Donald Miller and Living a Good Story

If you watched a movie about a guy who wanted a Volvo and worked for years to get it, you wouldn’t cry at the end when he drove off the lot, testing the windshield wipers. You wouldn’t tell your friends you saw a beautiful movie or go home and put a record on to think about the story you’d seen. The truth is, you wouldn’t remember that movie a week later, except you’d feel robbed and want your money back. Nobody cries at the end of a movie about a guy who wants a Volvo.

But we spend years living those stories, and expect our lives to feel meaningful. The truth is, if what we choose to do with our lives won’t make a story meaningful, it won’t make life meaningful either. ~ Donald Miller

I have a large stack of books that I planned to read this summer. As I finished up my spring-quarter finals in early June, I anticipated warm, humid, lazy afternoons spent sprawled on the couch reading books of my own choosing. I rationalized several unplanned purchases from Amazon, including Making Room, Notes from a Blue Bike, and Glittering Vices. I even developed a reading plan to actually finish The New Testament and the People of God, which I had hoped to read last year. But as always, my plans and what happens are two very different realities.

Between my server job and, well, my server job, I’ve really only made progress on one of my summer reads: Donald Miller’s A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. While I wish I had time to read more from my summer-book-stack, I don’t regret making time for Miller. His blunt and down-to-earth reflections always bring me back to reality, to the real world where God’s love and our lives intersect. The subtitle of A Million Miles is “How I Learned to Live a Better Story,” and as a 30-year-old still suffering from a quarter-life-crisis hangover, Miller’s encouragement toward meaning couldn’t have come at a better time.

In the manic rush of studies, part-time jobs, church commitments, and ever-shrinking time with family and friends, life can begin to feel like a string of tasks without lasting purpose. Failed relationships, financial setbacks, and fruitless ministry attempts can make effort seem futile. And just when I thought I knew where my life was going, I suddenly feel like Alice wandering through the dark woods of Wonderland, uncertain of where I am going after all.

Miller’s perspective is like a balm to the chaos, a reminder that life is going somewhere and that good stories are always full of tension, conflict, and unexpected turns. What matters is where the story is going, where the character is headed. My life isn’t about buying a Volvo. It’s about loving God, loving people, making a difference in the world.

I can’t control where my story goes, but I can make good choices. Miller writes, “I don’t know if anybody actually writes his or her own story in real life. It’s an odd thing to talk about, because while we control our destiny, it’s limited control in so many ways (…) as real-life protagonists we can control only what we do and say, what choices we make, what words we say. The rest is up to fate. And so life has positive and negative turns. And you rarely see them coming” (145). It’s not tidy, but it’s realistic. And, maybe, it’s in this drama and monotony that beauty happens as we live the pages of our stories. In Christ, we know the ending will be good.

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