Tell a New Story
I once found myself in a silly discussion about what makes humans different than animals.
One person argued that it was because animals don’t use tools and humans do. Another asserted it was because humans communicate with each other. And another said, “It is because we are the only animals that teach each other.”
Eventually, a sage among us (who happened to be a published novelist) landed on something that made a lot more sense. She said, “We are the animals that tell stories.” She then declared, “In fact, I believe story is the single most powerful aspect of human existence. I can write something here, and a person halfway around the world will cry when they read it. Stories are what make us human.”
The Power of Story
As we kicked around her premise, we talked about how people light up when they tell their stories, whether they are describing their own experiences, or stories they have heard from loved ones that have touched them deeply. The same is true when a person talks about a best-selling novel they have just read, or an amazing movie they have just seen.
What’s even more extraordinary is that when we listen to their stories, we can feel the same things that they are feeling, have the same insights that they have seen, and even believe what they have described will come to pass. A part of us comes alive when we hear the stories of others and tell our own stories as well.
Telling the Better Story
As we begin a new year, I’ve been thinking a lot about the power of the stories we tell to ourselves and others. Sometimes we get caught up in stories that have no basis in reality, or certainly no basis in the values we aspire to.
On a personal level, we can begin to believe things about ourselves that others have said about us. We can construct stories based on how people have treated us in the past. We may even repeat a particular story to ourselves on a day-to-day basis, ones with themes that are quite limiting, even destructive: “I am not creative.” “I have a terrible sense of direction.” “I will never be successful.”
We become like the stories we tell ourselves, even if they weren’t originally true. The only way to overcome them is to tell another story, a better one.
As I have said before, it is no easy assignment to be a church leader these days, especially of a denomination whose organization was built for a world that no longer exists. Church leaders can do everything that they used to do, and even do it even better than they did in the past, and still find themselves slipping farther away from meaningful connection with their neighbors and cities.
With this dynamic in mind, it is tempting to tell ourselves that we can’t change. We may think things like, “We don’t have the energy or numbers to offer anything life-giving to this community.” “We will never connect with millennials.” “There is no one to help us turn our situation around.”
But to tell such stories, however human it is to do so, is also to deny the power of the God who holds the whole world in his hands, knows the beginning from the end, and counts every hair on our heads. When we find ourselves listening to such stories, or telling them ourselves, we reinforce a narrative that contradicts the most important story of them all.
The Treasure of Great Price
This is where Christians have a treasure of great price. Christ gives us an alternative narrative that can even look death in the face and say, “You have no power over me.” With Spirit-directed imaginations, we can claim a new story for every narrative that is not from God.
As Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5, “17If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” Although Paul was writing specifically about a Christian’s call to heal broken relationships, I believe he would say the same thing about other narratives that God desires to make new.
In my last article [Adventing: Waiting and Acting in Hope], I told the story of our daughter’s birth. I described how a surgical team needed to “rub her awake,” and how, likewise, our role as Christians, and certainly as a community of congregations, is to “rub the world awake” to the love of God in Christ.
We embrace this role not because it is easy or because it will bring us riches, but because we believe God’s alternative narrative for the world is a story worth telling, indeed, worth living and dying for.
Therefore, as we begin a new year together, it is good to be reminded to guard ourselves from stories that discredit God’s power to transform and make new, and, instead, tell God’s story that always and forever ends in blessing.
With you on the journey,