Finish the Story Differently: Moving Beyond the Pain of Difficult Circumstances

I hope everyone had a great Father’s Day! I know I did as I’ve been blessed with a wonderful father, stepfather, and father-in-law. I’ve also been blessed with an absolutely amazing wife, two wonderful mothers, and four wonderful children. I know, however, this is not the case for everyone. Not everyone in the world today has been fortunate enough to have a great father, or in many cases, any father at all. For many, Father’s Day can bring more pain and unsettling than celebration. This past Sunday I talked about the power of fathers and illustrated the sermon from one of my favorite movies, Saving Mr. Banks. The movie persuasively communicates the power fathers have to define us, and ultimately, how we can finish our stories differently and not be trapped in the prison of unforgiveness and pain that life invariably brings.

First let me give you a little background on the story of Saving Mr. Banks. One of the top films of 2013, it starred Academy Award winning actor Tom Hanks as Walt Disney and Emma Thompson as renowned author P.L. Travers. For twenty years, Walt Disney had tried unsuccessfully to secure the film rights to Traver’s Mary Poppinsstories, having promised his daughters that he would produce a film based on them. Finally, in 1961, the financially strapped author reluctantly agrees to travel from her home in London to Los Angeles to collaborate with Disney on the project. Her working relationship with Disney and his team is puzzlingly difficult and contentious from the beginning. As Disney says to Travers at one point in the film, “You expected me to disappoint you so you made sure I did. I think life disappoints you Ms. Travers.” Nothing could be closer to the truth as we’ll soon find out.

Travers particularly objects to how one of the main characters George Banks, the estranged father of the children, is depicted in the script insisting that he is neither cruel nor cold. Gradually the team begins to grasp how deeply personal the Mary Poppins stories are to Ms. Travers and how many of the characters were inspired by her own heart-breaking childhood and disappointing relationship with her father, Travers Goff, who tragically died as a result of his alcoholism at age 42. Travers soon discovers that Walt Disney intends to break his promise to her and use animation in the film, something she vehemently opposes as she thinks this trivializes the story. This sets her over the edge and she confronts Disney and then returns home to London calling off the project. To her surprise Walt Disney shows up at her home later that night asking to have one final conversation with her.

In one of the richest scenes in any movie I’ve seen, Walt Disney tells Ms. Travers that he too has his own Mr. Banks to save, only his had a mustache. In a moment of deep vulnerability and transparency he shares about his own painful past with his father Elias Disney who owned a newspaper delivery route that employed a young Walt and his brother Roy. Both boys had to work during the cold winters in Kansas City, Missouri, delivering one thousand papers in the morning and again in the evening. When Walt didn’t live up to his father’s standards, he would get beaten. Walt conveys that he loves his father but has many days where he looks back and is unable to move beyond the pain and hurt of that part of his life. “Rare is the day when I don’t think about that 8-year-old boy delivering newspapers in the snow and old Elias Disney with that strap in his fist and I’m just so tired Ms. Travers. Tired of remembering it that way. Aren’t you tired too Ms. Travers? We all have our sad tales, but don’t you want to finish the story differently, to let it all go and not have a life dictated by the past? It’s not the children Mary Poppins comes to save, it’s the father, it’s your father Travers Goff.” Disney goes on to paint a different picture for P.L. Travers, one where her father and the past are redeemed. Listen to what he says, “Forgiveness Ms. Travers is what I learned from your books. Give her to me Ms. Travers. Trust me with your precious Mary Poppins. I won’t disappoint you. I swear every time a person walks into a movie house they will see George Banks being saved. They will love him and his kids, they will wring their hands when he loses his job, and when he flies that kite…Oh, they will rejoice, they will sing! In movie houses all over the world in the eyes of my kids and other kids, of mothers and fathers of generations to come, George Banks will be honored, George Banks will be redeemed, George Banks and all he stands for will be saved. This is what we storytellers do, we restore order with imagination. We instill hope again and again and again.”

Finish the story differently. Instill hope again and again and again. What a powerful concept. Walt Disney was able to do it. He was able to move beyond the painful circumstances of his life and not let it imprison him and define him. He wrote a different story. Isn’t this the gospel message in a nutshell? The original father Adam messed up and brought brokenness into his family and every family since. From that time forward every father has failed in one way or another. But the good news is that it doesn’t have to be the final statement. We have a heavenly father who loves us passionately and perfectly who can come in and redeem every situation, redeem every failure, and redeem every relationship! Walt Disney had a gift to bring hope through storytelling but God has the ultimate story and the ultimate ability to bring hope and redemption. Because of who God is and what He has done in and through His son, Jesus, we can finish our stories differently! Hallelujah!

Meditate on these powerful verses of scripture in Galatians 4:1-7, “Now I say that the heir, as long as he is a child, does not differ at all from a slave, though he is master of all, but is under guardians and stewards until the time appointed by the father. Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world. But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.”

Praise God that He allows us to write a different story. Love and appreciate all of you!

Dave and April