It’s ironic no one knows who wrote the pithy phrase “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken!”
Anonymous may be one of the best and most unrecognized writers of all time. Except God.
It’s equally ironic few know God is the author of their story. We struggle to find God and ourselves in our own stories. Or even believe that our lives are stories unfolding minute by day by week by month by year. Thus many of us struggle with worth and purpose. Each stroke of the clock is God’s pen mark on the face of our lives.
So, how do you find God and yourself in your story?
Acknowledge You Have a Story
I coached a young man who bounced from job to job. He seldom finished well. He felt distant from those he loved and yearned for purpose and meaning in his life. Yet he resisted my request for him to probe his life story.
“Why? I don’t want to live in the past.”
He finally consented and eventually saw that his life was not a series of disjointed, painful, and unexpected events but a story that God was writing by redeeming his decisions, traumas, successes, and conflicts.
Because he could lift God’s fingerprints from his past story, he began to believe he had a future worth sticking to and people he could trust. If God was with him in the past, God would be there in the future.
Recognize God Authored You
In 1908 Christian Nicolai Mustad, an industrialist in Norway, bought a signaturless painting purported to be a van Gogh named Sunset at Montmajour. But a trusted friend told him it was a fake and Mustad relegated it to his attic. In 1991 a couple who purchased his home took the painting to van Gogh experts who also declared it not a van Gogh.
Finally in 2013, through new technology and a letter discovered from Vincent to his brother Theo, describing the very day Vincent had painted it, the painting shot from worthless to priceless.
This is us. It matters not what anyone else says, recognizing God’s signature on our lives gives them their true worth, meaning, purpose, and beauty.
Brainstorm with God
Our search for God’s authorship may be as arduous as was the journey to authenticate Sunset at Montmajour. And equally worthwhile! It’s beautifully ironic authentication came from van Gogh’s own pen.
God is a superb artist. And we can speak to God about his artistry in our lives. Brainstorm your story with God. Ask God to bring to mind people, events, scripture, conflicts, and successes that God has used as brush stokes to paint your life.
As I brainstormed my story, God showed me the redemptive work he had done around the loss of my father. Unknown to me, my pastoral calling has featured ministry to many fatherless people. But I didn’t notice that trend until I prayerfully investigated. I found powerful meaning through God’s redemption of my loss.
Free writing is a process where you turn off your inner editor and simply scratch/type out your story. Write down where and when you were born, family info, friends, significant circumstances, traumatic, unexpected, and major events. This can be anywhere from a few pages to many. But don’t write a memoir. Brainstorming with God will have surfaced things God wants to reinterpret and work on. Then you can see consistent words, ideas, people, events you can highlight and begin to interpret.
Re-Interpret Your Story
Walking through these steps the young man I mentioned above discovered how he had become a surrogate, quasi-spouse for his mother in the breakup of his parent’s marriage. This in turn—eventually—gave him insight into how he deals with conflict and how he viewed his own marriage.
Notice too that he did this work with me. Find someone who can help you interpret your story.
This may be the most crucial piece. Letting God help you correctly interpret your story.
I quit high school to work full-time at the beginning of the eleventh grade. Fearing my girl-friend’s dad’s judgement, I swore her to secrecy. But one night as I was waiting for her in her living room, I heard her father growl from the kitchen, “Once a quitter, always a quitter!”
My face burned with shame and anger. His words seared my psyche. Those sharp words shaped me. Haunted me.
I won’t be a quitter, I swore. Never-the-less I saw myself as a quitter and that word tainted every decision I made.
Thirty-five years later while being ground down by an abusive work situation, a pastor friend asked, “Why don’t you resign? Find another place to serve?”
My friend’s words were God’s healing words and like a surgeon’s scalpel sliced into that old scar. I recognized how often my determination to prove my high school crush’s father wrong had motivated me to stay in situations long beyond healthy. I penned my resignation letter the next day. It was a painful, terrifying but freeing decision.
Your backstory shapes you. And when you don’t know your story, the pressure originated from it is even more powerful in driving you to choices and beliefs, often false, you’d not otherwise make or hold. Your current narrative makes zero sense without backstory. Identifying these backstories gives you the freedom to make other choices.
No one may know who wrote, “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken!” But we can know who wrote our lives. Even more, we can sign up for a literature course about our narratives and discuss it with the Author. This, then allows us to to truly be ourselves.