This is Why the Hero’s Journey is Your Journey
Everybody loves a good adventure story. Think of one you know and love right now. Maybe it’s Raiders of the Lost Ark or Star Wars. Or Braveheart. Huckleberry Finn. Lord of the Rings. Back to the Future. If you want to see a lively debate break out, ask a group of friends which is ‘the best’ adventure story out there, and you’ll find everyone has a passionate opinion on why their favorite is superior to all others.
I believe that the reason we get so passionate about adventure stories is that, at a very foundational level, we resonate and identify with them. Somewhere deep down, you and I long to be the hero in the story. The beautiful truth is that we already are, even if we don’t recognize it yet.
This is hardly an original observation–if you haven’t already, read Epic, by John Eldridge. I’m sure many others have written on this topic as well, but it bears repeating, and like any story, how it’s told and who is doing the telling allows the story to connect with different audiences in a unique way.
So let me explain from my perspective.
Several years ago, I had an excellent Bible teacher who taught us to view the Bible as an ongoing narrative, ‘a play in 4 written acts’, if you will, with your story beginning in Act 5. That got me thinking.
Not long after that, my oldest son came back from film school and told me about “The Hero’s Journey” (from Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces) and how pretty much every film and adventure story ever made uses this 12-step plot line. He shared the following video with me as explanation (take the 2 minutes to watch it–trust me, it’s worth it!):
Ok, you with me?
I’m here to tell you that The Hero’s Journey is your journey.
I’m not trying to get all poetic and inspirational with you, just so you feel good. It really is true.
And this is why: this life you are living is not all there is, and it does not begin and end for you when you’re born and when you die. You, dear friend, are an eternal being with an eternal story. And I’m not just talking about legacy here. I’m talking about impact and literally changing the course of human history.
Forever. For all eternity.
This is why everything we do matters. At the very lowest point in my life, I came to the conclusion that who I was and all that I had done and been did not matter. I summarized my entire life’s value and purpose, and measured it by temporary circumstances and what other people thought.
I lost my eternal perspective.
My friends, I need to tell you that that is the only accurate perspective we can have!
One of the best things about watching our favorite adventure stories is that we can watch them with a ‘God’s-eye’ perspective. Even if we’re totally down with the hero, going through all his trials and tribulations with him just like it’s happening to us, we still have the ability to zoom out and see or hear what’s going on with the other characters in the story, what situations are brewing (both good and bad), and most times, we can see the foreshadowing of a victorious conclusion. We often are able to see it before the hero himself does.
Unfortunately, that isn’t how most of us view our own lives. One of my favorite movie moments is the scene in Stranger than Fiction, in which Dustin Hoffman (an English literature professor) is explaining to Will Ferrell the enormous significance of the phrase “little did he know.”
Isn’t that the truth?!
Little did the hero know. But the author knows. And the audience will soon find out too, because the narrator also knows and will tell them.
So, here’s the big question: who is the narrator in your life, and what are you allowing them to tell you (and your audience)?
This is key, and I’ll tell you what–once I figured out my own answer to that question, I fired my narrator! I fired her for falsely representing the other characters, for twisting the plot, for suggesting the wrong outcome. She wanted me to think my life’s story was summed up in a few lines from a difficult chapter. But she was wrong. So wrong. I realized that there is a much better option.
One who has the real story, the final say, about me and my life. I’ve now asked Jesus to be my narrator.
I know analogies are great and fun, but I’m being totally serious here. And to be 100% clear, I’m talking about the inner narration we experience in our heads and in our hearts. I understand now that I can’t be the one to narrate and write my own story–my attempts to do that almost ended my life. I embraced hopelessness because I couldn’t see the big picture.
But there is a big picture. The Hero’s Journey. Mine, yours.
Accept the Call
You and I are part of the greatest story that could ever be told, and we each have sub-stories of our own with plots that are unfolding as we live our lives day by day. I’m not quite sure that we each have only one ‘hero’s journey’ to make in our lifetime; I suspect some of us have many of these journeys.
But we need to accept the call. And keep going. Press on and press forward because the story’s not over! Probably my all-time favorite movie quote is by Samwise Gamgee in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers:
It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.
Frodo: What are we holding onto, Sam?
That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo… and it’s worth fighting for.
That speech made my heart swell and my eyes fill with tears. That’s why we’re here! And the ‘good’ that’s in this world is JESUS and his love for you, for me, and for this world! Yes, we know ultimately how the story will end, but how will our tales be told? What great lessons will be learned from our lives, how will history be impacted by the way we’ve lived? How will the lives of others be touched and changed and equipped for their journeys? How will your life here on earth shape your eternal life?
One Last Thought
If you think about all the great movies and tales and all the great heroes, there is always something really special about that hero that draws us to him or her. Think of one you love, right now.
I think that special something in our heroes is their vulnerability amidst their great courage. We love to watch them discover who they are and the courage they didn’t know they had until they were challenged to activate it. And inevitably, the ‘resurrected self’ they end up bringing back home has a new softness, a new love for others, a new perspective; and because of this, their lives (and the lives they touch) truly will not ever be the same. And so it will be with us if we keep on the journey.
There is a role written for you that only you can play, and only you can decide how you will play your part.
There are calls on your life to answer, adventures to take, fears and danger and trials to overcome, mentors to help you along the way, and friends to walk the road alongside you. Don’t get lost in a sentence or a chapter; allow Jesus to narrate your story and show you the big picture–his perspective, the eternal story.
Then pick up your backpack, your staff, your bullwhip, or your lightsaber, and journey on.