Your Story of Travel
I have been captivated recently by Donald Miller’s insistence that our lives are stories waiting to be told. As we all know, some stories are better than others. Don gives four key elements of what makes a good story.
Who Wants Something
And Overcomes Conflict
To Get It
Think about it. Run any of your favorite movies or books through those criteria and no matter what the outcome, those four elements are present. Yet, when it comes to our lives, we often get lost or tripped up by element two.
What’s Travel Got To Do With Us?
You and I are the characters in this story. We’ve got this unfolding narrative happening and somehow we get to be part of the next sentence. It’s easy to downplay our role on earth, to the point even that we think very little of our actions towards others as having any influence at all. How clever it would be for the antagonist to write us off before we had a chance to speak. This, your, our story matters.
Step one is claiming that truth.
That’s our role in element one: becoming the character worth rooting for. We are each of us made of a thousand different influences – environment, genetics, childhood experiences, like and dislikes, fears, hopes, passions, talents, strengths, weaknesses – and it is our duty to discover who we are in the most honest way possible. I’m not saying we need to be perfect, only perfectly mindful of our identity.
And while travel is many things, it ceases to be the ultimate answer to the question of identity. However, I believe travel is a beautiful and irreplaceable guide on that quest. She has the tendency to influence and transform us as characters throughout our whole unwritten story until we become forever altered by her mentorship. For some of us, she will be a major player in the decisions of “what we want” and provide the necessary “conflicts to overcome” in order to reach our transformation.
What You Want, Baby I Got It
Here’s where I struggle. I am standing at a perpetual crossroads where I can imagine my life going a hundred different ways. My heart wants all of them. I want to get a Masters Degree from Oxford. I want to live in Ireland and join a rock and roll band. I want to become a pilot and spend my life up in the air. With each new longing, I become divided and increasingly discontent with life as it is. Confusion grips me. Indecision cripples me. And I end up watching another hour of TV for distraction’s sake.
That’s why I need to come back and sit with this question: what do I want?
Where desires and talents and experiences and wisdom all align to present themselves with some clarity, I can begin to take informed steps of influence in a meaningful direction. My dream of being an astronaut may have to find its fulfillment during R.E.M., but my dream of playing the role I was meant to play can still be a waking reality.
The idea of having clarity when it comes to this element of story is compelling to me because it motivates my autopilot days to act in accordance with where I’m actually headed. Otherwise I get caught up in the same scenery of work and chores and sleep and play without ever giving second thought to where this trajectory takes me. It’s not enough to say I’ll change someday or soon I’ll chase after my dreams. I need to start living a new story now.
For me, travel is something I’ve always wanted for my life, but two years into an extended bout of it, I recognize that travel has only been the proper soil for me to discover what I’m really made for. Whether I come to the same conclusions I now hold had I stayed home is a mystery down a road I passed long ago.
The Trouble Is…
Of course there is trouble in life. That’s not only how it goes, but that’s how it’s supposed to go. It’s okay that life is hard. It’s meant to be. It means there is something worth fighting for. But that is easier said than lived.
Because there is never enough money in the bank. There are bullies you have to work alongside. There are relationships you cherish which are crumbling. Life doesn’t stop, the story doesn’t go back to the beginning, and you are not the same person you were before.
Each of us lives with our set of regrets and sins and disappointments. But these are the fodder of the conflict which refines us into characters worth following. We need the raw brokenness to realize our place in this narrative, not as the one who writes the story, but the one whom the story is about. At least, in part. Good stories are always geared toward the inner transformation of the protagonist leading to the blessing of those around him.
We are blessed to be a blessing.
What we want from our lives determines the conflicts we face. So the story goes that oftentimes what we initially want shifts over the course of the narrative into a richer understanding of our desires. What I originally wanted was travel. What I found is that when I reached the other hemisphere, I was still left with myself and the question: now what do you want?
As I have spent my evenings around foreign tables, encountered opposing worldviews, in the houses of those with different perspectives, my own path has been shaped. Through the tensions and challenges along this road, there are conflicts I never imagined I would ever face. Or ever needed to.
I guess the question is now: will we overcome?
Our lives are cyclical. We don’t reach the end until the Author puts the pen down. Who we are now, what we want now, the conflicts we face now each brings us to a more mature actualization of ourselves and our role. Once we reach the conclusion of one story, we begin again.
Searching, wanting, overcoming.
Travel points us to a bigger world with people waiting for us to join them in contributing the next sentence for peace, hope, and love. Certainly not all will choose the same path as I have, but they don’t need to. It’s up to each of us to be faithful in the discovery of our true selves, to want something worthy of pursuing, and to overcome the conflicts which would keep us from contributing a meaningful verse.
That’s what a good story is all about.
And it just so happens that the next line is yours.