Still working through Donald Miller‘s Storyline Conference.  This week is about conflict. Every storyteller’s greatest friend is conflict. Without conflict, a story cannot and will not be meaningful.

Yet, we avoid conflict… and we shouldn’t.

Here are three reasons why.

1) Conflict lends value to our ambitions. When it’s hard to get, we value it more. Do you remember that scene in Tommy Boy when Chris Farleyis so excited that he got a “D”? Yeah. He was really happy. More happy than an honor student getting an “A”. Sometimes, it’s harder for people who have it easy to be happy. Donald uses mountain climbing. Somebody who climbs a mountain will value the view more than somebody who gets dropped off by a helicopter. I had a hard time agreeing with this one, because climbing a mountain is pretty much free. I’d have to work many hours to pay for the helicopter. And the helicopter ride (if I didn’t get sick) might be pretty awesome. But, you see, the conflict for me would be less the physical obstacles and more of the financial obstacles — the chances of my affording a helicopter ride are slimmer than reaching the summit of a mountain (at least the day climbs around here). Still, I guess I’d still prefer the mountain climbing. The helicopter would be nice … once. I’ve gotten off the topic — the bigger the obstacle, the more value we receive from the accomplishment. Good news for those of us who have lots of obstacles? Lots of potential value.

2) Conflict creates a bond between people. Ok. I know I’m steeped in middle grade fiction now, but that’s because I’m writing some. Hermione, Harry, and Ron become extremely close as they fight Voldemort and all their adolescent fears together. Legolas, Gimli, and Aragorn are against each other at first, but closest of friends by the end. Military platoons. Championship teams. Rock bands. Well, some of them at least. The people who form the lawsuit in Erin Brokovich — at least the movie showed it that way.  Stand By Me. Engaging in conflict with someone will cause greater unity and deeper friendships than if the conflict were absent.

A warning — deeper friendships form if we recognize and name the common enemy. When conflict arrives and it doesn’t have a romantic twist, we, like many rock bands, just break up. Conflict divides, in this case, and it makes for a terrible story. I cried for days after watching The Way We Were. Perhaps because I was pregnant. But still, watching a marriage dissipate is one of the saddest stories ever. Tender is the Night was the same way. I avoid those. In these cases, your story only serves as a bad example — instructive but sad.

If we’re going to face conflict, face it with someone. Don’t blame each other. Don’t turn on each other. We are not sharks or dogs. We are humans. Dig deep. Find what is good and true and loyal. Grasp it. Share it.

3) Conflict builds character. In order to grow, to change, I have to face hard times. Conflict probes our inward character to discover whether I have courage. What am I made of? If it were easy, could I be sure of myself? Satan brings this argument up to God about Job: it’s easy to be good when everything is going his way. Take it away and he’ll curse you. Supremely successful, wonderful family, plenty to eat and drink, respect in the town — what else can a man ask for? But when it’s all gone, what will Job do and say? That’s the premise. That’s why I love Flannery O’Connor stories. She always surprises the main character completely and the reader gets to see what he’s made of. It’s kind of uncomfortable, but instructive. How would we act if one of our nice little platitudes didn’t work out the way we liked?

Conflict is painful. But how we face it makes all the difference.

I read a Facebook post today from a friend who is fighting a brain tumor. Happily married with two little sons, she is fighting to live. She shares tough moments. Usually, she shares the poignant, sweet moments. She remembers to thank people for little things. Everyday, she adds to her story — with enemies like CANCER and DEATH breathing down her neck she lives her victories by every moment she chooses to live and not give in to despair. Perhaps she’s already felt and lived far more of those great heart-pounding moments than those who live long lives in safety and ennui. Those dear, sweet moments sharpened by impending loss cannot be contrived any other way than by the path she is walking, must walk. As C.S. Lewis once wrote to Sheldon Vanauken, who lost his sweet wife and best friend — they are “severe mercies.” Today, she shared a blog from a woman whose husband has Lou Gehrig’s disease. Let me share it with you too. Read “Accommodations” and admire a life lived bravely.

Both tragedies and comedies are deep, beautiful stories that instruct and awaken our deepest desires and fears and loves. They cause us to commiserate, experience joy, admire — they cause us to feel. While living our stories, remember both comedies and tragedies experience conflict. We can’t know how our story is going to turn out. A comedy is just a tragedy redeemed. What can we do but hope redemption is around the corner if we persevere? And what can we do but persevere in the face of hopelessness in our tragedies? That is, if we are heroes.

Whether my story is a comedy or tragedy, I can be a hero. I can persevere, hope against hope, and love with everything I have until the last breath.

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