How do you tell the story of your life?

The way we tell our stories tells a lot about the way we take in the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, the way we face the news of our lives. We tell more than our story when we tell our story; we tell how we are who we are in our story.

Are we tragic figures that suffer misfortune just when things had a chance to go our way? Or are we living a fairy tale that always finds a way to end well beyond moments of sadness that must come into every life?

In his 2006 book “The Redemptive Self,” Dan McAdams builds on a study of the life storytelling of 180 adults that underwent psychoanalysis. Researchers found that those with mood problems have many good memories, but these scenes are usually tainted by some dark detail. College graduation joy was spoiled by a friend’s cutting remark. The wedding party was wonderful until the best man collapsed from drink. A note of disappointment closes each narrative phrase.

By contrast, hopeful adults tend to see events in their life in reverse order, as linked by themes of redemption. They flunked sixth grade but met a wonderful counselor and made honor roll in seventh. They were laid low by divorce, only to meet a wonderful new partner.

How you tell your story drives how you live your story.

Eight-year old Ben was preparing to sing in his church choir musical when another boy accidentally elbowed him in the mouth, loosening a tooth. Ben fought off the pain to sing through the program, and then went home to his bathroom sink to finish off the job. The extracted tooth promptly fell down the drain before he could place it under his pillow for the tooth fairy.

Ben’s dutiful father tried to find the tooth in the drain trap but broke the pipe while searching for it. A plumber was called. Crawling under the house to fix the pipe, the plumber found two leaks, one that was dripping on a gas line and corroding a hole in the pipe. The blown gas pipe could have caused a catastrophic blow up.

The tooth lost for good, Ben’s sister Corrie offered him her souvenir fossilized shark tooth to substitute for his own under the pillow. Ben attached a note, in case the tooth fairy wasn’t fooled, explaining why this was all a good thing in the end. The tooth fairy bought it.

So let’s see: One piece of bad news after another turned into one piece of good news after another. But only a redemptive storytelling from a hopeful worldview could see it all that way, and could guide Ben to live that way.

The Bible is redemptive storytelling. Joseph’s jealous brothers sell him into slavery. He rises in the Egyptian government to a place where he can later save his family from famine. His summary to siblings: What you intended for evil, God intended for good. Jesus dies on a cross, seemingly ending his run as savior for his people. The resurrection proves that even death is too soon to end the story.

As long as you have breath, you have hope. And maybe even after that.