A tree in a story
“Victor Frankl whispered in my ear all the same. 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. And he told me the story of the forest is better than the story of the tree…I asked God to help me understand the story of the forest and what it means to be a tree in that story.”
— Donald Miller
Today we have more ways to stay connected with others than ever before, but I continue to see headlines and read stories about how isolated many of us feel. Not so long ago, survival demanded that we be in face-to-face contact with other people on a daily basis, but technology has made it possible to do almost anything without speaking to another human. It is undeniably quicker and easier, in many cases, to choose interaction with a device over dealing with an unpredictable person– someone who, like ourselves, will rightly expect a level of courtesy from us that we need not offer a machine.
Little wonder, then, that our sense of life becomes distorted, seen through the fish-eye lens of individual experience that magnifies what is closest to us and confines the wider world to compressed edges at the circular border of our vision. Our view of the world is dominated by the disproportionate appearance of our own immediate circumstances. Meanwhile, what looms large to us may appear to others, if they see it at all, as only constricted details at the periphery of their individual worlds.
This solipsistic existence can work very well for us as long as things are going our way. We relegate and delegate much of what seems unappealing, constructing custom-built lives for ourselves that place us in command and in control– or so it seems until something goes wrong. Then we may find that crucial traits such as patience, humility and compassion have atrophied for lack of use, leaving us frustrated and floundering.
The trials of the past five years, and especially of the past 12 months, have reminded me again and again that the surest cure for despair is to step away from the stage of my own life and get a more accurate sense of the larger reality within which every life is situated. It’s not that my problems are unimportant, and my challenges do not become easier simply because I break their stranglehold on my consciousness. But just as Miller says, the story of the forest is better than the story of the tree. All of us are blessed to be part of that story.