Only God, in His fury, knows the whole of it…

I used to walk through my neighborhood as a kid and contemplate the nearness of the houses and the relative distance of those inside.  Like, all our houses were crammed so close together and no one really knew the other’s life, knew what happened on the other side of six feet of lawn.

At thirty-something my contemplations have not changed much.

As my favorite, Sara Groves, sings,

who can know the pain the joy the regret the satisfaction

who can know the love of one life, one heart, one soul

at two you’re at abstraction

Story is one of my core values.  It is so important to me that I wrote my undergraduate thesis on “story.”  People’s stories are so important to me that I live by quotes such as in Revelation, “They were saved by the blood of the lamb and the word of their testimony.”  Their stories of redemption.  They were saved by Jesus’ cross and telling of the story of His powerful work in their lives.

And yet, I’ve lost sight of this value somehow.

I don’t know how to find my way back.

My reading tutor in grade school taught me that a good story has a clear beginning, middle, and an end.  I rocked the conclusions and worked hard to learn introductions.  I often got lost somewhere in the middle. I’ve gotten really good at structure since then, and I have this frightful feeling that it cannot be imposed on my own narrative.

Years ago I relinquished the desire to have a clear storyline in my life.  My friends would gather together and spend long afternoons, telling the redemption stories.  We set them up, and built up to the moment God shows up, complete with foreshadowing and rising action, with surprises and glory and conflict and climax and falling action.  There was always a new story to be told, and we could go for days.  Somewhere in one of these weekends, I pulled away and let go.  I let go of the expectation and the desire for a story to tell.  My own narrative feels jumbled and disjointed somehow, spread over time and distance.  Sure, I’ve got some pretty good snapshots, but do they all belong in the same album?  The same story?

Last week I was sick in bed.  I read Brennan Manning’s new book The Furious Longing of God, and God met me in the introduction.  Brennan states,

I’m Brennan. I’m an alcoholic.
How I got there, why I left there, why I went back, is the story of my life
But it is not the whole story.
I’m Brennan. I’m a Catholic.
How I got there, why I left there, why I went back, is also the story of my life.
But it is not the whole story.
I’m Brennan. I was a priest, but am no longer a priest. I was a married man but am no longer a married man.
How I got to those places, why I left those places, is the story of my life too.
But it is not the whole story.
I’m Brennan. I’m a sinner, saved by grace.
That is the larger and more important story.
Only God, in His fury, knows the whole of it.

This is me, contemplating the story that only God knows, that Sara Groves is singing about and Brennan Manning is writing about and for all our modes of communication, only time and campfires and coffee shops and starry nights and sunny afternoons will draw it out.  I am both longing and afraid to find my way back to that tempo, to the lingering, to living poetry and listening to silence.

Last week I also put my new TV to good use and spent some money at the video vending machine.  Three movies later, I am still thinking about The Help.  Particularly the last quote,

“God says we need to love our enemies. It hard to do. But it can start by telling the truth. No one had ever asked me what it feel like to be me. Once I told the truth about that, I felt free. And I got to thinking about all the people I know. And the things I seen and done. My boy Trelaw always said we gonna have a writer in the family one day. I guess it’s gonna be me.”

What would it be like to find my way back to being the sort of person who asks and listens?  What will that require of me, of my own story and my own telling?  What will I need to reconcile within myself in order to truly hear?

Reconcile.  Reconciliation.  R e c o n c i l i a t i o n.

That little word beguiles me, draws me nearer to story.  It is a word, and a mystery of God, and a treasure of the cross, and a ministry given to me as a Christ follower.  A privilege and a responsibility.  And before you flood my email with questions, I don’t understand either.  I am only beginning to look at the mystery, and being drawn in to it’s beauty.

My friend tells me that reconciliation in South Africa began with the telling of stories, the real stories.

John Dawson tells me that before people and people groups can be reconciled to one another, they must be reconciled to God.

My heart tells me that reconciliation is the way back.  It begins…and ends…with a story.

Only God, in His fury, knows the whole of it….