Awhile back I read a book to a group of first graders called Me and You. It is an interesting take on the story of “Goldilocks and The Three Bears.” It is part sweet, traditional children’s story and part urban wordless graphic novel. The paradigm is quite interesting. The story line pretty much runs true to the old tale except on every page you encounter images of an isolated, lonely girl living in a black and white world with only her golden hair to grace each image with color. As she walks alone down secluded streets and graffiti lined alleys during a rain storm you begin to feel a sort of empathy for a girl who by all other accounts is little more than a trespasser and thief. When I asked this group of students why they thought she entered someone’s house without permission to eat their food and sleep in their bed they concluded that she was poor and homeless. This isn’t really a side of Goldilocks that we often engage but the illustrations in this book certainly lend themselves to view Goldie in this light. Perhaps the adorable bear family wasn’t victimized in the way we have all come to believe, perhaps Goldie is the true victim – poor, destitute and in search of a home by any means available to her.
This book provides an interesting social commentary. However, this post is a bit more personal for me than that. I can relate to Goldilocks in more ways than I care to admit. My heart resonates with her desire for a home and a family even if she has to pilfer and forage to obtain the tiniest taste of this dream. Though she knows what she is grasping at isn’t real and will quickly fade away those brief moments are enough to keep her soul from forever diminishing into a haze of disappointment and despair. Sometimes the fantasy is all there is to hold onto. When one becomes desperate you will find that you will hold on to anything.
As we grow up, we each create a “Never Land” (to borrow from good ‘ol Peter Pan) of sorts – a place where everyone belongs, where we can perpetually remain in the glory of childhood and where we live in a sort of fantastical home that includes all that we have come to believe is good in life. A place where everything seems “just right.” And it may be for a time…until we realize that the home we are living in doesn’t belong to us and the life we are chasing after isn’t really our own.
Sometimes it is easier to live off the borrowed stories of others, but it is not better. The dreams that we have as children of a perfect home, a family who loves us, and a world filled with love and beauty are good but incomplete. There are remnants in these dreams that need to be held onto and rekindled again and again but as we grow and face the disappointments and discouragements of life we need to create space for our dreams to grow with us – to become big enough to include the joy and the pain so that these two essential elements can come together to birth both new and redemptive dreams.
However, the challenge that Goldilocks, Peter Pan, you, and I face is one of whether or not we will settle for a fantasy – however good it may feel in the moment – or embrace the true story of our lives. A story filled with dreams, hopes, wonder, disappointment, discouragement, pain, life and death. A story that may leave scars and wounds and might turn out nothing like the fantasy we have lived in for so long. A story that while sometimes difficult to accept is real and belongs to you.
There is power, strength and freedom in embracing our story – the good, the bad and the ugly. There are many things in life that can be taken from us, but our story is not one of them and I can think of no greater form of empowerment than that. Even more, as we embrace our own stories it gives people permission to do the same.
We can plan, dream, hope and pray for our future but the reality is that it is uncertain and there are many, many circumstances that arise in our lives that we did not anticipate, prepare for, or even want that can throw us for a loop if we are always seeking to maintain a fantastical story that exists outside of these things. Yet, if we can learn to embrace all circumstances as a part of our story and own them as such then perhaps some good can come from them.
As I ponder all of this in light of Scripture, my mind goes to the stories of Abraham, Ruth, Hannah, Jeremiah, and Paul. Each of these individuals had a life in mind that seemed good to them. Gain some land, have a nice family, leave a name and bequeath a legacy. Not too shabby of a life. However, God intersected each of their stories and brought them to places where they could either continue to live out the lives they had envisioned or embrace the life that God was offering them. While I hate to spoil a good story, each of them chose to embrace God and the life He offered them. Their stories are filled with pain but also of great glory. Even more, through owning their story they came to know the God who created them and wrote their story long before time began. It didn’t always make sense to them in the moment, but through each new circumstance they came to know more deeply that the God they chose to worship was trustworthy. They may not have had all of their dreams fulfilled, but what they were given turned out to be so much better – a real life forever with God.
As I reflect on my own life I can look back at the times when I have tried to live in a story that was not mine and remember how exhausting that was. Sometimes, other people’s gains seem greater than our own and their struggles somehow seem more manageable. Yet, we have all been given the grace we need for the lives we live. The story we are called to live is certainly not easy and rarely safe but it is also full of beauty, life and redemption in the most unexpected of places. Therefore, go and embrace your story and the God who wrote it who is faithful and trustworthy to the end.
“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” ~Brene Brown