“Child,” said the Lion, “I am telling you your story, not hers. No-one is told any story but their own.”
-Aslan, in C.S. Lewis’s The Horse and His Boy
I’m in the middle of packing up our life in Philadelphia. Sunday, we had a last gathering for friends, neighbors, and congregants in our neighborhood park to say goodbyes. Room by room, my wife and I are packing our belongings, giving away toys and clothes we don’t need anymore, orchestrating logistics for our family’s imminent move.
This past year, I decided to leave the pastorate of the church I founded and led for 11 years in Philadelphia, and recently accepted a call to serve a beautiful church community in Palm Beach, Florida. In the space between finishing my last vocational chapter and embarking on this next one, I’m learning the spirituality of ending and beginning.
As a kid, I devoured the Choose Your Own Adventure series of children’s’ fiction. They were written in second-person perspective, with the reader as the story’s protagonist. At significant plot junctures, you’d have a choice to make: “Do you want to steer your ship toward the island? Turn to pg. 94. Do you want to keep on sailing? Turn to pg. 122.” I loved those books, because I could read ahead, see all the potential outcomes in advance, and make all my choices knowing everything awaiting me.
I want all of life to work more or less like this. And, especially given my gender, social and economic location, and race, I’ve been shaped by cultural currents that want me to believe that I can do and be anything I want, and am entitled to have anything I want, when and how I want it.
Life, of course, stubbornly refuses to work that way. The Danish existentialist Søren Kierkegaard, in a journal entry, captured this paradox. He noted that we can only understand life backwards — we analyze the course of our journeys with the benefit of hindsight. But even though we understand life backwards, we have to live it forwards.
It’s in this uncertain space, between our known past and an unknown future, that Jesus invites us to join him. One of the most fascinating moments to me in the Gospel of John is in its final paragraphs. The risen Jesus has called Peter into his vocation of “feeding my sheep,” intimated the kind of death that lay ahead for him, and summoned him: “Follow me.”
Peter then turns, notices John also following Jesus, and asks the Lord, “what about him?” Jesus, in response, simply says to Peter, “if I want him to live until I return, what’s that to you? Follow me.” Follow me in your own story, into the future I have for you. That’s all Jesus would say to Peter. And that’s what he says to all of us, too.
There’s an echo of this moment in C.S. Lewis’s lovely children’s book The Horse and His Boy. Near the climax of the story, a girl named Aravis meets the lion Aslan, the Christ-figure in Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia series. At one point, Aravis asks the Lion about another girl. Aslan answers, “Child, I am telling you your story, not hers. No-one is told any story but their own.”
I am telling you your story. Follow me.
This is the summons of the risen Jesus in each of life’s junctures. And, as in all other things, heeding this call involves dying and rising. For me, it’s meant expressing the gratitude and grief of ending a season of life, family, and ministry, and opening to the good future the risen Lord is summoning me into.
In his sage book Let Your Life Speak, Parker Palmer describes this journey. He writes that “As often happens on the spiritual journey, we have arrived at the heart of a paradox: each time a door [in life] closes, the rest of the world opens up. All we need to do is stop pounding on the door that just closed, turn around — which puts the door behind us — and welcome the largeness of life that now lies open to our souls.”
As I stand in my living room amid the stacks of boxes, this is the journey I thrill to be on: following Jesus into the largeness of a good, still-unknown future. And listening for the Voice that says, “Child, I am telling you your story. Follow me.”