I’m drawn to the title because intimacy-avoidant people have played key roles in my life since young. I’ve become fiercely independent largely because of our relationships. Being family at some point or other, they are not people I can write off and close the door on. So I want to understand their psyche better and to create a place for greater honesty and responsibility from them in our relationships.
The crux of the book’s message is to drop the act and to have the courage to reveal our true selves to the people around us. There's even a chapter titled 'Performance Anxiety in Real Life.' For this exposé of himself, Miller stayed single and avoided dating for almost a year.
“I’d spent a good bit of my life as an actor, getting people to clap - but the applause only made me want more applause. I didn’t act in a theatre or anything. I’m talking about real life.
Can we really trust people to love us just as we are? (I’d add: Not hidden but known) Nobody steps onto a stage and gets a standing ovation for being human. You have to sing or dance or something.
I think that’s the difference between being loved and making people clap, though. Love can’t be earned it can only be given. And it can only be exchanged by people who are completely true with each other.”
Miller had good friends:
· Bob, the attorney friend who kept calling to check in on him for a year when he was emotionally broken after a breakup.
· David Price, who shared an office with him and loved him enough to suggest that he stopped dating for a season and encouraged him that he was not all bad in relationships. “It might be good for you to go through withdrawal…to detox from all the drama.” The result was about a year without dating.
· His pastor, the late David Gentiles, who was like a father to him. David was a gifted writer and orator who sought little earthly validation while pursuing the stuff that really mattered. After his passing, Miller wrote, “He had been driven by what I was only beginning to experience: a deep sense of meaning. It was his love for me that created the chasm and the ache.”
Miller also has a fantastic imagination that had negatively affected his relationships. From his dating sabbatical, he emerged with the reality that fantasy changes nothing and produces only a bankrupt story. I’ve personally found that optimistic people like myself tend to have a greater imagination than the more negative types. We imagine the loving parent while living with an emotionally closed-off one, we imagine a spouse has deep loving intentions while raising a family alone almost as a single parent, we believe that people are genuinely concerned and kind even when we go through painful seasons in extreme loneliness with little contact from them.
A safe person speaks the truth in grace. I’d also add that a safe person operates in honesty and courage and does not hold back out of fear of disagreement and offense. A safe person delivers the honesty that's needed and sticks around to help you pick yourself up. Measured against the biblical standard of love in 1 Corinthians 13:7 ‘It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres’ – I’d say honesty and courage binds people in love and see each other through the storms of life.
The ‘Author’s Note’ sets the typical tone of openness and humiliating honesty that is found throughout this book, and as I discovered not long after, also characteristic in Miller’s earlier book ‘A Million Miles In A Thousand Years’ that I will review here too.
A MILLION MILES IN A THOUSAND YEARS
Miller inspired me to write a better story to live out. I know my story is going to be as good as the quality of relationships involved. And sometimes, that means ending the way I relate with some people so that the relationship can get better. It hurts like hell but if things have been nowhere near heavenly and the way God intends for people to relate, any change is an improvement.
Here are my favourite Miller bites (my comments in brackets):
- Nobody remembers easy stories. Characters have to face their greatest fears with courage. That’s what makes a story good. There is probably death at stake, inner death or actual death, …polar charges of happy and sad things in life that are like colours God uses to draw the world.
(Consider Isaiah 54 – it juxtaposes so much promises of God in the place of painful barrenness. It makes a great story and when lived out, a true testimony).
- The fact of life and the reality of death give the human story its dramatic tension. If you aren’t telling a good story, nobody thinks you died too soon; they just think you died. But my uncle died too soon.
(I believe some people should have just do away with a funeral to save others the agony of creating fictitious eulogies).
- The elements that made a story meaningful were the same that made a life meaningful. Most of our greatest fears are relational. It’s all that stuff about forgiveness and risking rejection and learning to love. We think stories are about getting money and security, but the truth is, it all comes down to relationships. I knew a story was calling me, I knew I was going to have to see if my father was alive. And once you know what it takes to live a better story, you don’t have a choice. Not living a better story would be like deciding to die, deciding to walk around numb until you die, and it’s not natural to want to die.
- I believed God was the Writer who was not me and He could write a better story than I could, but I did not trust Him. I told God no again, but He came back to me and asked me if I really believed He could write a better story – and if I did, why didn’t I trust Him?
(Again, we go back to the standard of love in 1 Corinthians 13:7 ‘It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres’)
- It’s an odd feeling to be awakened from a life of fantasy.
(I know that, but it frees your mind to be in the now.)
- The truth about telling stories with your life…you’re not going to want to do it. It’s like that with writing books, and it’s like that with life. People love to have lived a great story, but few people like the work it takes to make it happen. But joy costs pain. People fear change, and tend to plant themselves in what’s comfortable even if they secretly want for something better. But for every good story, there is a force resisting the beautiful things in the world, and too many of us are giving in.
(John 10:10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full reminds us that God has a better story for us to live out in full but the Enemy is just as intent to short-circuit the narrative.)
- The most often repeated commandment in the Bible is “Do not fear.” But fear isn’t only a guide to keep us safe; it’s also a manipulative emotion that can trick us into living a boring life.
§ Great stories are told in conflict, but we are unwilling to embrace the potential greatness of the story we are actually in. We think God is unjust, rather than a master storyteller.
§ (Just look at Isaiah 54 and other parables and stories in the four Gospels)
§ An inciting incident is a doorway through which the protagonist cannot return.
§ In The War of Art, Steven Pressfield wrote, “The must honors the working stiff.” A writer has to sit down every day and write, regardless of how he feels.
§ Robert McKee’s Story is a manifesto on all things story.
§ Save the Cat is a how-to book for screenwriters writing for movies.
From an accomplished author who also struggled with feeling unlovable and immense pain of that, Miller left readers with this encouragement: I don’t ever want to go back to believing life is meaningless. We need to move our thoughts beyond our own despondency into direct action that affirmed a greater meaning in life. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answers to its problems and to fulfil the tasks which it constantly sets before each individual.
When he meets God, he’ll want to ask if He remembers when he fell apart. But he has a feeling that God will remind him instead of the parts he forgot, the parts that were His favourites.
(I really like that!)
Without honesty, love is a hollow echo, relationships are devoid of courage, character development is stunted, and life is meaningless. Of course, manipulative and controlling people have always called it honesty for all manner of abuse and rudeness. But that’s not what I’m talking about. And Miller’s book offers a humbling reflection for those craving honesty that builds up and desiring to take the first step of courage to change their lives and relationships.