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Like You Wrote It? When You’re Not Living The Dream

Like You Wrote It?

It didn’t sit right.

That America’s funny, wholesome family man- The Cosby Show was one of 3 sitcoms mom let us watch- would say something like that didn’t fit. It sounded smug, arrogant, proud.

I won’t comment on Bill Cosby’s fall from grace and imprisonment, except to say, It’s all so sad.

But Cosby’s comment does make more sense now.

These are not the exact words I heard on the TV interview two decades ago, but these are attributable, and they’re close. When asked about married life, Cosby said with that big easy grin of his,

We are living it now just like we wrote it.

It hit me wrong. Because even then, fresh out of grad school, newly married in my early 20’s, with a house and a job and good  friends, I may have been living somebody’s dream, but I knew I wasn’t living mine

My story had already taken some twists and turns I couldn’t have imagined, much less written 20 years ago. Let’s just say, I didn’t think I’d be playing these roles, with the “cast”  now. I’m not (mostly) living my dreams. This isn’t how I wrote the story.

Which is really no matter.

Playing The Part

Because, my life is not really my show.

C.S. Lewis explained like this: We do not know the play. We do not even know whether we are in Act I or Act V. We do not know who are the major and who the minor characters. The Author knows. We are led to expect that the Author will have something to say to each of us on the part that each of us has played.

The playing it well is what matters infinitely.

God wrote us each into this story, where He wanted us. He’s the Author of our salvation (Hebrews 12:2) and  the Director of our hearts (2 Thessalonians 3:5). And He casts each of us in his grand play to the praise of his glory (1 Corinthians 7:17).

And when we are on our set stages- and in our waiting stages- playing our roles with joy and thanks, we make Him look great.

Testify to Grace

Paul said something 2,000 years ago that ties all this story-play-dream stuff together for me.

In Acts 20 Paul shares some sobering last words with some old friends, church leaders from Ephesus. He explain that he will go to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to him there.

In other words, Paul didn’t know what turns his story will take. No worries, though, because not knowing the story didn’t stop him from playing his part well. Heres’s how he summed up that part (Acts 20:24):

But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. 

Is that the aim of our lives too?

Different Stories, Same Aim

Our stories are so different. But, John Piper explains, in Christ,

We do all have the same essential goal: to magnify the glory and the greatness of the grace of God in Jesus Christ. This is the racecourse all Christians are running. The turns and the terrain are different. The aim is the same.

This means we embrace the fact that we do not write our own stories. We don’t know the next page, let alone the next chapter. The way there is unknown.

Our stories twist and turn,

[A]round the corner called future and disappears into the unknown. Therefore, the unwasted life is always lived one step from the unknown. This is what faith is for. “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going” (Hebrews 11:8). That’s what faith does.

I don’t want to waste my life. Which means I need to rest content with the unknown next chapters and with parts I wouldn’t have scripted this way.

Not Living the Dream is Still Alright With Me

So, no. I wouldn’t have written myself in this way- not into this marriage or this job, not these boys, this house, or this blog. (Well, I guess I do write the blog. But it wasn’t my dream. My friend Traci spurred it on.)

But I do know this story I’m in, with both its surprise twists and its storylines that feel more static than I’d write, was scripted by God. 

And- oft in sorrow, oft in woe– often way too slowly both for the characters around me and for me- I’m learning that it’s not so much what part I play but how I play that part that matters.

Oh, sure, sometimes I let my hungry eyes drift to what seem like others’ storybook lives and dream up different parts for me. But my aim is to play my part well, which is to testify to the grace of God.

And the great thing is, I don’t have to have to be living like I wrote it, living the dream, to do that.

In fact, God’s grace might just look that much greater when the testimony to it comes from one whose story is not just like he wrote it.

I know, O LORD, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps.

Jeremiah 10:23

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Rats in the Cellar

A Monday post-mortem on a Friday night fight. 

