Know your Story, Embrace your Journey

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All I wanted to do was share stories about my experiences as a kid with my four children while we drove home from church. Maybe, I thought, they would identify with my struggles and glean some wisdom from my childish, foolish mistakes—and in turn not repeat them.  After several weeks of story telling, I began to dread story time as my children clamored for another “Daddy was sooo stupid story” (title credit go to my son, Dylan).  

The more I told my stories the more embarrassed I became. It was time to re-evaluate my story-telling model. After all, isn’t it better for kids to have a view of their father as Captain America and not some overweight guy falling through the barn floor? To my chagrin, the tales where daddy was the hero were also (apparently) the most boring, and my children quickly lost interest in story time.  

It seems there is something inherent in the human condition that we learn much better from failures than we do from victories.  Even so, we all desire to isolate ourselves from those painful stories of our own defeats—seriously, who wants to relive the pain, humiliation, and embarrassment of our worst moments? Instead, we curate our images, prune and pick our best snapshots, and incessantly manage how others view us. It’s no surprise we tend to do the same with our heroes.  

I remember as a child hearing stories of William Carey in VBS, Sunday School and various Children’s Church settings and being challenged to “Expect great things from God. Attempt great things for God”.  I remember thoughts of parachuting into the 10/40 window with nothing but my Bible, a Strong’s concordance, and the clothes on my back. The story had immediately stirred a response in me but when the emotion of the moment passed, so did my missionary zeal.

Years later, I learned about William Carey’s familial struggles – his wife’s mental breakdown on the mission field and allegations of Carey’s overlooking of his familial responsibilities while attempting great things for God.   I remember thinking, “If William Carey could put the needs of the ministry before his family, what makes me think that I am immune to such decisions?”  I decided that day to take constant inventory of my priorities in order to not follow in Carey’s negative familial shadow. 

You see, if I only knew of William Carey’s victories, I would just have learned an important but fleeting lesson. Yet in learning of his failures, God used William Carey’s story to influence my family and my ministry on a virtually daily basis.  The truth is we must learn from the entirety of the story. Only then can we embrace the whole of their journey, viewing and admiring our heroes as imitable men and not demi-gods.  

We at Christian History magazine know that fidelity to history and our heroes often does not curate a pretty picture, but it does display the whole of the person, movement, or issue. And through it, we learn from all of our vulnerabilities that not only is no person, institution, or idea perfect, but also that God uses our entire story to teach the lessons He has for us along our journey from faith to sight.

Matthew Oser
Christian History Magazine

Christian History Magazine is a donor-supported quarterly print publication. Subscriptions to the magazine are available for free at ChristianHistoryMagazine.org.