I grew up dreaming about being a superhero. Everything that happened to me was filtered by this belief. I was a mildly athletic kid, an avid reader, and a dreamer. Adding to that, I was shy, quiet, and unsure of where I fit in in social situations. It made sense that the narrative I embraced helped me to cope with the distance between the guy I was and the one I wanted to be. It allowed me to hope that by hard work, passive-aggressive determination, and an eventual radioactive spider bite (be patient, Joe, be patient), I could become someone who would do something awesome in the world.
As I got older, and life continued to happen, the narrative, the way I understood the story I was living in, changed. Between periods of confusion and moments of clarity, there was the gradual awareness that my story was not merely something I made up as I went along, but that it was authored by a God who knows what He is doing, even with a character as ridiculous as mine. As that awareness grew, I was suddenly aware of my “origins.” A lot of childhood wounds—those things that I told myself would get better over time—began to painfully resurface. When those wounds first happened, I processed them by my narrative and I could not see how deeply they affected me.
Early emotional, psychological, and spiritual trauma lingered and, without being aware of it, we all can live out of those wounds. We react and respond to present things based on unattended injuries from our past. Narratives come and go as we grow, but without healing, our story, my story, was not merely built on earlier chapters of my life, but was bound to them.
As I became more aware of God the Father, His heart of love for me demanded that I revisit my origins. He wanted to meet me again on those pages of pain and give Him permission to begin the process of healing and forgiveness. It took years and it is something that continues even now, but I now have what no personal narrative could give me: I have real peace with the early parts of my life.
And what about the “messy-middle?” This is the point of every story where the characters may come to terms with how they got here, but they have no idea where “here” is. A good story is full of mystery, and the middle is where the mystery builds. However, my obsession with control, especially when it came to dealing with suffering, became opposed to the work of Jesus on the Cross. I wanted to constantly know the plan. But the Son of God who willed to enter into the “messy middle” of human life, wanted to teach me how to live in the present moment, even when there is suffering and silence.
But will everything work out in the “final chapter?” That is ultimately how we judge all stories, right? As my life moved forward, so did the part of the story where I desperately needed God’s help. See, apart from God, there is a lot of pressure and disappointment in trying to get the “happily ever after.” However, when we place our faith in the Father, encounter the love of the Son, we receive the supernatural gift of hope. God, who is at work reclaiming our past and renewing our present, sends His Holy Spirit to see the work He has begun to completion. And His work is always good.
Our narratives always come with the same problems; they fall apart until we become totally His. The solution is simple—surrender. Give back to God authority over dreams, suffering, silence, work, marriage and children. That is what authority means, after all—author’s rites. And the joy is that we do not have to wait for the last chapter to starting experiencing the happy ending! So be the hero, but do not wait a page longer for that radioactive spider bite! Let us surrender our story to His Authorship and encounter the awesome God Who is ready to write straight with our crooked lines!
JOE PHILIP is a theology teacher and retreat coordinator for Powers Catholic High School in Flint, Michigan. He holds his M.A. from Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio. Philip serves as host of the upcoming SHALOM WORLD television original series, SEEKERS. He and his wife, Tara, travel and share their love for Jesus and the Church by leading and speaking at retreats. They are happy parents to two young children, a girl and a boy. Follow Joe on Twitter @joephilip101.