The other night I finally watched “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” with Ben Stiller. I didn’t see it when it came out a couple of years ago, and I’ve never read the book by James Thurber either. I genuinely had no expectations for the movie at the start.Two hours later as the credits rolled I was honestly fighting back tears, having discovered one of my new favorite movies. There are a lot of reasons why.
I’ve felt a lot like Walter for a lot of my life. Walter was a quiet, conscientious man who kept his head down, did his work, and never took any chances. He had a job as a physical negative handler for Life magazine. Over the years he worked for the magazine he had personally handled over a million photos, taken all over the world in beautiful places. But he’d never gone anywhere. His life was so dull, a rep from eHarmony.com called him (several times!) to try and help him make his profile more interesting.
Walter lived a small story. He never took any chances. He never stood up for himself. He never put himself out there to win the girl. But oh, how he wanted to. The first half of the movie is filled with funny sequences where Walter fantasizes about all the things he’d like to do but believes he never will. Watching Walter dream about a bigger life, only to be snapped back into his drab reality, really resonated with me. So many times in my life I’d hear about risk-takers and dreamers and be jealous, as I continued to coast along in the safe lane. I was convinced, like Walter, that I didn’t have what it takes to live a bigger life.
Part of this belief was my misunderstanding of what living a “bigger life” really meant. To live a big life, you have to go on “The Amazing Race,” learn to base jump, deliver a baby in the back of a cab, or have some other cocktail party-worthy story to tell. Right?
My favorite part of the movie came near the end. In an attempt to track down and recover a missing image’s negative for the last-ever print issue of Life, Walter impulsively goes to Iceland to find the photographer who took the picture. While on the trip he begins to take chances and really live. You’ve got to see the movie to appreciate how living a bigger story sort of sneaks up on him. It’s fun to watch.
When he finally (maybe two weeks later) finds Sean, the photographer who took the picture in question, Sean is sitting under a blanket on the side of a mountain waiting quietly for an elusive snow leopard to appear. He explains to Walter that even though the snow leopard is one of the most beautiful animals on the planet, it rarely makes an appearance. Then he says something that has stuck with me.
“Beautiful things don’t ask for attention.”
In that statement, I believe there’s a lot of insight into what leads to the settling for small stories versus the pursuit of a bigger life. I don’t believe that I ever really saw myself as “beautiful,” the way Sean described the snow leopard. I don’t think I ever believed that anyone (much less God) could look on my small life and find anything to admire or appreciate. I believed that I had to do more things or be more interesting in order to have worth. If I were really beautiful, I had to prove it.
Here’s the thing, though. Living a big story doesn’t necessarily mean flashy. I will probably never jump into or out of a helicopter. I will never go 40 MPH down a winding European road on a skateboard. I will never ride strapped to the top of a biplane, taking pictures of an erupting volcano. I will (hopefully) never accidentally spill blood on my photos while stitching up a gunshot wound in my own abdomen. And it doesn’t take me doing any of these things to live big.
Living a bigger story means believing and accepting who I am. I belong to a big God who has made me significant and beautiful. My significance and beauty are not things that I manufactured, and therefore are not things in which I should personally take pride. But they are real – God has said that they are. So I shouldn’t ignore or apologize for who I am, either. God has made me the way He has made me and He says it’s beautiful.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. -Psalm 130:14 (ESV)
Do I know it very well? I can. God isn’t hiding Himself. He wants me to know Him, and He wants me to know myself by trusting Him and living in the story He’s writing. It doesn’t have to be flashy. Beautiful things don’t ask for attention. They live their lives, getting the most out of every day and every experience.
Your life is beautiful. Whether it’s been easy or excruciatingly hard, whether your relationships are smooth or have been devastated by addiction & betrayal, whether you have supportive family & friends or feel all alone, your life is beautiful. You are made in the image of the Father and He says you matter. He has you on a journey of discovering Him and discovering yourself. Will you stay in the daydreams of the small story, or will you show up and let Him show you something bigger?
As the closing credits rolled and I continued to let what I’d just watched wash over me, I looked around. It just so happened that all three of our kids were watching the movie with me. That is an extremely rare occurrence these days. While I can still often count on Claire to watch movies with me, Katie is away at college and Matthew doesn’t usually have the interest or the attention span. But this time they were all with me. I thought about where life was in early 2009 and how I could have lost everything in my addiction. I looked at my kids now, home and healthy and part of a family that God has held together and healed, and it was easy to see. God has made beautiful things out of dust, and He is making all things new.
Watch this video of the song “Beautiful Things” by Gungor. This song is not in the movie, but I’ve been thinking about it since hearing Sean’s quote.
And then check out this one for “Stay Alive” by Jose Gonzalez. This is the song that played during the closing credits. By the way, the entire soundtrack from “Walter Mitty” is incredible…you should check it out.
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Greg Oliver was a worship pastor for 15 years before his secret addiction to pornography and sex was exposed in January of 2009. Since then he has been on a journey of recovery, coming to know God better and experiencing His grace like never before. He and his wife Stacey have experienced deep healing & restoration within their marriage, and through the ministry of Awaken they walk with individuals, couples, and ministry leaders to help them experience connection and healing in the midst of sexual brokenness.