Speaking Something into Nothing

Donald Miller

One of my favorite stories was told to me by my friend Bob Goff. It’s a true story and it’s about a parade.

Bob lives in San Diego, and when his three children were young they were sitting around on New Years Day, bored. And Bob thought it was a crime anybody should be bored on New Years Day. (Let’s face it, unless you are a football fan, there’s not a whole lot to do.)

Bob asked the kids what they could do to honor the fact God gave them a day. And eventually Bob and his wife Maria, and their children, came up with the idea of a parade. So they set out to have a parade on their street. They went house to house telling their neighbors they were going to have a parade. And the neighbors must have indulged the children by saying they would watch. But the Goff’s had a better idea than just a parade people would watch. They decided nobody could watch the parade. They could only be in the parade.

And so a few neighbors joined in. The small parade marched from the end of the street to the Goff house, where they had a small cookout, if I remember correctly.

Now, more than ten years later, the New Years Day Parade is a tradition. Hundreds of people join in (nobody watches, everybody marches) and the day has not been boring since. Not only has it not been boring for the Goff family, it hasn’t been boring for hundreds of neighbors as well.

Each year the parade selects a Grand Marshal. The year Bob told me about the parade, the Grand Marshal was the mailman, who marched in front of the crowd throwing letters into the air. And each year a New-Years Day Queen is selected, sometimes from the local retirement center (the women in the picture below look way too young.) And the Queen gives a speech, and there is an annual Queen’s brunch at the San Diego Yacht Club. 

People on Bob’s street know each other better because of the parade. The women in the Queen’s court feel honored, too. And the children grow up thinking New Years Day is a special celebration honoring a day, the miracle of a day.

It strikes me as I retell the story how wonderful it is God gave us time. By that I mean He has made us characters in a grand epic. The epic is meaningful, but there are dark forces trying to convince us it is meaningless, worth nothing, and therefore boring. What I like about Bob’s story is that he and his family decided to fight back.

Bob’s story is one of the more delightful, inspiring stories I’ve heard. He and his family were bored, but they didn’t complain, they spoke something into nothing, created unity where there was separation, created fun where there was boredom.

I often find myself thinking complaints about life, about business or politics or relationships. Anymore, though, when I complain, I am starting to realize that, in part, every ounce of nothingness in life is my fault, because I always have the ability to speak something into it, to create a different reality. A theory that life is meaningless is just an excuse not to try. It’s safe. It’s risk free. It may end in ruin, but it is a ruin we can control, and we know with certainty what will happen. We will be bored. Or worse.

I’m reading Victor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning, in which he recounts his experience in the concentration camps where he lost his mother and father and his wife. He argues that what kept people alive in spirit was their belief that life expected something of them, that life needed them to die with dignity, to play a role that would teach the world the important lesson of honor, and also of evil.

“We had to learn ourselves and, furthermore, we had to teach the despairing men, that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but that what life expected from us.”

I think what we need this year is a bit of courage to stand up to the dark forces that lie about life, that say life has no meaning, no beauty and no hope. There is always meaning, even in the darkest of hours. We can always speak something into the nothingness.

Here are some pics my friend Lindsey took from this year’s parade. Happy New Year everybody. Have fun speaking something into the nothingness, and redeeming the days!

Bob Goff and friend and balloons.

The New Years Day Parade

Queens of the New Years Day Parade

Lindsey Goff, a friend from the neighborhood and lots of balloons.

Donald Miller

Donald Miller

Donald Miller has been telling his story for more than a decade, now he wants to help you tell yours. He’s helped over 1,000 companies clarify their message through the StoryBrand Workshops. For an introduction to what he’s doing now, check out the 5 Minute Marketing Makeover.