Stories have great power. Stories can make us cry. Stories can make us cheer. Stories can build community. Stories can express more that the mere facts can tell. The most important thing about a story is its truth, not its facts. That’s why the Bible is full of stories.
The ability to hear and to tell stories seems to be an essential part of what it means to be human.
That’s why false stories are so harmful, don’t you think? They misrepresent the person, they distort the truth.
The family story that you are the “problem” person when you are not. Your culture’s story that “We are superior”, even when that’s not true. Your school’s story that you are a “failure”, no matter how much you succeed. Those stories are harmful.
False stories are harmful even, when we want desperately for the false story to be true.
“You are the smartest one.” “You are the bravest one.” “You are the prettiest one.” “You’re going to be fine.”
False stories are harmful even when they tell a partial truth.
“You can succeed if you try hard” “You can be anything you want to be.” ” Positive thinking will change your life.”
At times is seems impossible to sort all this out. There are so many competing stories. How do we discern truth from partial truth? How do we separate the harmful from wishful thinking? This task is for people, families and communities. How do we find our way?
I want to suggest four things as starting points. I’m not known as a wise giver of advise, so these are offered merely as practices that have helped me. I would like you to improve this list. (And by the way, while this is in list form for clarity’s sake, in my experience there is nothing linear or orderly about this process. It’s much more like a circle, a spiral, a web, or a big ball of yarn requiring patience to untangle.)
1. Prayer. persistent, questioning, listening, asking prayer. After that, listen some more.
2. Read the story. But not to find the “answer”. Read to let the Biblical story seep into our bones. Reading the story is one way we discover the many ways God is at work in the world. The story is full of clues and hints that help us develop the eyes to see and the ears to hear.
3. Talk to others. Tell them your story. Listen when they tell you what you want to hear. Listen harder when they tell you what you don’t want to hear.
4. Reflect on your experience and the experience of others. Its been said that “Those who cannot remember the past are condemed to repeat it.” (George Santanya). We should learn from our mistakes but also don’t forget to learn from what went right.
Here’s where things really start to get tangled. In my experience, all these things are best done privately as an individual and also as part of a trusted community. So prayer is both personal and communal. Reading is both personal and communal. Reflection on experience is both personal and communal. Its back and forth, up and down, over and under, until the Way emerges. As they say, it’s a process not an event.
There is simply something collaborative about the life of faith. We bring our story. Others bring their stories. Our stories touch and connect, pull and tug. And all these stories find their home in the true story of God.
I’d like to know, what do you think?