Once Upon a Time…

Written by Kimberly Roth : May 20, 2008

storyI heard an old, old story,
How a Savior came from glory,
How He gave His life on Calvary
To save a wretch like me…

~ Victory in Jesus, E.M. Bartlett

From “It was a dark and stormy night,” to “little did she know,” to “but that is another tale…,” stories engage us.

The art of the story is regaining its popularity these days and influencing everything from movies, to books to missions conferences.

Donald Miller has been speaking, and is writing a book on living your life as a story. M. Night Shyamalan, in his Lady in the Water illustrates how the elements of story interact in both conventional and surprising ways. Stranger Than Fiction inspires us that change is still possible in our own life’s story (especially if it has become meaningless or monotonous).

Well-told stories are passed around and enjoyed.

Poorly developed stories are quickly forgotten.

Jesus told stories. I think it was one of His favorite things to do. Perhaps it was because we are slow to learn. Perhaps it was because we are designed to enjoy them.

All of Christian history is a story, and we are each playing a roll as it unfolds. Like the parable of the talents, we have been entrusted with our lives, and God desires us to use them well for His glory. We have a choice, to squander the time He has given us, or to put all that we have into each and every day.

We have a choice between perseverance or pancakes.

In Stranger Than Fiction, Harold Crick has discovered that he is actually a character in a novel that is currently being written, and has consulted a literary professor to assist him in finding out what kind of novel he is in and who is writing it. When they come to the realization that Harold’s character is destined to be killed off, professor Hilbert gives Harold an option:

Dr. Jules Hilbert: Hell Harold, you could just eat nothing but pancakes if you wanted.

Harold Crick: What is wrong with you? Hey, I don’t want to eat nothing but pancakes, I want to live! I mean, who in their right mind in a choice between pancakes and living chooses pancakes?

Dr. Jules Hilbert: Harold, if you pause to think, you’d realize that that answer is inextricably contingent upon the type of life being led… and, of course, the quality of the pancakes.

If you’re going to die anyway, you may as well just eat pancakes… albeit, good pancakes.

I like pancakes, a lot. I do some of my best writing at IHOP. But that’s no way to spend a life.

Another option exists. Perhaps not quite so pleasant as eating pancakes, but infinitely more valuable.

The Lord of the Rings trilogy is epic storytelling at its finest: good, evil, fear, love, purpose and perseverance. Small, seemingly insignificant people accomplishing great things because they were willing to persevere in the task given to them.

Frodo: I can’t do this, Sam.

Sam: I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.

Frodo: What are we holding onto, Sam?

Sam: That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo… and it’s worth fighting for.

The story ended differently for the characters. Aragorn became King. The Hobbits focused on rebuilding their lives in the Shire. But Frodo was spent. He had nothing left to give, for he had given everything to the task laid before him.

Pancakes or Perseverence?

If your life thus far were the introductory chapter to your story, where is the plot headed?

What will your turning points be?

How will your story unfold?

As Mr. Magorium would say, Your life is an occasion. Rise to it.

photo by CrazyUncleJoe

Kimberly Roth is a co-editor for the Jesus Manifesto. She over-thinks and cares way too much, so she rambles on at

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Viewing 4 Comments

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    I just watched Stranger Than Fiction, and I must say, you are a genius for picking up on what you did. I can't believe I blew through that portion of the film without stopping to think about what was being communicated.
    I just began my trek into pastoral ministry as the pastor of young adults at a local church in Minneapolis. We're a small group, maybe 8-10 on a good week. But one of the first things we are doing is sharing our "stories"--how we got to where we are, where God has brought us from, the people he used to get us there, etc... As we tell these stories, we begin to see a little bit of of our own journey in the other's tales and we begin to resemble a family more so than a club. I'm not sure everyone else is buying it, but I'm having a blast.
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    I wouldn't say genius... perhaps obsessed is a better term... I have seen the film 20+ times...

    For small group story sharing, I highly recommend Toben and Joanne Heim's "What's Your Story?: An Interactive Guide to Building Authentic Relationships".
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    I will definitely look that one up. Thanks!
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    If anyone's an artist, I'm developing several graphic novels at the moment, some of which have artists and some of which do not. I have been thinking of doing one for JM, but without someone to draw it's going to be a sad, tragic work. Albeit well-written. ;)


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