I was up early one morning recently, and I rode my bike over to the local spillway to try out my new four and a half-inch mullet lure. To my shock, on the third cast I hooked into a giant Snook! It was so big that at first I thought I snagged a boulder on the bottom of the canal. I was so excited that I tried to pull him in too soon instead of letting him run for a bit. Then, one minute later…snap! The nightmare. Broken line.
On the surface the story above doesn’t have much to do with the new John Eldredge movie I just watched. Nothing except the adventure part…and the story part.
You see, every fisherman has stories. Some are true to life. Many are embellished. But all fisherman have adventurous stories of the one that got away. And somehow this brings a little bit of meaning to our lives.
An actual reality show
In his movie, “A Story Worth Living,” Eldredge explores the subject of meaning in a new light. He takes us on an eight-day, 1,000-mile motorcycle ride through the mountains and streams of Colorado. While that sounds simple and majestic, it was absolutely harrowing for a large chunk of the trip. Think of a Grand Canyon trip, riding a donkey on a three-foot ledge for three hours. And his trip was very real.
It’s a funny thing about reality shows. There’s little reality in them. As much as I love “Duck Dynasty,” it doesn’t take a genius to see that they’re struggling to invent ways to get Sy and Willie on each other’s nerves!
Eldredge’s movie is an actual reality show. It’s a father, his three sons, and two close friends doing something they have never done before. And the whole time they are harvesting a simple truth that evades people who live lives of quiet desperation.
Eldredge starts his narration of this story by saying, “Everyone is looking for a story worth living. When you give up looking for that story…you give up living.” And while that sets the stage, it’s the details that make this case compelling.
Visits with friends
One of the things that brought a deep richness to this movie was the drop-in visits with friends along the way — friends who were once cloaked in shame, but have now overcome because they bought into the bigger picture, the bigger story of being driven by meaning and purpose.
Their first visit was with a friend who had crashed his plane earlier in life, and hated himself for it. It caused him to think of himself as worthless. But as he was haunted by this sense of self-loathing for decades, he came to realize that this was stemming from his brother who used to berate him and call him worthless. And as he contemplated his own story in the bigger story of God, he grew such a sense of appreciation for his failures that he actually hung the propeller of the crashed plane as a chandelier in his workshop. He allowed God to turn shame into a trophy.
Another friend they saw along the way had moved out to a Colorado ranch with his parents when he was very young. He, too, shared in shame. He had lots of instability in his home, was abused at an early age and quickly grew a mistrust for all men. His mom would find him in the barn curled up and sleeping with his horses. “Horses were safer than people,” he shared.
Even Eldredge’s good friend who was riding with him dissolved into his own pain and shame of being physically, emotionally and sexually abused as a child. And at age 10 he found that alcohol worked way better than feeling the pain that was inside.
Filled with beauty
And the brilliant narrative that Eldredge covers all of these stories with was beauty. As the six of them wove through the breathtaking countryside I thought I was watching the scene from Forest Gump where he is soaking in the beauty of Creation as he is running coast to coast. I could even hear Jackson Brown singing in the back of my head as I watched. And this is when he posits the question:
“The real question isn’t, ‘Why is there so much suffering in the world.’ The real question is, ‘Why is there so much beauty? If live is an accident, and mostly cruel, how do you explain beauty?’”
He quotes a famed psychologist who says that the story our age has been given is the story of accident. That our universe began by accident. And it will all end by an accident. And for most people – the accidental life is not worth living.
When he said this I started reflecting back to a teaching on meaning I heard from Ravi Zacharias. He shared how during the Russian Gulags, guards would take their captives [who rejected Marxism] and start each day by having them dig a large hole in the ground. Then at the days’ midpoint he would have them fill it back up with the dirt they dug out in the morning. This exercise amplified and crystallized the polar opposite of meaning to such an extent that it wasn’t long before prisoners made desperate attempts to commit suicide. This was an extreme case of a life not worth living.
This past year I have been compiling a list of movies and books that I want to regularly tap into as measures of influence and instruction for my children. This is not an easy list to get on. While this list has many litmus tests, Christ has to somehow be at the center of everything.
It is at this time that I formerly invite A Story Worth Living onto my list!
Eric Purtic has a loving family of six and is a friend of Jesus. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.