For Christmas, my mother-in-law got me Ian McKewan’s latest book, Sweet Tooth. One of the great things about vacation after Christmas is that you can find the time to devour good fiction, this time in three settings.
It’s a very good book, with insightful writing on the culture of MI-5 in the 70’s and is chocked full of interesting and complicated characters. But that’s not what has stuck with me during the past few days. I won’t give the ending away, but it isn’t predictable and McKewan doesn’t tie it up in a neat bow as Serena, the main character, prefers her fiction writers to do. The book ends with a twist, and one without a clear ending. In many ways, the reader is left open to decide how he or she thinks the story will end. More than that, the reader is left open to choose how this story really ends.
And as I’ve been pondering the significance of all this over the last couple of days, I believe this idea packs a punch because that’s how our lives really are. We all experience things – some good, some bad, but most of life falls somewhere in between. It’s not the events, however, that determine the meaning of our lives. Instead, its our viewpoints, our worldview, the way we make sense of what happens to us and how we interpret the events that makes the real difference. We might not have the ideal day jobs, our lives might not be as worry-free as we like, but the more and more I’ve thought about this novel the more and more I am reminded almost no matter what happens to us, we are free to decide how our stories will end.
And as a person trying to follow Jesus with my life, I can’t help but remember that this is really so much of what his life was all about. As you read the stories of his encounters with people, you really read about a man of faith showing people how their pasts didn’t close their life and helping them see how that instead they were wide open to new and better possibilities. Think about Zacchaeus, a despised embezzler who was invited into the community. Remember Simon, a terrorist who Jesus called into the inner circle. And of course there’s Peter, whose life Jesus opened again and again after failure after failure.
Our stories aren’t defined by what happens to us, but how we frame and make sense of them. And in the end, no matter what our lives have looked like to this point, our future isn’t closed. It’s open – and that’s a really good thing.