The Middle

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There are some different theories about stories, and how they are put together. Some are super simple, like this one…

Very simple story arc model.

Some are a little more complex, like this one…

This story arc is more complex because it ends with a word that I think is French.

And some are more complex and fluid still, like this one…

The most complex one yet, because it uses both French and algebra.

Whatever your view of story, one thing is completely certain: if the story is worth telling at all, then there will come a point where it gets very difficult for the characters involved. Whether you place that point in the opening, the rising action, or wherever else you want to put it, the fact remains that at some point, the main character comes to a point where the only choices are “quit, go back, and end the story here,” or “push through.”

In his book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, Donald Miller describes this period as “the middle.” Here’s an excerpt:

I think this is when most people give up on their stories. They come out of college wanting to change the world, wanting to get married, wanting to have kids and change the way people buy office supplies. But they get into the middle and discover it was harder than they thought. They can’t see the distant shore anymore, and they wonder if their paddling is moving them forward. None of the trees behind them are getting smaller and none of the trees ahead are getting bigger. They take it out on their spouses, and they go looking for an easier story.

This has been on my mind and my heart in a big way lately because I’ve reached (or will reach very soon) that point in one of the subplots of my own life – my health. Long story short, I’m 26 years old and about 40 pounds overweight. Add that to a family history of heart disease and cancer, and it gives me considerable pause as Michelle and I begin to think more seriously about starting a family. I want to be healthy and alive and active for my kids.

So we’ve been jogging. (Or it might be pronounced “yogging.” I think it might have a soft ‘j’…) It’s maybe the most basic way possible to get in shape. Just go outside and run. And, like any story, at first you see some real movement. You go from never having been a distance runner to being able to jog a mile without stopping fairly quickly. And then it gets hard…

Tuesday of last week I ran 2 miles without stopping for the first time in my life. It took me 24’30”, but I finished it and I was proud. Thursday I went out confident and looking forward to the run, and I pooped out around the 1.25 mile mark. Saturday I was supposed to go 2.5 miles, but I barely made it a mile before I had to stop and walk. Same story yesterday. I’ve hit the middle of my story, and it’s decision time in the story of me getting into shape.

I’m not fishing for encouragement or fitness tips in the comments here, I just want you to understand something about my story so that, hopefully, you can understand something about your story. If you’ve ever wondered why you start things and then don’t finish them, or why it feels like you’re stuck in a rut in your job, your marriage, or just life in general, try thinking of yourself as the main character in an epic story.

When things get hard, remember that in every great story the main character goes through some sort of hell. But all the great stories end well, too. So take heart in the fact that, even though it’s really hard right now, the story will end well if you persevere.



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