I just finished reading A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, by Donald Miller. I loved that book like I haven’t loved a book in a long time. In it, he writes about his experiences trying to turn his life into a better story.
I loved his perspective on change. I’ve always been intrigued by the human ability to change and one of my core beliefs is that change is imperative if we want to live a fulfilled life. Here’s what Miller said:
“If the point of life is the same as the point of a story, the point of life is character transformation … If the character doesn’t change, the story hasn’t happened yet. And if story is derived from real life, if story is just a condensed version of life, then life itself may be designed to change us, so that we evolve from one kind of person to another.”
I believe that 100%. And over the last year of my life, I’ve learned that we can’t make that transformation during the times of ease and happiness — it comes from the times of pain and heartache. But the pain and heartache isn’t pointless, in fact it has far more purpose than the good times. Because of the struggle, we face truths about ourselves and our lives that we wouldn’t otherwise. The struggle coaxes us to make a change.
Change also requires sacrifice. If what we want or what we’re working for (a material possession, a relationship, a job or opportunity, etc.) doesn’t require sacrifice, it’s probably not worth anything. We value what we work for, what we receive after giving up something else. If I want a better story, a character transformation, like Miller talks about, it requires discomfort, pain, and giving up part of myself for it.
We have to remember that we aren’t working for the happy ending, the “arrival” of something good, although we tend to tell ourselves that. We think that when we reach this goal, get that job, reach that stage of life, or become a certain type of person, we’ll finally have arrived. Maybe getting there does bring you some happiness. BUT the change, the real reward, happens in the middle, when things are hard — harder than you thought they would be. That’s where your character changes and morphs into something better than the character you had before.
So I guess we try to appreciate the middle for what it does for us, as uncomfortable and painful as it can be. When we’re in it, we try our best to remember that discomfort, heartache, and pain bring growth as their reward. We submit to having faith in the process. We take stock of our lives once in a while and review the things we’ve overcome and the ways we’ve changed because of them. We tell God thank you for that hard thing, enjoy a period of peace and rest, and wait for the next experience that will change us even more.
As Miller learned from writing instructor Robert McKee:
“The whole point of the story is the character arc. You didn’t think joy could change a person, did you? Joy is what you feel when the conflict is over. But it’s conflict that changes a person … You put your characters through hell. You put them through hell. That’s the only way we change.”