Book: A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller
Date finished: 3/28/10
Many of you know that I’ve been reading through Donald Miller’s latest book. And if you’ve ever read my profile on any number of social networking sites or anything that asks about authors you like, I always mention Donald. Usually followed by a parenthetical but we don’t always agree.
So, I don’t think I can say that anymore, at least after reading this book. Because in reading A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, I found out that Donald and I are a lot more alike than I ever thought and that at the barest minimum, he thinks a little like I think. And a lot of the time, that thinking leads him right back to God Himself whom He loves even as he recognizes he doesn’t understand God much. I know enough to know that I only know a little bit of who God is, but oh how I love Him!
A Million Miles in a Thousand Years (which I continually called A Thousand Miles in a Million Years) is the book Donald wrote after he had to edit his life into a movie. Many of you know about his memoir Blue Like Jazz and have read it, probably, but you may not know that it’s being made into a movie. And in order to tell the story, Donald had to edit his life, to look and what happened and shape it into a better story. And in the middle of all his study about writing, telling a good story, and what makes a good movie, Donald came to the conclusion that he wasn’t living a very good story. That his life was boring and very, very self-involved. That there was a God who wanted to write a better story in which Donald wasn’t necessarily the star, but the Truth was, but God was, but the truth of Scripture that it’s not all about us was.
I love the idea of thinking of God as a writer. It appeals to me as someone who loves words. I love the realization at some point in the book when Donald realizes that it isn’t all about him. He says it this way: “He said to me I was a tree in a story about a forest, and that it was arrogant of me to believe any differently.” There’s a passage in that chapter I underlined and bracketed that spoke volumes to me as someone who tends to get so caught up in herself, her own fears, doubts, problems that she can’t see past them. It follows a discussion of the book of Job and suffering. Donald writes about Job calling out to God and how God answers in a whirlwind and really doesn’t answer Job’s echoing cry of “Why?” and instead questions Job if he knows who stops the waves or stores the snow or flung the stars in the sky. Then Donald writes this: “And that is essentially all God says to Job. God doesn’t explain pain philosophically or even list its benefits. God says to Job, Job, I know what I am doing, and this whole thing isn’t about you.”
If there’s anything I’m learning from God in my life right now, it’s that. That I am in a story about a forest, not one special tree. That sometimes the things that happen in my life have a bigger purpose than just teaching me something or whatever. That God is using my life to write a testimony of Himself for the world to see. That the gospel is bigger than me. And that it matters every day of my life. That I matter.
Another thought Donald presented that struck me is the idea of being made whole. And he writes the truth most Christians profess—that we are only truly made whole in Christ—but then he also tackles the way we feel about that truth with brutal honesty, taking on a subject most of us would rather ignore than admit to feeling, fearing it will make us lesser Christians or believers of little faith. That of course is the feeling of unwholeness. We know that Christ is who makes us whole, but sometimes, in this sin sick world, we just don’t feel it. Donald says that it is indeed true that Jesus will make us whole, and that He is, but that it won’t be complete until heaven. Where there will be a wedding and a feast. But Donald tells all of this in the context of a story about a girl he was dating and planned to marry and how the relationship dissolved because they both thought the other person was Jesus; they both thought that their wholeness lay in that other person—a person who couldn’t be perfect and who in the end, couldn’t save them or make all their problems, doubts, and fears go away. Only Jesus does that. At the end of that chapter, he writes: “When you stop expecting people to be perfect, you can like them for who they are. And when you stop expecting material possessions to complete you, you’d be surprised at how much pleasure you get in material possessions And when you stop expecting God to end all your troubles, you’d be surprised how much you like spending time with God.”
In all truth, this is probably a book I’ll read again, because it touched my heart and I really didn’t expect it to. I didn’t expect to feel such a kinship with the writer. I didn’t expect that this book would be so heavily about God and surrender and love and Jesus. But it has reminded me of what is important in my life and what is vitally important to God and it has challenged me to live my life differently.
I leave you with these words, the closing lines of the book that brought me comfort and joy as I remembered the times God has stood by me in sorrow and loved me even though I was stubborn and obstinate and sinful. As we begin this Holy Week, it reminds me why Jesus matters and how much God loves us, that He would enter into time, space, temptation, and sinfulness to save us. Let these words be a benediction of sorts, laying aside theological critics and knowing that Donald isn’t writing a theological text, but instead a book about relationship, which is what God wants to have with us more than He wants us to come up with theological treatises:
“I don’t wonder anymore what I’ll tell God when I go to heaven, when we sit in the chairs under the tree, outside the city. I’ll tell him about Mike Barrow riding his bike into the Atlantic Ocean, and about Bob Goff and his family jumping off the dock, waving good-bye to world leaders as they left the lodge. I’ll ask God if he remembers when I fell apart in the hotel room in Los Angeles, and he’ll loock comfortingly at me and tell me he was there. . . I’ll tell these things to God and he’ll laugh, I think, and he’ll remind me of the parts I forgot, the parts that were his favorites. We’ll sit and remember my story together, and then he’ll stand and put his arms around me and say, “Well done,” and that he liked my story. And my soul won’t be thirsty anymore.”
My soul is thirsty. As C.S. Lewis once wrote, I “find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy.” I was made for another place, and above all, I want God to write my story. And God is a good writer.