“What kind of story do you want to tell?” That was the question posed by a preacher I once heard. The subject of the sermon was how to make tough decisions, whether they be moral decisions or those that have no moral implications at all. His argument was that considering the story you will tell about your life to your future spouse, or children, or grandchildren is an important guide for making decisions in the present. Do you want to tell them about the good and wise decisions you made, or do you want them to hear about the bad and unwise things you decided to do? Do you want your story to be one of wisdom and triumph or one of foolishness and failure? Do you want to be free to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth, or do you want to have secrets that you can’t tell anyone?
The story we will tell about our lives in the future is a byproduct of the quality of the decisions we make today.
The story we will tell about our lives in the future is a byproduct of the quality of the decisions we make today. If we want to tell a good story tomorrow, then we ought to be making the best possible decisions today.
This is, of course, sound advice. But what if your story is already off to a rocky start? What do you do if the story of your life is riddled with the bad choices you made in the past? It is one thing to avoid bad decisions in order to tell a good story in the future. It is a completely different thing to have to figure out how to tell a bad story in the present.
Like everyone else, I am not a perfect man, and I don’t have a perfect story to tell. Though my life is full of successes, it is also replete with many failures. Although I have done many good things that I would love to tell people about in the future, I also have many things that I’ve done that I am not proud of.
As I get older and I look towards the future, towards the dreams and aspirations I hope to accomplish and achieve, I carry the weight of the past with me. The secret failures, the people I hurt and disappointed, and the multiple times I have fallen short of my own standards in public and private are ever-present present with me. They are a part of my story that I have to tell, whether I like it or not.
We have all made mistakes in the past. We all have failures, many of them profound. We don’t get to simply erase or delete these parts of our story. They are a part of who we are. They are a part of our journey and they have helped to contributed to the men we have become.
One of our greatest fears as men is that we are not the men that we portray ourselves to be.
However, coming the grasp the bad parts of our stories, and having the courage to be honest about them, is one of the greatest challenges we will face in our journey. This is because one of our greatest fears we have as men is that we are not the men that we portray ourselves to be. We want to project to the world that we are strong, that we have it all together, that we have what it takes to succeed in life. Consequently, we do everything we can to prevent people from seeing us differently. We overcompensate, operate in denial, suppress the hurt and shame, hoping no one will notice, hoping we can avoid telling the whole story. Doing so only locks us into a prison of our own making. It is a prison of pride, self-righteousness, and denial where we can’t be honest with ourselves or to others.
It was in the depths of my brokenness that I discovered life’s greatest gift: grace.
Still, looking back on my life, I realize that I’ve learned the most from the broken parts of my story. Though I learned a lot from my successes, I learned a whole lot more in the moments of my biggest failures. It was during those moments that I realized that I wasn’t the man I wanted everyone to believe I was. And, as much as I wanted to believe otherwise, I realized that I am no better than the next man. Given occasion, I am capable of the same unwise, immoral, and selfish decisions as any other man, no matter how good of a person I think I am. If my successes highlighted my potential, my failures revealed my brokenness. And it was in the depths of my brokenness that I discovered life’s greatest gift: grace.
As a Christian, I believe that grace is a gift that I can’t earn based on my merit. I am loved and I am valuable as a man simply for who I am, not for what I’ve done, whether it be good or bad.
In my darkest moments, grace humbled me, enabling me to detach my sense of value and self-worth from either my successes and/or my failures. I am capable of both, and yet, neither can completely define me as a man. On the contrary, it’s God’s grace, his unconditional acceptance of me regardless of what I’ve done, that defines me and determines my value and worth.
I couldn’t tell you how liberating this was, and is, for me. It frees me from feeling too high and overconfident in my successes as well as too low and self-critical in my failures. It frees me to accept the good and the bad of my story without feeling like who I am and my value as a man is the sum total of either. I am valuable simply because God says I am.
We must be prepared to show people the same level of grace and compassion in their mistakes and short-comings as we want others to show us in ours.
Just as important, my failures have helped me to become empathetic towards others in their failures. It is not that I ignore the failures of others simply because I have failures too. On the contrary, it is the awareness and acceptance of my own failures that shapes how I treat and respond to others when they fail. This is so important today, especially in the age of “cancel culture.” We must be prepared to show people the same level of grace and compassion in their mistakes and short-comings as we want others to show us in ours. Although we should expect people to deal with the consequences of their failures, just as we have to deal with ours, nevertheless, our ultimate goal should always be to restore, not cancel, people. Our potential as human beings is too great for our failure to be the single defining factor of our lives. Therefore, when we fail, and when someone else fails, it is not the end of the story. When we fail, we have to find a way to restore what has been broken and find ways to contribute something good to the world during whatever time we have left to live. Likewise, when someone else fails and have dealt with the consequences of their decisions, we have to create a culture restoration, one that enables them to tell a better story in their future.
Our ultimate goal should always be to restore, not cancel, people
Lastly, one of the greatest things I learned to do with the failures of my story is to be honest about my them. It’s wise to be selective about who we confide in. Perhaps every failure is not for wide public consumption. However, we all need someone in our lives who we can tell the whole story to, someone who will not judge us but will still be honest with us, someone who can celebrate our successes and help to restore us in our failures. I know we all would like to think we are the heroes of our story. But if we are honest, there may be moments when we are the villain in someone else’s. Running from this is not healthy. It doesn’t make us better, and it doesn’t make us effective in life. Failures in the past only have power in the present if we fail to be honest about them.
Failures in the past only have power in the present if we fail to be honest about them.
Imagine if you had a place where you could tell the whole story and yet not be judged, where you can be fully known and yet fully and unconditionally embraced. This doesn’t mean there are no practical consequences for your failures and mistakes. However, these consequences can never affect your value and dignity as a man. Knowing this gives you the power to be honest. When you’re honest, you no longer allow the failures of the past to define you in the present or rule over and direct you in the future.