Andy Frost’s ‘Long Story Short’ brings a fresh perspective at looking at our life story – by looking away from ourselves towards a much bigger story. He challenges us to think about the story that our lives are telling. How will we be remembered? Are we looking for a life of happiness, safety and significance? Is this life all there is or is there a purpose to it all?
Stories are all around us, from the TV shows we watch, the adverts we consume and the social media networks we are a part of. Stories help us put things into context and give meaning, bringing order out of chaos. Stories shape our worldview and help us to understand more of who we are and what we want. In short, ‘we turn everything into a story to make sense out of life.’ (pg. 17). How are we making sense of our own story and our life on this earth? What’s it all about? Is it ultimately about us as we place ourselves at the centre of our story?
Andy explores the stories that we tell ourselves and that society shapes us into thinking. He starts by looking at how we chase after the happiness story – happiness is seen as ‘our right, our destination, our fantasy, our story’ (pg. 22). It’s about the here and now and embracing the moment or looking to the future in the hope that happiness is just around the corner.
‘We define happiness in terms of prosperity and success, a paid-off mortgage and accolades from others.’ (pg. 24)
Unfortunately, this story doesn’t deliver. Happiness is a mirage and disappointment is never far away. Andy tells of the story of an old student of Sigmund Freud, Viktor Frankl, who challenged his view that humans sought pleasure above all else. Rather, it was purpose that people were after and when they don’t find that, they turn to pleasure. Happiness is too small a story.
Then there’s the desire for safety – avoiding change in order to play it safe and minimising uncertainty as much as possible. The fear narrative wants us to be in control of every aspect of our lives. Unfortunately, we cannot stop change from happening and we will all have to face the ultimate reality that none of us can avoid.
‘We hoard and invest so that we can have stability in the future. It seems logical but the irony is that the more we have, the more we have to protect… And even if we get to the point of feeling financially stable, there is always something else to fear.’ (pg. 37)
Finally, there is the significance narrative – we want our life to have meaning and what we do to matter. However, what one person may see as significant could be meaningless to another. Many strive to make the world a better place which is a good thing, however, despite the best efforts of many individuals, the world is still a broken, complicated place. Andy summarises this wonderfully by saying that we need to look at our own hearts and the role that we play within the broken world we see around us:
‘Revolution is often defined as sudden and dramatic change. Che Guevara brought revolution to Cuba. He brought it to a country but he failed to fully bring it to people’s hearts. Martin Luther King helped achieved equal rights in the USA but racism today remains rife. Mother Teresa highlighted and cared for the poorest of the poor in Calcutta, but greed is still rampant. The root cause of corruption and inequality and violence is in you and me; it is in our human hearts.’ (pg 52)
The smaller narratives of happiness, fear and significance can end up defining our lives and Andy encourages us to take our eyes off ‘self’; so often we make ourselves the epicentres of our stories. He says that there is a bigger story at work – our faith story. He points out that we all have a faith which is ‘fundamentally our explanation for why we are here’ (pg. 58) which shapes our lives and how we view our story.
‘Without a bigger story, we are left believing that what we do is not important; how we live is not important. We live for small stories and these smaller stories end up defining us.’ (pg. 65)
Andy brings us to the God story where the central character is not us, but God. However, we are invited to join in and partake in God’s story in relationship with Him. The chapter on the God story gives an overview of the beginning where God created us to when humanity turned its back on God – from Eden to Revelation, from garden to paradise, from creation falling to restoration. It is through the Jesus story that the brokenness of our world can be put right. The chapter on the God story is a brilliant way to understand our story within the context of the bigger, overarching narrative that shapes everything in our world. As a standalone chapter, it is a great way to open discussion for the gospel.
Andy shares his own story of coming to faith and wrestling with the belief that being a Christian would result in living a constrained life. He ended up realising that he was more free to live a better story. He shares the stories of C.S. Lewis and Lee Strobel, both atheists who came to faith in Christ. Reading these stories of individuals who have encountered God are powerful and convincing as God completely changed their hearts, attitudes and lives.
As the book continues, Andy brings it to the forefront that our identity is in Jesus when we become Christians. God’s story confronts how we see ourselves and only then can we find true freedom. A freedom that is not defined and shaped by our circumstances, but is firmly rooted and established in God’s love for us – and God is helping us every step of the way become everything we are called to be. It is fundamentally and absolutely about the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the implications that it has for us all:
‘Accepting the God story is about identifying on such a deep level with Jesus that not only do we recognise that we have been forgiven, but as we are immersed [in baptism] we acknowledge the death of ourselves at the centre of the story. We die to our failings. We die to our selfishness. We die to our greed and our pride and our hate. And we don’t only say goodbye to the old life, we accept the new life that Jesus offers us. We realise our true identity and our place in his unfolding story… As Jesus rose from the grave triumphant and victorious, we share in that same glory.’ (pg. 106-107).
As we become aware of our place in God’s story – in this bigger narrative – we begin to live a life that partners with him in reaching and helping and changing the world around us. We are able to find our sub-plot and purpose in God’s story and Andy shares ways in how we can discover this in the chapter ‘You’re Unique Sub-Plot’.
This book came at a time when I personally have struggled to take my eyes off of myself as my circumstances change. It brought a beautiful reminder of my purpose and identity in Christ alone, and not to continue to compare my smaller stories with everyone else’s. There is so much truth and life in these pages and I thoroughly recommend this book to everyone whose life tells a story – that’s you.
‘Here’s the thing: you can live a good story without knowing God. But if you want to live God’s best story for your life, then you need to know the author of the story.’ (pg. 137)
Andy Frost is a surf obsessed, adventure loving Londoner. He is involved in a range of innovative ways to communicate the Christian Faith. You can check out his new YouTube channel ‘The Adventures of the Ginger Vicar and the Balding Bishop’ here: youtube.com/gvbbadventures and find out more about his work at sharejesusinternational.com