I love happy endings. Sunshine breaking through the trees and glittering across the snow. Love and laughter and wrongs made right. But I realized something remarkable as I was reading the other day. I was finishing up Book 12, the last of a longstanding Middle Grade series. Much peril and victory had occurred and it looked like the series was finally going to have a happy ending. I wanted a happy ending, I really really did. Yet, I was just a teensey bit disappointed. What was wrong? What was missing from this fun and fabulous conclusion full of tension and victory?
And then, unexpectedly, someone you loved, someone you didn’t even realize that you loved, died. They died sacrificially, to save another, to make up for the fact that they hadn’t been able to save someone else, long long ago. That was when I realized something important.
Someone has to die.
It doesn’t even have to be an actual death, a death to themselves, their dreams and wishes. But whether it is a metaphorical death or the character truly giving their life, someone has to die. Our sense of art and story demand a sacrifice.
Why is that?
Could it be that all stories speak of the great story? There are certain elements that must be present for a reader to walk away from a tale satisfied. Could it be that those vital elements of story come from the story that is told all around us. A story of creation and decay, of love and betrayal and sacrifice. Is God’s quest for our affection, God’s terrible journey through Hell and back to rescue us, the pattern for art upon our deepest self?
I think so.
And not only art but life as well. What is it that we ask of our summer staff every summer? What do we train towards as we gather young people and prepare them for a summer of ministry to children. We ask them to die. Die to self and live for others. We push the counselors to reach out if they are shy, to hike and play in the meadow if they aren’t athletic, to sit quietly and listen if they are active. To die.
What is it that God has asked of each of us, every day? Yes, we all seek a happy ending. God has promised us a happy ending. But there is also death and sacrifice. Someone must die. He for us, and us, as we follow Him.
Matthew 16:4–“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.'”