You Still Hold the Pen
In a recent interview, author and business coach Bedros Keuilian was asked what the biggest factor is in preventing people from reaching their full potential. Bedros’ answer was simple: the story. Everyone has a story, he said, hardwired into them about why things are the way they are. Why they don’t have the life they desire or good health, or whatever it is that is missing. But then he made another observation that struck me.
Most people forget that they still hold the pen. There are pages yet to be written in each of our stories and we can change the story from this moment forward.
The significance of this statement cannot be understated. Most of us, myself included, live our lives with certain limiting beliefs. Beliefs that hold us back or reinforce old narratives. Convictions that tell us who we are and what we can and cannot do.
When we step back and examine these deeply held beliefs, we realize that they are often written in our story by another person or imprinted by past events. We interpret these words and experiences and they become part of the fabric of our story.
The realization that we hold the pen and have some control over what is written next is challenging. We now have the freedom to change our lives, but with that freedom we must also accept responsibility for where we are and shaping what is to come. Holding the pen means that we are not passive in our own story. We need to seek out the places where we have accepted being the victim and change the story.
An example from my life: Early in my professional career, I had a manager that I despised working for. I did not like the way this manager led and eventually concluded that the manager did not like me and that my career prospects would be hampered if I was working under this person. I would walk the parking lot each morning – if the manager’s car was there, I felt a sense of dread about the day ahead. If the spot was empty, I felt a sense of relief and hope that I might have an enjoyable day.
Throughout the time I spent working for this person, all I could see was what was happening around me and to me. I never stopped and looked at the situation to see how I could make it better. Had I done so, I am certain that I could have changed things in that environment. I could have taken ownership of what was not working and tried to change it in collaboration with my manager.
This experience remains part of my story, but it is one that I have evolved from and use as a reference point as I look forward, now as a leader myself. The pages of the past remain with us, but they do not define us or dictate what will be written next.
There is Always Time Left on the Clock
There have been times in my life when I believed a close and personal relationship with God was not possible. I had written the ‘character’ of God into my life as someone distant and uninterested in the mundane details of my life. This narrative had become part of my story.
For many of us, the shame from our past mistakes or the pain inflicted on us by others can hold us back and convince us that our story has already been defined; that it can only go one way. We believe that too much has happened to make a change or find a way back to a path that we were meant to travel. That there are not enough pages left to write a new ending.
Reflecting on last week’s celebration of Jesus’ death and resurrection at Easter, I think of the good thief from the Gospel of Luke. If you are unfamiliar with the story, two thieves are crucified alongside Jesus. One thief challenges Jesus, if He is the Messiah, to save Himself (and the two thieves) as well.
The second thief, or the good thief, rebukes the first and notes that while both thieves have been condemned justly for crimes committed, Jesus has done nothing to deserve the death He was suffering.
“Then he said: ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.’ He [Jesus] replied to him, ‘Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.’” (Lk 23:42-43)
Scripture does not reveal a great deal about this man who boldly asks Jesus to remember him, but as he admits to the validity of his own crucifixion, it is safe to assume that he had not lived a very saintly life right up to the point before his death.
Like the first thief, he too could have been looking for an escape – an escape from the cross or from the truth that his actions had led him there. He could have resigned to a deserved death and concluded that this end was the only way it could be. Hung on a cross, he does not have many pages left in the story of his life to write.
He does not seek an escape or resign. With almost no time left, he dramatically moves to save the outcome of his story. Reaching out to the only person who could change the ending, he seeks not deliverance from a deserved fate, but forgiveness and the promise of life beyond the grave. Through an act of compassion, Jesus delivers a victory from what looks like certain defeat.
This story proves that there is always enough time to change the story. No matter what I’ve done, where I find myself, or how much time remains on the clock, I have an opportunity to write a new chapter. While not easy to accept or understand, I only need find the courage to accept where I am and ask for the forgiveness, guidance, and grace to help me get to where God wants me to be.
The Roles We Play
In my last post, I wrote about The Story. The story of salvation history that is still playing out and how each of our lives connect to this larger story. Within each of our stories, however, there are many different roles we can play.
At various times of my life, I have played the victim, the prodigal, and the self-sufficient (in pursuit of the self-made man), among others. All these roles have left me feeling lacking in one way or another. The victim is helpless, the prodigal is aimless and wandering, and the self-made man lives with the constant pressure that if he lets up at all, his world will collapse.
When I feel the greatest sense of peace in my life, I am not playing a role. This is because I have realized that before anything else in my life, I am a beloved son of the Father. That is my identity at its truest and deepest level. It is from the security of this place that I receive the graces I need to be a good husband and father, a good brother and friend, and a good leader in the workplace.
Living from a place of sonship brings peace, but not perfection or comfort. Life happens. We live in a fallen world and there is pain and suffering. This is part of each of our stories. But when these things become the focal point of our story, we can forget who we are and who we are called to be.
By remembering that we still hold the pen, we can always change the story and its outcome. All that is required of us is to turn to God and ask for His help. He can handle the messes that we have made. He can handle the hurt and pain. He is capable of radically transforming your story, regardless of where you find yourself today.
Like the good thief, we need to pick up our pen, acknowledge where we are, look to where we need to be, and ask God to help us write the rest of the story as He intended.
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