I don’t understand how school teachers do it. Granted, most teachers are not being taxed by cancer in their bodies, but wow did speaking yesterday wear me out! Five to six hours of constant dialog with high schoolers about death wears a guy out! Oh, I should back up and say that yesterday I was given the opportunity by my wonderful friend (and newly famous poet) Jenney to speak to all six periods of her high school english class. They had been spending a great amount of time studying a literary device called The Hero’s Journey which, if I understand it correctly, is a commonly found pattern or way of crafting a story. It is marked by the invitation to adventure or to take part in a story, by trials along the way, it says that you receive help from friends along the way but that they cannot solve the dilema, and leads to eventual freedom where you can then help others…at least I think I’m somehow capturing it.*
So Jenney invited me to share some of my story because of how it so directly connectes to The Hero’s Journey concept. The kids were forced to read some of my blogs (I’ve got to drive traffic somehow right?), they crafted an amazing set of questions, and then invited me to dialog with them.
As a recovering homeschool nerd speaking in a high school is a pretty foreign context. Can I say naught words? Can I wear a hat? Can I talk about my catheter? Can I mention Jesus? How honest can I be? Do I need to be ready to do a song and dance to entertain the teens? So many questions–and yet, in the end, we all just talked. We talked about death. I talked a lot about my children and my wife a lot. We all cried quite a bit. The students wanted to know how my life changed, they wanted to know how I’d live differently if I survive, they wanted to know if I’m afraid to die, they wanted to know what gave me hope, they wanted to know about reincarnation, they had so many good questions. I was very impacted by their ability to be present and emotionally available for such a deep conversation.
It was strange to find myself, near the end of every period, talking about the kingdom of God. Ok, so I didn’t actually say “kingdom of God”, but it’s what we talked about. At some point in every class we talked about hell, about how we all know hell in our lives or in the lives of those around us. Whether it is through divorce, sickness, addiction, or broken relationships we’re all experiencing the reality that this world is not right. I invited them to call it what it is, to recognize that cancer sucks but that there is hope for every single story (the Hero’s Journey). There is hope that every single story can be redeemed, that beauty can come from ashes, that what God does is he turns shit into something beautiful. I told them that even a story of death can be one of love and beauty if we’re willing to enter into it fully and allow it to become so. This doesn’t mean it won’t hurt, it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t suck, it doesn’t mean that it’s not incredibly hard–but it does mean that nothing has to be wasted. This is all Kingdom of Heaven stuff. Essentially we, as a class, talked and dreamed about God’s ultimate reality coming to earth and eventually being fully realized post death. Kingdom.**
As I sit here knowing that literally 10’s of thousands of people are praying for God to heal my broken body I cannot help but cling to that kingdom idea: nothing is wasted. If prayer works how I think it works then I will most definitely be healed. But I’m not convinced that prayer works how I think it works (shoot, even using the word ‘works’ with regard to prayer clearly shows that my natural tendency is to use it as a tool rather than to see it as a dialog. I want to wield prayer like a magic wand more than anything else!). I’m not convinced that my theology on prayer is correct. I am convinced, however, that God is good. Everything builds off that. And speaking yesterday with those amazing students reminded me yet again that
- This world is broken (some of those students have tragic stories!)
- Things don’t always get reconciled in this world how we’d like (though we fight bravely to make it so!)
- That God desires to enter into every story and make it a Hero’s Journey where absolutely nothing is wasted
- Our hope ultimately is in a new body and restored world where everything is finally as it should be–as the Hero originally intended.
*If someone has some insight here and wants to post with more clarity I’d greatly appreciate it!
** I’m not going to lie, if you’ve heard me speak in different settings or if you’ve read my blog much…this is my spiel. I say this same thing in different formats over and over again…and yet I still feel like I’m needing to hear it myself. So my apologies if you’re wondering “haven’t I already heard Ryan say this?” ’cause the answer is a resounding YES!