Sunday, May 16, 2010

Life Stories

Sunday, May 16, 2010

I read a book a while ago where the author talked about how as we experience different things in our lives its like we are writing stories. Not writing with pen and paper, but figuratively writing stories that tell about who we are.

One thing I found particularly interesting was when the author talked about how heaven would look and feel to someone who had been through a lot of hardship and adversity. He thought those who had endured a hard life would see heaven differently than those who had lived an easier life. He also wondered about what kind of story he’d have to tell about his life when he got to heaven. He wanted it to be a good story – something meaningful.

I’ve been thinking about what makes a good life story. Yesterday at a church meeting a young man who is graduating was asked to bear his testimony. He was on the track team with my daughter and he had done really well this year jumping. I leaned over and told my daughter that he should tell his story about the district track meet. She said that would be too hard since he didn’t qualify for state and he had done winter track and worked really hard and everything. I thought that sounded like a really good story. I like interesting stories. I like to know what it is that helps people endure their trials. I wanted to know what he was thinking. He didn’t talk about track.

This afternoon I was thinking about how there are parts of our stories that we feel so strongly about that we don’t have words for them. Maybe that’s where this young man was at – that stage where our emotions are pretty raw and we are forming words in our minds but we’re not ready to let them go. We’re not ready because there’s still too much emotion. Some times it is just for a short while that we have those kinds of strong emotions and some times that feeling lasts for a very long time. Maybe that’s why some of us have such a hard time bearing our testimony - we’re trying to put words to something that is a strong emotion.

Then I was wondering about the stories I’ve read about people that have died and come back to life – the near death experiences that people share. They talk about seeing a bright light and an indescribable feeling of joy and love. So I decided that maybe we won’t need words to tell our stories when we get to heaven. Maybe we’ll have the kind of strong emotion that we don’t have words for.

If we were all telling stories about our lives when we’re in heaven it makes sense that we might not need words. After all, we all speak different languages and have different kinds of beliefs and ideas because of our experiences on earth. The one thing we would all have in common is our feelings and emotions.

Maybe we would know and feel the stories that other people were telling because of how we felt, because of what we know from our own experience. We wouldn’t need words because we would know and understand a story by virtue of its feelings. We knew those feelings on earth and we may feel them even more profoundly in heaven.

I’m thinking we’ll be able to feel each others stories when we get to heaven. I may not know the entirety of someone's hardship if I hadn't experienced something as painful, but I would know pain and I would know the emotion. It would just be a deeper level than what I know and maybe I would feel it. Maybe I could feel what they feel because we would both be safe enough to feel it together.

We have a hard time finding words when we feel an overwhelming sense of grief and pain, or an abundance of joy. Both feelings could come from experiencing the light of heaven after enduring a hard life.

I wonder… If we didn’t know what adversity and hardship was like would we have lots of words to tell our stories? I don’t know if all those words would make a very interesting story if there wasn’t a depth of emotion to carry them. I think the most interesting stories to listen to in heaven would be filled with endurance and persistence. Just like the kinds of stories I appreciate right now.

The stories we are creating in our lives are the stories that will be most meaningful when they can be felt by others. It makes sense to me that heaven would be perceived as a brighter and more joyful place when we realize what it is that we have overcome to be there.

When I think about what young kids that are graduating are experiencing right now I understand that they are making decisions that will have a lot to do with how their stories are written. They are deciding whether or not to go to college, how to pay for college, where and how to get a job, whether or not to join the military, go on a mission, whom to date and whether or not to get married, and basically how to take those next steps into their personal stories.

Stories are filled with lots of disappointments and trials. These young people can expect all kinds of experiences to pop up in their stories. They may trust someone who betrays them or fall in love with someone who turns out to be a vampire. Whether it is vampires, wizards, or superheroes there are parts of different stories that resonate with us and touch our hearts. What elements do these popular stories have that stirs our emotions? What do we learn about ourselves and our hearts when we feel strongly about something?

I had an experience today where I saw the difference between two hearts. In the same situation I saw one person’s heart soften and another person didn’t appear to feel anything from what I could see. In my mind I saw the difference between one person who was touched by an experience and another who looked like he was closing himself off to feeling part of his own story.

Don’t you think our hearts need to be open in order to learn from our challenges and trials? The strong feelings that touch our hearts are what make our stories interesting. They are what we have in common with one another. They are the feelings we share when we don’t have the words to express ourselves.

More importantly, they are what help us to feel the power of the Atonement in our hearts. If someone is all about sunshine, lollipops and rainbows then I’m not particularly interested in hearing their story. I never really liked happy endings anyway. To me those endings were just part of a story, but not the whole story. Life doesn’t keep going with endless happiness where everything turns out just the way everyone wants it to over and over.

Feeling discouragement, disappointment, hopelessness, helplessness, sorrow, pain and grief are part of our life story. Our stories also need hope. They need joy. They need goodness and light. Above all, they need truth. All of these feelings generate strong emotions. They are all part of our life story. They are all part of the Atonement.

Ultimately, God is the author of our stories, but we choose how much of the Atonement we will use in our lives. We choose the elements in our stories that touch our hearts. It will be interesting to understand how it feels to share our stories with one another without words. It will be interesting to feel what heaven is like after all we’ve been through.

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