the power of character and a great story :: what i learned reading don miller’s “a million miles in a thousand years”

June 22, 2010

Jump in pool to cool off.  Get out and drip dry while reading.  Repeat as necessary.

This was my agenda for  most of last week on a family vacation on Hilton Head Island, SC.  No worship practices to plan.  No PowerPoint presentations to prep.  No sermons to prepare for.  Just sun, and family, and the pool, and a great book.

This week was my first foray into the brain of Donald Miller, and I tore through both “Through Painted Deserts” and “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years.”  I give both a huge thumbs up.  Both were interesting stories woven together with honest questions about faith and the meaning of life and healthy doses of both humor and challenge.

One afternoon reading by the pool, I was whacked by a particularly poignant moment in “A Million Miles…”  Don talked about a friend of his whose teenage daughter was heading down a dangerous path, making bad relationship choices, and drifting farther away from faith and family.  His comment to his friend was something along the lines of, “She’s living a bad story.”

YES.  My oldest son, Seth, is now 12 years old.  He is the first of 5 sons I will help over the hurdle of teenager-hood.  And I want Seth, and all of my boys, to live a GOOD STORY.  As Don makes this case over a couple of hundred pages, my bullet point summary here won’t do it adequate justice, but in so many words, he is saying that what makes for a good story also makes for a good life.  A character taking steps to overcome challenges and accomplish a goal.

The father in Don’s story made an important connection.  His daughter was choosing a bad story because he had not provided her a more noble story to live out.  She did not see herself as a character with character.  She was not imagining an epic storyline.  She was not a noble heroine, struggling against the odds to achieve something greater than herself.  Her story had no noble goal.

And so she was stumbling.  Choosing paths in her life story that would end in pain and emptiness. 

Understanding the need for an inspiring story, her dad stepped in. Called a family meeting.  Rewrote their storyline.  Their family set out to raise $25,000 to build an orphanage in a third-world country.  It would take concerted effort, and sacrifice, and character… and it would be HARD.  But the GOAL was noble.  It was bigger than them.  It was inspiring.

In the end, it reignited their faith, their marriage, their family.  They had a STORY, and they were the main characters struggling against the odds to accomplish something noble.  And then he said something about his daughter that landed powerfully with me.  As she took ownership of this noble goal, and she began to live out the role her father helped create for her, she began to see herself as a character in a great story.  She was no longer existing.  She was LIVING.  And heroes (and heroines) in pursuit of a noble goal do not let themselves be mistreated and taken advantage of.  She chose character.  She chose faith.  She chose family.

As a dad and head of the home, I have a responsibility to chart our family story.  I want my boys to see themselves as heroes – men of character making hard choices, and taking the right steps to combat opposition and accomplish noble goals.  I’ve heard it said that if you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.  I get that.  God will ultimately guide their steps and set their course.  But I’m praying that He would use me, as their dad, to help them think big.  To live a great story.  Full of romance, and passion, perseverance, character, and clarity of purpose.  And a road marked with hardship is part of any epic story.  So I don’t wish an easy road for them.  But a noble one.  All to the glory of God.

Thanks, Don Miller, for inspiring me to dream about an epic story to live out with our family.  My guess is that will mean less television, more sacrifice, and deeper love for God and the people around us.  That’s why boredom is not acceptable in our house.  I’m praying that, as a dad, my boys and my wife see me thinking big and steadfastly pursuing a noble goal.  For this next season as a family, we have a goal in sight = Seminary starting this fall, while maintaining healthy relationships within our family and providing enough income to cover our expenses.  That’s a noble goal, and a difficult path.

If you’ve read “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years,” I’d love to know your thoughts.  If not, I encourage you to pick it up and swim around in Don Miller’s mind for awhile.  Let God nudge you while you read.

What’s your story?  What’s your noble goal?


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Psalm 24:7 & Luke 10:42 >> Like David, and Mary, I'm in pursuit of my one thing. I'm the Pastor at St. Olaf Lutheran Church in Montgomery, IL. Pastor, teacher, writer, communicator, designer, and drummer. I definitely got the better deal in my marriage to Amy. And I couldn't be any more proud of my five amazing boys. Deeply grateful.