Donald Miller’s A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life Miller, of course, is the author of Blue Like Jazz, one of my all-time favorite books. It’s an extraordinary book that I’ve taught in Bible class. Really good stuff.

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life is another excellent book along similar lines, except (let’s be honest) not quite as good – but that’s hardly a criticism at all. It’s just that it’s nearly impossible for a book to be as good Blue Like Jazz. Just don’t hold A Million Miles up to that impossible standard, and you’ll find it’s an insightful, rewarding read. Buy and enjoy the book.

Miller builds the book around his need to learn the elements of story (as a literary concept) in order to write the screenplay based on Blue Like Jazz. If you’re familiar with the book, you know that it’s not really a conventional novel and much of the book is about what he learned in life. There’s lots of dialogue and not much in the way of a plot or action. There are definitely no car chases or explosions. It would make a lousy movie – unless Miller and the producers re-write the screenplay as a story.

As Miller learns the elements of story and what makes a good story, he concludes that his life is a pretty lousy story. No conflict. No resolution. Nothing for the hero – Miller – to work for and accomplish.

He discusses this idea with a married friend of his. The friend had a daughter going through teenage rebellion – dating a much older man who appeared to be using her. His friend decided that the solution was to get a better story – that the daughter was seeking to escape their family’s story in search of a better, more adventurous story. And so the friend decided to raise $25,000 and build an orphanage in a mission field.

Amazingly, his wife and daughter loved the idea, they worked hard together to raise the funds and then to build the orphanage, and the daughter broke up with her loser boyfriend. She concluded that he was just using her.

We each live a story, and when we die, we’ll get to tell our stories with God, and we’ll celebrate them together. Some will tell of building orphanages and others of being used. Some will tell of lives changed and others of lives wasted. But all will get to share their stories with God.

But this isn’t so much about judgment as it is about having no regrets. We get to pick the stories we live – within limits, of course. Most of us can’t choose to be playboy millionaires, but we can all choose to want something bigger than ourselves, to struggle for that goal, and live a story about the struggle. And we won’t all achieve our goals, but we can all live for something more important (and more interesting) than the humdrum Western lifestyle.

I mean, imagine standing before God and saying, “Well, I went to college, I was regular in my church attendance, I gave money every single Sunday, and I raised two kids. I retired, and I died. And while my wife missed me and my church loved me, the church wasn’t much different for my having been a member. And the Kingdom wasn’t much different for my being a citizen. Rather, I earned a pay check, saved for retirement, and left behind a nice rose garden and two kids just like me.”

That’s a boring story. I’m not saying it’s a damning story, just not a very good one. Would you buy the movie rights? I think not.

Now, what would make for a really good story – one that your grandchildren will tell their grandchildren about you and your family? What will you be remembered for? And what will you and God celebrate together?

5 Responses

  1. Substituting a book for the Bible and saying you’re teaching the Bible, please! This is as true as “I sailed my boat in a dry lake yesterday.”

  2. On the other hand, my family has heard be say often I want to slide sideways into heaven like Tom Cruise did in Risky Business while hearing loudly “Old Time Rock ‘n Roll” by Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band!

    Ups and downs? Yes, but sure hasn’t been boring!

    God sure does have a great sense of humor!!!

  3. I assume this book will prompt, for some, a moment of reflection on one’s personal narrative. I, however, am probably in the other category, a little burned out from all my adventure seeking and existential angst—being ‘ruined for the ordinary’, and valuing experience over profundity.

    I worry for those out there who like me may use this as another shot in the arm in the struggle against tides of boredom and narcissism. I know I sound cynical, but I do worry about how much we have imbibed a romantic and existential view of ‘The Good’ from Hollywood and the like.

    In short, though some may use a book like this to question and rethink the many unreflected aspects of our lives, others need to be coaxed down and weaned off from this steady diet of self-centered thinking cloaked in a self-effacing altruism.

  4. I liked Blue Like Jazz as well. I will have to pick up this book as well and give it a read.

  5. Many parts of my story I have forgotten. It is good when someone reminds me – like the woman at worship in Auckland, NZ who came to me and said, “I would not be here if it were not for you knocking on my grandmother’s door” about 35 years before. Or the brother who said to me, “When you baptized me, you warned me about the dangers of temptation that were lurking about 6 weeks ahead – and sure enough, it came just as you said it would. Because of that warning, I recognized it for what it was – and did not give in.” (He is now an elder.) Or the church where I had preached twenty-five years before I visited again – and found that 3 of the 5 elders were men I had baptized, not from church families, but from the world.

    There are other parts of my story I would like to forget. God knows them, but I’m sure He has forgiven me – but I still remember some of the wicked things I have done (and sometimes still do).

    I believe all of us have a mixed story – some evil and some good. The chief part of the story in which we can rejoice is that God has loved us, saved us by His grace, and reshaped us more and more into the likeness of His son.


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