In high school, the youth minister invited us in turns to share our “testimony” with the middle school youth group. This was a personal story. The stories ranged in minutes, sometimes as long as ten minutes if the speaker was a lover of the stage. Most commonly they contained some dramatic element of sin and redemption. Then there were those of us to whom little had “happened” in life.
Marion Roach Smith, author of “The Memoir Project” quotes Flannery O’Connor, “anyone who survives childhood has enough material to write for the rest of her life.”
It was later when I worked as a missionary with the National Evangelization Team, leading retreats for junior high and high school students around the country, that we were trained in a more rigorous format for these stories.
We were told to share it in three minutes in three parts.
This is what my life was like. This was the moment of change. This is what my life is like now.
So simple. And yet, perhaps its simplicity made it more difficult.
In order to live the good life, a life of flourishing and excellence, one must have a sense of where he has been on the journey. There is no standardized format for what makes a life full. For one person, it may involve 40-hours a week working outside the home with lavish vacations. For another, it might be hours at home with a gaggle of kids. Others take some blend of the two. Some want a job they show up to and can stop thinking about the moment they leave. Others work around the clock because they never stop thinking, brainstorming, building insight into the work they do.
To the person of one life, the other lifestyle may be unthinkable.
Our personalities and backgrounds play a role in determining what the ingredients of a good life will be for us.
There is often a sense of calling. It takes a special quality to put one’s life on the line every time a shift begins, and another quality to marry and support someone in that vocation.
We are introverts and extroverts in society. Some need interactions with other human beings with conversational ability, others burn-out after two hours of pedagogical engagement with children. Other personality theories illuminate how we entered upon our chosen lifestyle (I recommend the Four Temperaments and The Big Five).
Childhood and familial lessons undoubtedly affect our paths. What opportunities were given and what opportunities were taken away? Were we taught to put the nose to the grindstone and turn out paycheck after paycheck to support the family apart from self-interest or to hold out and achieve our dreams? Was family life or career the goal? What were we taught we were capable of and what lay beyond our reach?
The question is, “what was life like?” The story of these elements and how they influenced your choices, guided your life path create the narrative to answer that question.
What was the decisive moment? Was there an experience in your life that shifted your thinking forever? It could be big and dramatic, the stuff of movies, an illness, a death, a divorce, a national event, a chance encounter, a spiritual vision…or it could be small and quiet, a thought in the elevator, a decision to turn around, a conversation or speech with a message received at just the right moment.
I have come to believe that many of these moments occur throughout our lives. And each time, they shift the path.
The last question is the most challenging. What is life like now? Did your path revert to its original status or did you continue on? Have you held fast to the message you received? Old habits are hard to break.
What is your story?
It is the story only you can tell. Only you can measure the impact of the decisive moment.
I invite you to write it.
Everyone has a story. I would love to hear yours. If you want to share it, you can email me at Writer@kathrynannecasey.com.