I went to film school before I went to seminary. In film school, I learned about the “Hero’s Journey,” a framework for talking about stories, popularized by Joseph Campbell. The “Journey” starts with the call to adventure, followed by the rejection of the call, and so on.
While I was watching a movie last week, I checked to see how much time was left in it and noticed it was about halfway through. I don’t remember the full “Hero’s Journey” map, but I remembered that in the middle of a story, something usually happens that brings the main character to their knees. It’s the lowest point of the story, the point at which it seems all is lost, and they’re about to give up, as if “giving up” were an option rather than an inevitability.
Sure enough, it happened within a few minutes of me checking the timestamp. Batman made a startling discovery about his legacy that shattered him and made it all look pointless.
Friends, this point in the story is called the “false defeat.”
It’s not the “final defeat,” it’s the “false defeat.” It may look from inside the story as though it is the final defeat, but it’s the false one.
Does it feel like your story has just about hit rock bottom, as if there’s nowhere to go and no point in going on?
Welcome to the middle of the story.
Now, in the movies, the middle of the story may only last for a few minutes of cinematic time, or for an episode or two, if it’s a long-form TV show. But the middle of the story, the false defeat, can last for seconds, for moments, for years, or even, in some stories, for decades.
Despair is tempting. Giving up is tempting. And sometimes you have to give up on something to find a better path. Sometimes, giving up on one hope or dream or plan or scheme is the way out of the false defeat, but that doesn’t mean that everything that came before was wasted. As a wise friend used to tell me, “Everything transfers.”
Even death can be a “false defeat.” It was for Jesus. For Jesus, death happened three days before resurrection, and in the Christian tradition, death precedes resurrection. Even death is not the end of the story.
I found a quote by Brazilian writer and journalist Fernando Sabino in a book by Max Lucado that said, “In the end, everything will be OK. If it’s not OK, it’s not yet the end.”
Or, as Paul put it, “God causes all things to work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to God’s purpose.” We can trust that God is good. We can trust that when we find ourselves at rock bottom, it is the middle of the story, not the end, because if it’s not working out OK, it’s not the end.
It’s the middle.
This article by Rev. David Schell originally appeared in the Herald-Palladium on October 7, 2023