I remember well a particular time in my life when I was bored. I say bored… perhaps the words restless and dissatisfied better describe me during that period. It’s not that I was idle and had nothing to do; rather, I was incredibly busy. It seemed as if I woke up every day, went to work, and stayed busy until going to bed at night — only to wake up and do it all again the next day. I wanted a greater purpose.
Have you ever felt that way?
The same impulse that makes us want our books to have a plot makes us want our lives to have a plot. We need to feel that we are getting somewhere, making progress. There is something in us that is not satisfied with a merely psychological explanation of our lives. It doesn’t do justice to our conviction that we are on some kind of journey or quest, that there must be some deeper meaning to our lives than whether we feel good about ourselves. Only people who have lost the sense of adventure, mystery, and romance worry about their self-esteem. And at that point what they need is not a good therapist, but a good story. Or more precisely, the central question for us should not be, “What personality dynamics explain my behavior?” but rather, “What sort of story am I in?” — William Kilpatrick (bold letters mine)
During my restless period, I indeed recognized that I needed a story. But my solution wasn’t to see myself as belonging in the greater story of God. Instead I created a story around myself. I began to view myself as the central character in a book about me. And my character’s worth and value were determined strictly by what everyone else thought about me.*
I appreciate how Kilpatrick’s question, “What sort of story am I in?” demonstrates that we are characters in a larger story, and not ourselves the focal points of those stories. He also reminds us that when we lose desire for meaning, adventure, and romance, we become more concerned with self-esteem.
The two ideas are related. When my life lacks adventure and mystery, I become concerned with self-esteem. And when I worry with self-esteem, I begin to think of the story as being exclusively mine.