by Jadell M. Forman
On Mondays, we’re looking at a cup of wine as a metaphor for life, based on author Henri Nouwen’s look at Jesus’ question, Can you drink the cup I am about to drink?
Last week, I posted a link to a Wall Street Journal story featuring the Amish approach to, and recent divergence from, community. I like this story because, between the lines, the writer shows the blessedness of interdependence and the affliction of extreme independence. In his book, Can You Drink the Cup?, deceased author and priest Henri Nouwen puts it this way:
- The enormous individualism of our society, in which so much emphasis is on “doing it yourself,” prevents us from living our lives for each other. But each time we dare to step beyond our fear, to be vulnerable and lift our cup, our own and other people’s lives will blossom in unexpected ways (p 75).
In chapter 6, “To Life,” Nouwen tells the story of Bill who came to Daybreak (a community for people with physical and mental disabilities) without a past, because he had chosen to forget his first 16 years that had been full of abuse and devoid of consistent love and safety. After 25 years at Daybreak, Bill had a different story. A three-ring binder (each resident had one) full of photographs, stories, drawings, newspaper clippings recounted Bill’s activities, hobbies, friendships, and accomplishments, along with his losses, suffering, and pain. Bill and his friends and Daybreak staff had compiled his Life Story Book.
Nouwen recounts the celebration in which the group presented to Bill his book:
- Then we blessed the book and Bill, who held it. I prayed that this book might help Bill let many people know what a beautiful man he is and what a good life he was living. I also prayed that Bill would remember all the moments of his life–his joys as well as his sorrows–with a grateful heart (p 73).
Bill wept on Nouwen’s shoulder while the others in the circle looked on “with deep understanding of what was happening. Bill’s life had had been lifted up for all to see, and he had been able to say it was a life to be grateful for.”
In Jesus Christ, we see a life lifted up–first, suffering on the cross; then, redeemed through the resurrection. When compiled into a story, the pain and the glory, the suffering and the joy, reveal God’s redemption and salvation.
Christian community helps us see redemption in Christ and in each other. The people at Daybreak and the people in an Amish community, when they celebrate the births and deaths, joys and sorrows, they show us how to celebrate each other’s story that is full of life and part of Christ’s story of redemption.
The Bible says there was nothing on the outside that drew people to Jesus. The Bible tells us that, as a boy, King David looked like someone to overlook. We can’t judge a story by it’s cover anymore than we can judge a person by his or her public persona. A cursory glance at the outside never reveals the inside.
Often the outside of our life is not the interesting part. The inside story is the interesting part, the part where God’s grace turns our story into something better and other than any human effort can compile.
The motto at the Neighborhood Church is Live a Better Story. By that we don’t mean, “Let’s muster up the determination, will-power, and heroism required to make our dreams come true and/or fix what’s wrong in our lives and our world.” Rather, we mean, “Let’s let God redeem our life and the lives of those around us by allowing him to transform our lives into something better and other than we could ever do on our own.”
I’m grateful to have compiled something akin to Bill’s Life Story Book, and to have helped several people from our church do the same over a weekend retreat. Eugene and I turned his doctoral dissertation on story into a presentation, “Living Your Story: Discovering God’s Purpose in Your Story.” In the development process, I discovered God’s purpose in my story. And it changed my life.
My story is about my voice: having my voice silenced (by others and by self), having God always speak for me, and now letting God use my voice, and helping others do the same. As I looked at my story, looked into the cup God gave me, I saw God’s presence throughout the joyful and sorrowful parts of using my voice. Now, through God’s redemption, part of my story is helping others tell their story, use their voice, and lift up their life as a gift for others.
I pray you would receive God’s redemption into your story, allowing him to transform it into a cup of life lifted among a life-sharing community.
Jadell M. Forman writes for The Neighborhood Café on Mondays.