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Your framing story – setting you free or caging you in?

(with thanks to Brian D McLaren: Everything must change, Thomas Nelson, 2007; ISBN-10: 0849901839 ISBN-13: 978-0849901836)

How many cells does the average human have?
There are sixty trillion cells in your body – and that is 10 000 times the amount of people alive on earth today! And these cells are organised into ten organ systems: skeletal, muscular, circulatory, nervous, respiratory, digestive, excretory, reproductive, endocrine and immune. Now, what holds all this together? What defines the body’s shape? Your skin is certainly part of the answer.

A framing story is what holds us together as people. It is the bigger story of our lives. It is a story that integrates and holds us together as people in a unique way. This framing story could steer you in the direction of being a house wife, a coach, a parent, a teacher, a drop out.

What is your framing story? Here are some statements that could be shaping that story right now:

I am not able…

I have some handicap that disqualifies me…

I am a survivor…

I am giftless…

I am too important, too busy…

I am just passing through…

I deserve what I have and I’m not sharing…

It’s too late…

What’s the use?

Our framing story can be destructive, demotivating, limiting. It can make us fearful, miserly, sad, bored. There is  a danger that we let one or certain negative experiences or moments have all the defining power in our lives.

“Jeff, born handicapped, or challenged or disabled or whatever label we may use. After many seasons of supporting and rooting from the stands while his big brother played base ball, he was finally chosen for the team. When he received his uniform he couldn’t wait to get home and try it on. When he raced out from his bedroom, fully suited up, he announced to me, “Mom, now I’m a real boy!” Though his words pushed my heart to my throat, I assured him that he had always been a ‘real boy’. (Carlene Mattson, adapted, Focus on the Family, April 1993, p.13)

In 1962, Victor and Mildren Goertzel published a revealing study of 413 ‘famous and exceptionally gifted people’ called Cradles of Eminence. They spent years attempting to understand what produced such greatness, what common thread might run through all these outstanding people’s lives. Surprisingly, the most outstanding fact was that virtually all of them, 392, had to overcome very difficult obstacles in order to become who they were. (Tim Hansel, Holy Sweat, 1987, Word Books Publisher, p.134)

” A sound body, a brilliant mind, a cultural background, a huge amount of money, a wonderful education – none of these guarantee a success. Thomas Edison was deaf. Abraham Lincoln was born of illiterate parents. Lord Byron had a club foot. Robert Louis Stevenson had tuberculosis. Alexander Pope was a hunchback. Admiral Nelson had only one eye. And there was Louis Pasteur, so near-sighted that he had a difficult time finding his way in his laboratory. There was Helen Keller, who could not hear or see, but who graduated with honours from a famous college. (Adapted: Source unknown.)

You can allow your framing story to be defined by that which limits, by failures, by defeats… Or you can allow God’s story to define, shape and empower you…

This story? It tells us what we can expect in life: it offers us motivation and inspires us; it tells us about our purpose in life; it can encourage us to be generous, caring giving; it can tell us what we can do; it can free us to risk; it can fill us with joy.

One possible framing story given us by Brian McLaren: “… that we are free and responsible creatures in a creation made by a good, wise and loving God, and that our Creator wants us to pursue virtue, collaboration, peace and mutual care for one another and all living creatures, and that our lives can have profound meaning if we align ourselves with God’s wisdom, character, and dreams for us…” (Brian D McLaren, “Everything Must Change, 2007, Thomas Nelson).

Does that sound good?

Marks of a good framing story:

1. Our framing stories allow us to tell our stories in the best possible way.

2. It is biblical: creation, exodus, David and Goliath, justice, righteousness, words of Christ, resurrection, Pentecost, mission, feeding, thirsting.

3. It ‘unifies’  – you cannot serve two masters.

4. It empowers you to live now, makes a difference, not just “pie in the sky”.

5. It connects you to others.


Two Gospel examples:

John 8: 1 – 11 The Woman Caught in Adultery. In verse 11 Jesus says “Then neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin.” He gives her a chance to walk away and into a new life and framing story.

Matthew 19: 16 – 22 The Rich Young Ruler. It seems that this young man should be admired for his wealth and apparent goodness but Jesus prods him to consider a new framing story, this time in step with the Kingdom of God. He cannot take that step, however, and ‘goes away sad’.


Augustine is our African saint who led a pretty wild life until he was convinced by God to change. He describes something of this experience in this excerpt: “I was weeping, in the most bitter contrition of my heart, when I heard the voice of children from a neighbouring house chanting, “Take up and read! Take up and read!” I could not remember ever having heard the like, so checking the torrent of my tears, I arose, interpreting it to be no other than a command from God to open the book and read the first chapter I should find. Eagerly then, I returned to the place where I had laid the volume of the apostle. I seized, opened, and in silence read that section on which my eyes first fell: “Not in revelry and drunkenness, not in licentiousness and lewdness, not in strife and envy; but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.” No further would I read, nor did I need to. For instantly at the end of this sentence, it seemed as if a light of serenity infused into my heart and all the darkness of doubt vanished away. (Augustine, Confessions)

Consider YOUR framing story and how it shapes your life. Next week we will be renewing our covenant with God. This is a chance to change your framing story and choose a new life, in step with God’s spirit.


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