“I don’t know how to end this, but I think it needs to end.”
Those were the actual words my pastor used the other day to transition from his sermon to the closing prayer. It had been a sermon particularly filled with rabbit trails and offhand remarks and so, awkward though it was, it was the perfect way to end Sunday’s service. It wasn’t polished, it didn’t tie back to an illustration he used at the start, and it didn’t carry that “ending punch” we speakers and writers always look for. He just got to a point where there was nothing left to say on the subject.
The line elicited a lot of laughter, as it should have, but the more I look back, the more I wonder if we would do well to end more stories and discussions that way.
We like good endings. There’s something inside most people that wants all the plot lines resolved, all the questions answered, all the conflicts ended in a satisfactorily climactic manner. That philosophy works well for movies and novels, but what about real life? The church stories we love are the ones that go, “I was living a crazy life, filled with sin and emptiness, and then I found Jesus, and he saved me from all that.” And then we stop.
And, you know what? That’s good storytelling. It’s punchy. It’s got a nice arc to it.
But that’s not what real life looks like.
When I tell people about my struggle with depression, it’s easy to talk about the dark days that led to me finally getting help. It’s easy to talk about how much I hated therapy and about how hard it was, because after all that, I have the really cool ending where I finally sat down with my Bible for the first time in years, and everything just came together. Somehow, everything I’d talked about on that couch clicked and I hit my turning point.
That’s a great ending for a story.
But here’s the thing: the story about my fight with depression didn’t end there. I still have bad days. They’re not as bad as they used to be and they don’t come as often, but they happen, and they suck. Sometimes I share that part of my story, but it sure takes the punch out of the ending. That nice, satisfying bang turns into a disappointing fizzle.
If I’m really honest, though, I’d rather my life look like that. My storytelling may take a hit, but if I could choose between a God who swoops into my life once, sets things right, and then vanishes, or a God who comes into my life day after day, continually cleaning up my messes and making me more like him, the choice is pretty clear.
I’m no expert on Greek, but people who know their stuff have told me there’s an interesting grammatical quirk to Ephesians 2:8 – the verse where Paul says “It is by grace you have been saved” – that we miss in the English translations. Apparently, in the Greek Paul actually uses two verbs – like he’s saying “It is by grace you have been saved and are still being saved.”
That’s awesome to me.
Testimony stories that don’t end are incredible things. They mean God’s grace isn’t something we see just once. They mean his grace is something we’re given day after day.
So…I don’t know how to end this, but I think it needs to end.