggles.  Here the housing is fairly similar to the US, the language is mainly Singlish – a faster form of English :) and yet the transitition was harder than I expected.  My husband the the director of the Asia Service Center and for the first time in my adult life my role is housewife/volunteer.  If it were earlier in my life I would have had my girls with me and all the school and friends for them, but they are grown and on their own now and I have to re-plan my days.  I almost made one of the mistakes you warned about and that is getting involved too quickly.  There was so much to do and I wasn’t sure which way to go that I started to take responsiblities that I was not called to.  I tend to be a “Martha”.  I’m learning to be a “Mary”,  just waiting on the Lord and seeing the opportunities open up with people I never dreamed I could meet.  The cleaning ladies, the lady who runs the taxi stand.  Thank you for your thoughts. 

  • Stephanie

    This is a meaty post. Still thinking about it all, but I love what you wrote here and I really appreciate it. I realise that this was posted a long time ago, but I just came across it. I also just came across the Life Overseas blog. So excited about that.

    • http://www.lauraparkerblog.com/ Laura Parker

      Thanks, Stephanie– glad you “found” it. It’s an idea I am STILL wrestling with, too, honestly.

      And trying to live out.

      Thanks for the encouragement.

  • Joy_F

    I used to laugh in while I lived in China because so many people back in the States thought my life was so exciting. I could just imagine how bored they would be if they ever saw what I actually did – cutting out flash cards to learn new characters. Throwing durian candy at the picture on the wall of my friends apartment over and over in some strange game of “stick the durian on the painting.” Watching Korean Soap Operas.

    It wasn’t epic. I went because I thought I was supposed to, and English teaching was how I could. The move to Japan wasn’t on the horizon at all – we were sent here. The US government sent my husband, and I went with him.

    The most “epic” parts have been when we saw opportunities in front of us and stepped into them. When my husband was gone for four months due to the Air Force and I was asked by my university if I wanted to spend that time in Nagasaki exploring.

    Even the exciting becomes mundane after a while. I realized I could either spend my life chasing more excitement or learn to be happy in the opportunities in front of me – whatever those might be.

    So I think it is a combination – seeing the opportunity and running with it and being happy where you are at. Both. At the same time.

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