As the father of young children, I often endure the shows they like to watch on Saturday mornings. I like to be present and pay attention to what they are watching, but the watching is not always entertaining.
Recently, however, this changed. My older two kids (7 & 8) discovered Ninjago. The show caught my attention to the extent that if I have to leave the room momentarily, I will ask for it to be paused until I return.
Ninjago is the story of a group of ninja-friends, and seasons of the show follow a single-story arc that often involves adventure, challenge and hardship, self-sacrifice, and ultimately, the rescue of victory and overcoming of evil. The storylines can be intense, but this is offset by the visual of the characters being cartoon Lego-people.
Ninjago captures our attention because it captures the essence of the great story we all long to be a part of. Plus, it has cool ghosts and dragons.
The Story of our Lives
When I was a kid, I played lots of different games with my friends. I remember running through the neighbourhood playing batman, or making up games at the playground, imagining it a pirate ship. As children, we imagined adventure and incorporated it into our games. That desire to be part of something bigger – a bigger story – is written somewhere deep within all of us.
In my teenage years, my adventures moved to the gym or the field. I loved the competitiveness of sports, banding together with my teammates in pursuit of a prize. While practicing, we often modeled our shots or the moves we made after our favourite professional players. Practicing on the driveway, I would imagine that I was taking the final shot at the buzzer to win the imaginary championship in my mind. In those imaginary moments, I was the hero of an epic story.
As we get older, life becomes more complicated and challenging to navigate. For young adults, the search for direction and a place in the world can be consuming. With each passing year, the pressure to find a purpose or path only increases.
For many of us, however, as we get older and take on more responsibilities, the bigger story gets lost in the shuffle of life. We get married, have children, and go to work. It becomes easy to lose track of where we are. The practical parts of life can take up a lot of space and the life of adventure we once dreamed of can seem far away. That part of us may go dormant, but it never goes away.
All of this points back to the desire of the heart to be part of a great adventure – the bigger story.
In addition to weekend morning cartoons, I like to spend time reading with my kids before they go to bed. Over the last couple of years we have gone through several series, including The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings. The older kids are loving these books, but it has been the same for me.
Stories can capture the imagination – great stories capture the heart. Reflecting on my experiences reading with my children, these books appeal to all of us where we are. We all appreciate the storyline, the danger, adventure, and rescue.
For me, however, these tales of adventure reveal something deeper. Within each of the stories are truths that apply in our lives. Truths of courage, standing up with the like-hearted, facing evil, and overcoming despair for the light to prevail.
I heard a line recently that has stuck with me. Fiction does not mean false. Part of what makes great stories is that they contain within them the pursuit of Truth. Is The Lord of the Rings a historical account of events that actually happened? No.
Are there elements of the story that are true?
Each of us is living our own story. I am the main character in the story of Sean. And let’s be honest – for most of us the daily routines of our lives do not much look like the epic adventures we read about in our favourite books. But when I zoom out and look at how my story connects to the Story, I am able to gain perspective to see that my story and all of our stories matter.
The Epic We are All a Part Of
Sometimes Christianity is viewed as a strict set of rules and dogma, designed to keep us from enjoying ourselves. Admittedly, I spent much of my life following what the Church teaches, all while failing to engage in the Story and not understanding the epic adventure that we are all a part of.
The story of Christian faith contains all the elements of the great adventures. Those that make us feel alive when we encounter them in our favourite books and movies. It is the story of the battle between good and evil. Of a Father in pursuit of His children, a paradoxical rescue plan, and a mission to change the world.
How we see our role in this story is a choice that each of us must make. When we see our lives as connected to the story of all time, it means that our lives and what we do with them matters. If the bigger story is true, it means that we all have a part to play in it. A calling and a mission to live out.
Our lives each have a purpose. And it may go beyond deciding what to have for dinner tonight. In an address he made last January, Pope Francis said, “the greatest joy for every believer is to respond to [God’s] call, to offer all of himself at the service of God and his brothers and sisters.”
Again, how we view our lives in the context of a greater story is a choice. In the choice to live in the larger story, joy, meaning, and purpose are found. This is the story that answers the deep desires within all of us to be part of something greater. The best part about the Story is that it is not confined to the pages of our favourite book. It is true and playing out in our lives every day.
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