At a job interview, the human resources recruiter asked the applicant, “What is your life story?” No one had ever asked her that question and in a spontaneous moment, she decided to be completely transparent. “I broke free from a bad relationship,” she said. “My husband was abusive, and I lost my self-confidence and my sense of self-worth. Since getting myself free from him, I have regained my self-worth and have discovered strengths that I never knew I had. That’s my story.”
Later she shared that story with a group that had gathered on New Year’s Eve. We were reflecting on 2019 and thinking about how our life stories impact our New Year’s resolutions. In truth, we threw out the idea of making resolutions and decided instead to focus on projecting the essence of our life stories into the new year. Of course, that is not an easy task if we cannot identify our own life story. Aristotle said, “Knowing yourself is the beginning of wisdom.” Ecclesiastes, the seeker of life meaning, said, “I applied my mind to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven…” You may recall that Ecclesiastes is the one who famously said, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to pluck up what is planted” etc. etc.
The ending of a year is a time for reflection; looking into the mirror of our lives and making a self-evaluation. The beginning of a new year is a time to invest our values, beliefs and hopes into our future story.
When we get in touch with our life story, we often feel empowered by the clarity of it all. Many of us don’t seem to know our own life story; we borrow patterns from others and blend our life into that pattern. I did a survey of baby boomers (as part of my doctoral research), which included a couple of questions about awareness of one’s spiritual narrative. I was surprised that only 20% of the participants were able to identify their own spiritual story. Those that did “own” their spiritual life story often borrowed that story from the spiritual narrative they absorbed from Sunday Morning Worship Services, where they were reminded, “I was a sinner, but now I’m saved.” Or, in the words of the famous hymn, “I once was lost, but now I’m found.” Some people adopt that identity as their own spiritual story, without really doing their own spiritual life review.
As 2020 begins and you take a look into the mirror, what are your spiritual themes? (You can read more about life story themes in chapter 9 of my book: “How to take your spiritual temperature;10 dimensions of spirituality—from angst to joy.”) How has your suffering informed your life journey? How have your failures informed your life journey? How do you reconcile your “life-lived” with your inner soul journey? Jacob wrestled with an angel. What are you wrestling with? Are there any mysteries that weave through your life story? What did you have in your spiritual toolbox during the “conquest” period of your life? What tools do you now have in your spiritual toolbox? How are these different from what you had in previous periods of your life? Are you now able to name your own spiritual story? What do your spiritual themes reveal to you about your life story?
As I project my life story into the unknown future of 2020 and beyond, I don’t seek answers in a crystal ball, I don’t consult with an astrologer, and I don’t rely on my horoscope; instead, I look inside and remember my life story and what gives meaning to my life. That’s the seed I wish to plant and the story I wish to share as I head into the new year. What’s your life story?