One of the more captivating and surprising books that I have read in the last eight years is Donald Miller’s best seller, Blue Like Jazz. I really enjoyed Miller’s style of writing and his fresh take on grace and faith. I have read two other of his books, Searching for God Knows What and Through Painted Deserts, yet neither of them reach the critical acclaim that Blue Like Jazz did. A Million Miles in a Thousand Years comes close to matching the rhythm and excitment of Jazz.
A quick synopsis of A Million Miles from the back cover:
“After writing a successful memoir, Donald Miller’s life stalled. During what should have been the height of his success, he found himself unwillingn to get out of bed, avoiding responsibility, even quiestioning the meaning of life. But when two movie producers proposed turning his memoir into a movie, he found himself launched into a new story filled with risk, possibility, beauty, and meaning.”
Miller’s encounter with the movie producers is the main thrust of the book as he learns what makes a great story. It would be a little disheartening to find that parts of your life are too boring for a movie and that they would end up of the editing room floor. So the author sets out to find out what makes a great story- and in turn what makes a great life.
Among the elements of a great story, Miller is aware of the role of conflict and tragedy in our lives- and the possibilities that arise out of both. When it comes to conflict, we spend so much time avoiding conflict that we rarely embrace how conflict (when handled properly) can mold and shape our character. Even in the midst of tragedy there can be a beautiful story. Miller tells the story of his friend Jim, and his wife Janice who ultimately dies of cancer. When Janice dies, there is a gathering after the funeral where her husband, Miller, and other friends gather to tell stories and each other’s comfort. Here Miller realizes that even in the midst of tragedy and great story, a great life can be lived.
I also appreciated that Miller is aware and communicates that our lives really never come to a resolve. We have grown up on stories where “everyone lived happily ever after,” and if we’re honest we know that doesn’t happen in real life. But we want it to. Instead, he says that we experience lots of little “resolutions” to the various scenes in our lives. Some of us even put our faith in Jesus thinking that this will make our life complete, or bring resolution to our problems. This doesn’t happen- although Jesus does offer us hope that one day we will be made complete. One day we will have resolution. One day, there will be no suffering, sickness, or death. Until then, we will not have perfectly put together lives. As Miller writes,
“When you stop expecting people to be perfect, you can like them for who they are. And when you stop expecting material possessions to complete you, you’d be surprised at how much pleasure you get in material possessions. And when you stop expecting God to end all your troubles, you’d be surprised at how much you like spending time with God.”
A Million Miles in a Thousand Years is an inspiring book on living a great life. Don Miller does a great job of capturing his own struggle to live a great life and being transparent on sharing it with the reader.