We were broadsided. Both of us. A burst of unseemly anger on his part with catty kickback on mine. Provoked by a by a kind question from a friend. I deferred my answer to Jim, he was caught unaware, and the fight was on. On the heels of a delightful dinner party, the three friends who lingered caught a whiff of some mighty dank laundry. 
It came fast. Just imagine the split-second when Kitty stops soaking up your kind strokes and goes berserk. Claws extend and teeth are bared; a friendly purr suddenly turns attack. All of a sudden.
God’s grace is always enough. Jim and I have more proof now. We’ve repented and mended. Forgiveness was sought and received from the friends who witnessed our scuffle. We hope we’re the wiser for it. 
In the 72 hours since, we’ve run a little post-mortem. In doing so, we’ve realized how the being caught off our guard-the element of surprise-played a big role in our big ugly.  

But the surprise breach of a delicate topic wasn’t the problem at all. It only revealed what was alive in cellar of our souls. Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. Our little quarrel clinic Friday night-our sinful acts- only revealed the sinful heart that’s usually hidden away. 

Surprise is great revealer of the heart. C.S. Lewis ran his own post-mortems after he sulked, or snapped or sneered or snubbed or stormed

The excuse that immediately springs to my mind is that the provocation was so sudden and unexpected: I was caught off my guard, I had not time to collect myself.

That was it. As Jim and I examined our Friday night fight, we both included that piece. We were caught unaware: Jim by the subject itself, a bit of a touchy-topic, and me, by his airing of what I thought was a private matter. And so our sinfulness, not just our sin, was exposed.

Lewis continues his analysis, the anatomy-if you will-of unkind acts and angry words:

…Surely what a man does when he is taken off his guard is the best evidence for what sort of a man he is? Surely what pops out before the man has time to put on a disguise is the truth? 

If there are rats in the cellar you are most likely to see them if you go in very suddenly. But the suddenness does not create the rats: it only prevents them from hiding. In the same way the suddenness of the provocation does not make me an ill-tempered man; it only shows me what an ill-tempered man I am. The rats are always there in the cellar, but if you go in shouting and noisily they will have taken cover before you switch on the light. 

There you have it. The rats of self-pity and pride, resentment and anger are always there in the cellar of my soul. Suddenness and surprise just revealed them. They’re there hiding until I kill them off.

Paul and Peter and James knew about prowling pests. Be watchful, they all warned. Be sober-minded, be watchful. Be watchful and resist. Resist the prowling devil, firm in your faith, Peter wrote. Resist him and he will flee from you, James wrote.

But it’s not so much the devil outside. It’s the rats inside. I do not do the good I want, Paul wrote to the Romansbut the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it but sin that dwells within me. But, if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body you will live (8:13). Until I kill them off, by the Spirit, they’re there, dwelling in me.

What to do, what to do?  How do we kill those rats in the cellar? 

The Sunday school answers are still right: Draw near to God in prayer and in His Word. Abide in Him, obey His Words. Be watchful and alert. Repent the second you see your sin
And one more thing: Welcome trials of various-even unexpected-kinds. For you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness, James wrote. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. Trial

 Blogger Lisa Spence observes,

How I react to the trial reflects what I really care about. This is an ugly truth, but one worth considering with great soberness. Whether it is a sudden devastation or a lingering irritation, what I value will be exposed by my reactions and most often this will require confession and repentance as I work through the sin and idols that are exposed.  

Trials give us a sneak peek into the cellar of our souls. They remind us that we must be keep fighting, because sin is crouching at the door, desiring to have usWe must rule over it. As John Owen put it, Be killing sin or it will be killing you. We can welcome trials when we see them as a mercy; an exposing of idols and sin that would be killing us.

For us, a Friday night fight revealed the rats. 

Maybe for you it was just a tactless text from a friend, or getting cut off in traffic. Or coming home from a long Monday at work or spending a hectic Tuesday at home only to find a note long buried in a backpack,  Life-sized anteater model due Wednesday. Or maybe coming home, instead, to a clinic call with not so positive lab results. 

God is faithful whatever the temptation. He’ll provide a way of escape so we can stand up under them. 

In between tests, be watchful. And when they come, count it all joy.

Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. 
Let all you do be done in love.
1 Corinthians 16:12-13