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One Chapter: Applying A Lesson from Reading to Real Life

Dec 8, 2015

You ever read a book you can’t put down? You tell yourself just one more chapter and then you’ll go to bed?

For many of us, probably not. A recent study indicates that 1 in 4 people reading this article haven’t read a book this year. (If you want more nerdy data with cool graphs like the one below, check out the full report.)

chapter book reading graphic

There’s been a reading revolution in the last 35-40 years. We all get why. In 1978, the device more than half of you are reading this post on (a smart phone) belonged in the genre of science fiction. Between social media, games, and fun cat videos, books have a hard time keeping up. With the development of self-publishing, there are more bad books on the market than in the past.

But, in my humble opinion, there’s nothing like curling up with a good book and a warm drink (especially in the winter) and losing yourself in a great story or a brilliant idea.

On many nights, I’ve been torn between my need for sleep and my desire to keep reading a great book. Most of my reading is non-fiction, but this year I stumbled upon several fiction books I’ve enjoyed. Not including this year, I don’t think I’ve read five fiction books in the years since college. But a few weeks ago, I spent my entire Thanksgiving trip (when I wasn’t driving) engrossed in a fictional series.

A Lesson from Fiction Books

One of the things we learn in a fiction book is that any single chapter doesn’t determine the whole story. In that 3 book series I mentioned earlier, each book included surprise plot twists and developments I didn’t see coming. What happened – in any one chapter – did not determine the ending of the book (unless it was the final chapter). Great books keep us up late at night, turning page after page because we know that while each chapter builds on each other to create a great story, what happened in one scene can be transformed by a subsequent chapter. 

While we embrace this principle in literature, we struggle to apply it to our lives. 

chapter book open to the middle

One Chapter of Our Story

Many of us believe one chapter of our lives determines our entire story. We think one bad decision, one failure, or one struggle permanently defines the rest of our lives. And while there are consequences to each of our decisions (some of them with powerful life-altering ripples which will never go away), we retain the agency and responsibility to determine the rest of the story.

For example, I’m grateful my battle with cynicism and burnout in my 20s didn’t necessitate that I remain cynical and burned out forever. I’m grateful my inability to keep a secret in confidence in my teens and college years doesn’t mean I lack trustworthiness today. I’m grateful for more chapters and more opportunities.

How about you? Is there a season in your life which could have defined and limited you but you’ve overcome that chapter and moved forward?

Chapter on Failure

I wonder if we fear failure because we believe one chapter can define our whole story. We often live terrified of making a big mistake that will ruin our entire lives forever. Fear of failure keeps many of us living the dreams and purposes God created us to pursue.

As afraid as we are of failure, I believe we’re even more afraid of other people seeing us fail than we are failing. The embarrassment and insecurity are simply too much for us. Having hundreds of friends from every season of our life following our experiences online only magnifies the sense that we’re constantly “on.”

If you’re afraid of failure, how do you move forward? If you’ve failed, how do you write another chapter? What do we do with this fear which often debilitates us?

Here’s how I navigate the fear in front of me. I don’t do all of these things well, but these are the ingredients I’m integrating as I seek to live free from the fear of failure.

Secure Your Identity

Embrace the security of your identity in Jesus Christ. Social media is incredibly dangerous for those of us who battle insecurity. It’s like putting a fifth of vodka in front of an alcoholic. In a world which regularly fuels our insecurity, we can find ultimate security in the unconditional love of Jesus. One of my favorite passages of Scripture, Romans 8, is a powerful reminder of the security that comes when we define ourselves by the voice and perspective of Jesus Christ. I struggle with believing God loves me unconditionally. When I remember that nothing can separate me from Jesus’ love, I gain the freedom to live without fear.

Claim Your Agency

Claim your agency today. Each of us has agency for our lives – our choices, our responses, our words and our actions. We have responsibility for what we do. We cannot choose what happens to us, but we can choose how we respond. When we claim our agency on a daily basis, we gain power and cease living passively. This is the opposite posture of victimization, which supposes that we are the products solely of our circumstances and other people’s choices.

Filter Your Perspective

Repeat this phrase, “one day, this is going to make a great story.” Recently, I was listening to an interview with author, Lewis Howes. He shared how a friend of his navigated a really difficult experience at the helm of the organization he founded. As Lewis’ friend was taking loads of criticism, he said, “I just kept reminding myself – wow, this is going to make a really great story one day.” Now, Lewis’ friend didn’t know how the story would work out but he knew that adversity, conflict, and difficulty are essential elements to a compelling story. We love reading stories of redemption and salvation. We just don’t like living them ourselves. These kinds of stories include failure, death, disappointment, and pain, long before the happy ending. Repeating this phrase can reframe your story’s current chapter in light of its ultimate ending.

As an author, I would love for all of us to read more books. But what I would love even more is for us to begin living from the mindset that one chapter doesn’t determine our entire story. I long for each of us to stop living afraid of failing and begin living with courage and hope.

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