When We Look at Our Pasts, What Do We See?

When I read this story from the Wall Street Journal ("It's Healthy to Put a Good Spin on Your Life"), I thought of the great Christian memoirists, writers like St. Augustine, St. Ignatius of Loyola, Dorothy Day, and Thomas Merton. Before the confirmations of modern science, they intuited the importance of what this article reports.  

“You can’t impact every event of your life,” says Jonathan Adler, lead researcher on the study and an assistant professor of psychology at Olin. “But you have a choice in how the narrative plays out. You tell the story and the story really matters.”

Personal narratives “keep us sane,” says Warren Kennaugh, a leading behavioral strategist based in Sydney, who works with clients on changing their narrative. “While we may not like them at times, they enable us to make sense of others and the roles we play.”


I think another way of framing the issue is this: Can we see grace working through our lives? Can we adopt a stance of gratefulness to the possibilities our existence gives? When we turn our gaze toward our past, toward our shortcomings and failures, our triumphs and achievements, can we see providence hiding in the shadow? 

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Bruce Snowden
3 years 5 months ago
Hi Matt, - Regarding "When we look at our pasts, what do we see?" The last line in your submission says it all for me, "We see the grace of God working through our lives." Grace has taught me and continues to teach as Scripture says that, for God, "Light and Darkness are the same," and in that I've learned that God loves to play "Hide and See," - He hides while we seek, or we seek while He hides.. Right or wrong, I link this to Jesus' words, "Unless you become as a little child you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven." I find that spiritual aide revelatory up and down life's paths. I also see in the Olin's Professor of Psychology Jonathan Adler's following comment some insight in how the NT/OT stories were inspirationally remembered and recorded "You can't impact every event of your life ... but you have a choice in how the narrative plays out." Why? "Because the STORY really matters." I wish you had said more in your article, as there is certainly more to say. Thanks!
3 years 5 months ago
And don't we often construct our narratives in comparison to some ideal narrative for which we aim - our own hero story? I see the great value of our Christian memoirists, and the Gospels themselves, as an antidote for faulty ideal narratives we try to live into. The grand narrative of Christian redemption is the most life-giving narrative I've found, and I am grateful to have the stories of our memoirists to refresh this grand narrative so that I internalize it a bit more deeply each time. Thank you for the reminder to pay attention to the stories we construct about our lives.
Edward Thiery
3 years 5 months ago
I would not say that God forces us to do anything, but it seems that the Holy Spirit has bashed my head against the wall a few times to get my attention. Edward F. Thiery Rio de Janeiro John Carroll University Class of '64


The latest from america

Pope Francis caresses a child as he arrives to celebrate a Mass in Freedom Square, in Tallinn, Estonia, Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2018. (AP Photo/Mindaugas Kulbis)
The pope said he knows that young people “are upset by sexual and economic scandals that do not meet with clear condemnation.”
Gerard O’ConnellSeptember 25, 2018
Brotherhood must not be used as a cloak for privilege and secrecy.
Matthew Wooters, S.J. September 24, 2018
Napoleon’s consolidation of power in France in 1801 involved the recognition of the pope as the “ordinary and immediate pastor” of the universal church—a key component in the impending agreement between the Vatican and China.
Jeffrey von Arx, S.J.September 24, 2018
"Young Latinos are engaged. They are open to giving of themselves,” Archbishop José Gomez said. “We need to be more conscious of ministries for young Catholics.”
J.D. Long-GarcíaSeptember 24, 2018