Tell Me a Story
For a moment consider our world without stories. What would be the result? There would be the immediate consequence to communicated information and knowledge. It would be flat, detail-less, unfeeling, and bland. Only the pertinent parts necessary for survival would be expressed. So much history would be lost. Countless tales of families, cultures, and events would go unheard. Traditions would lose their appeal, if not disappear entirely. Languages would be nothing more than hard analytic information conduits, akin to the communication style of robots.
Secondly, if we existed sans stories, we would miss the complexity of our world. We would see what is in front of us, but we would fail to explore the underneath, the unseen beauty of each other, our lives, and the nature around us. Stories, art as a whole really, are the deeper expressions of our world. C.S. Lewis writes, “that is one of the functions of art: to present what the narrow and desperately practical perspectives of real life exclude.” Without stories we don’t see past the surface of reality. Stories allow us to see the three-dimensional truth of reality, to know the facts but also the emotional and hopeful wonders of our universe.
Stories are everywhere in our lives. Either our true histories or tales of our imagination, so much of what we do, say, and think can be seen through the lens of a story. This is no small issue. Stories reveal truth, with many of the truths hidden pieces that must be uncovered; sometimes the truth is really about the one telling the story. The value of stories can be seen in our love for them too. You would be hard-pressed to find the person who never wanted to hear a story, and even more so, I doubt you could find the person whose life was not shaped in some way by stories they told and heard. The sharing of stories is not meaningless.
Make no mistake, when I talk about stories, I am not talking about just what can be read in books. In addition to what comes out of our imaginations, I am referring to the stories we tell each other about our days, our work, our relationships, our lives. You don’t need a publisher and editor to decide if your story is worth telling, and most of the stories of our lives don’t reside on paper. Stories are in media like movies and television but also video games, songs, theater, lectures, and, of course, our everyday conversations. They can be shared in person or on video, with a single person or with a whole room full of people. We can learn from them, use them as an escape, see further into an issue, be entertained by them, and sometimes understand reality and truth a little better than we did.
And we all have stories. Even if you don’t think yourself a storyteller, you still have a story to tell, and it is important for you to tell your story. From the mundane exposition of your day to the pivotal, far-sweeping narratives of your life’s most intense moments, you should tell your story. Maybe you have a story to tell from your imagination. Tell it. To someone, anyone, who might listen.
There is a depth to storytelling that we cannot miss though. C.S. Lewis said, “history is a story written by the finger of God”. God is the Master Storyteller. It’s a part of who he is. God is telling us a fantastic and true story in history, and he has told us some of the most amazing stories in the Bible. What life he has brought to people through these stories! And so many of the written stories that we have today began as oral traditions, passed from one generation to the next. In speaking of his commands and deeds, God told his people to remember them and teach them to their children. God had done mighty and powerful things in their lives, and he commanded them to tell others of these stories, that the speaker would remember and the hearer would come to know.
Think of Jesus and his use of stories, what we normally call parables. Matthew writes:
“Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables, he did not say anything to them without using a parable. So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet: ‘I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world.’” (Matthew 13:34-35)
We don’t know exactly why Jesus chose to speak in parables, but if there was a better way to explain his message, don’t you think he would have done it that way? The use of stories was the best way. There are multiple ways to convey information and explain something, but stories, true stories told from the human heart and soul, have power. Something in stories connects to us and helps us see something that we couldn’t see without it. As the author Flannery O’Connor wrote: “a story is a way to say something that can’t be said any other way”.
Stories have always been shared orally, through fireside chats or lectures or the modern coffee date with a good friend. Then came the printed word to share and preserve our stories and hear from others that we may never have had contact with. Printed books revolutionized our world and storytelling. Unfortunately, now though, people don’t read like they used to for numerous reasons that most of us can’t control. And it is reported that there are 900 million people worldwide who are illiterate . So if I want someone to know something, I may not be able to just refer him or her to a book. They need me to tell them. Many people will never read the Bible, but they may listen to you tell a story from the Bible. Even more likely, they might listen to you tell a story from your life. Some people will only be reached with the reality and truth of God and his Kingdom by hearing a story. So we need to be ready to tell those stories, to tell our stories.
Now, the stories of our lives are not biblical stories. I made the comparison of Jesus’ parables and our stories, but Jesus speaks something far deeper and divine in his use of the parables. Nothing can take the place of a story from the Bible. But we all know the power of hearing someone’s testimony, of hearing how God has been working in his or her life. It’s not biblical, but it’s true, and we pray that the Holy Spirit would work through these stories. Whatever it may be, tell your story. As God’s creations, we must tell stories to remind ourselves of his great and wonderful deeds. As the body of Christ, we must encourage, rejoice with, and mourn with each other through our stories. As disciples of Christ, we must use our stories to teach the lost of Christ’s way and God’s Kingdom.
I don’t pretend that sharing the stories of our lives is always easy. It can cause us to be vulnerable, to trust others with something profoundly personal. That is scary, and there are sometimes when I won’t share my own stories. But if a story is important and impactful to me, then there is a chance it might be important and impactful to someone else. Your heartache may be the encouragement someone else with the same heartache needs. Your struggle may bring someone else to share his or hers. Your joy may be a light for someone in a dark place or just a joy to share with another. Your story is not a salvation for someone, but we can pray God would use it in that person’s life, and I believe God, the Master Storyteller, wants to use it.
I’ll end with another quote from Flannery O’Connor. She writes, “there is something in us, as storytellers and as listeners to stories, that demands the redemptive act, that demands that what falls at least be offered the chance to be restored”. We all have stories like this to tell so let’s tell our redemption and restoration stories so that we can satisfy our listeners and glorify our God.