Think of your favorite movie moment, that one tear-jerker scene guaranteed to tug at your heartstrings. Maybe it’s the end of The Return of the King, when Sam hoists Frodo on his shoulders and says: “I can’t carry it for you—but I can carry you!” Maybe it’s the end of The Avengers: Endgame, as the heroes assemble to fight for their lives amid wreckage and ruin. 

Whatever movie moment makes you cry, chances are, you’re enjoying it a lot more than the characters are. While you feel a rush of endorphins and a swell of hope, the character you’re watching may be suffering through their worst moment. I mean, think about Samwise again—he’s exhausted, starving, climbing a mountain literally named MOUNT DOOM, as his best friend slowly devolves into a sunken version of himself. To put things lightly, this moment in his story is not an enjoyable one.

From an outsider’s perspective, however, the beauty of the moment is crystal clear. Our most glorious moments don’t usually feel glorious. In fact, they often feel horrible. That’s how life is.

Maybe I’m stating the obvious. But sometimes it’s worth reminding ourselves of obvious things. One of my friends does this for me consistently, and it’s honestly pretty annoying. I’ll be talking about all my failures, or the ways I’m struggling to follow Jesus, and he’ll look at me with a grin and say, “I know this probably isn’t helpful, but everything you’re saying sounds so great. God is in this!”

It’s always a shock. I resist the urge to double-check: Did you hear what I just said? But it’s also encouraging, in a weird way. Through my friend’s eyes, I see my own story with a renewed perspective. His generous seeing of my story helps me imagine that there’s gold I have not noticed until now.

In Michael D. O’Brien’s masterful novel, Father Elijah, a priest named Billy complains about his lot in life. While Father Elijah’s story seems remarkable, full of saintly endeavors, Billy keeps succumbing to trite temptations like overeating and drinking too much wine. He wishes he could face dragons, but he feels weak and idiotic. Father Elijah counsels him like this:

“You want to be a saint, Billy. But you want to be a saint on your own terms. You want glorious victories with your sword; most of all, you want victories over your personal weaknesses and faults.”

“What’s wrong with that?”

 “It is a good desire, but it can also be a kind of idealism masking as pride.”

“That’s too complicated for me.”

“Who is the saint? The one who obeys God in his weakness, or the one who demands to have every admirable quality before he sets forth on his quest? […] Aren’t all of us romantics who want our armor to shine and our swords to flash and our bella figura to draw many admiring glances as we make battle for God?”

 Billy feels the sting of those words—and so do I. I not only want to live with bravery and love, but I also want to feel like a person who is brave and loving. And I’d like to be noticed along the way.

But life isn’t like that. The people who follow God most closely probably don’t feel saintly most of the time. Consider the apostles, whose hard work in the years after Pentecost was opposed at every step. While the book of Acts chronicles miracles and great works of salvation, it also records stupid arguments, engrained prejudice, years of thankless work, and dark days in prison cells.

Our stories are appreciated in hindsight. The moments in which you are most Christlike might feel like the moments where you are most inept or uncomfortable. They may even feel like abject failures.

I tell you this because in those moments it’s tempting to compare our stories to others. If only we could be called upon to serve in some other way, or to sacrifice something else, or to show love like that other person shows love—then life would be so much easier! (The funny thing is, someone out there is probably looking wistfully at your life, even as you wish for another person’s story.)

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has listened to another person’s testimony and felt a pang of jealousy. A friend of mine will be sharing their story, and secretly I’ll be thinking, How come God showed up in such obvious ways for them? Why is my story so boring? Where is the dramatic revelation in my story?

When we wish for a different story, we overlook the gift of our own lives. God is not meeting us in someone else’s story, and He won’t give us grace for someone else’s path. He is not meeting us in our idealized lives. Even Paul was reminded of this after asking for a burden to be taken away when he was told, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9a).

God is committed to meeting each of us on the road we are currently walking, as painful or painfully mundane as it may feel.

 We are invited to keep presenting every moment to Jesus, as something just as precious as the worship song you sang on Sunday or the highlight reel of your exotic mission trip. This moment, right now, is the one where you once again present yourself as a living sacrifice. God is in it. You can be too.