It was my turn to teach the sixth graders at youth group last Monday night. To prepare, I braced myself and read over the lesson on the love of God. When it came time to pull the four students aside, I found myself facing a squirrelly bunch. We opened our Bibles to the right passage. They took turns reading. I asked some obvious questions. They wiggled and giggled, distracted by their surroundings, each other, themselves.
I switched tactics. “Let me tell you a story,” I said.
Immediately, they turned to face me, their eyes locked on mine as I launched into a (true) childhood story about a chocolate castle. They sat mesmerized until the very end, even when I drew parallels from my story to the Bible verses we had just read.
The power of story
What is it about the power of story that draws us in? Have you ever noticed that a church congregation collectively snaps to attention when the pastor shares a personal story? Have you ever marveled at Jesus’ ability to distill large and abstract concepts into a short story/parable?
For whatever reason, stories have the ability to inspire us, entertain us, and teach us. They are far more memorable than dry pontificating.
That’s what all stories want. They want to get out, get told, get heard. Otherwise, what’s the point of stories? They want to help little boys go to sleep. They want to help stubborn mamas fall in love with dads. They want to teach people things and make them laugh and cry.Laurie Frankel, from This is How it Always Is
What happened when I immersed myself in story
When I took a two month break from social media over the holidays, I expected to write a lot as a result of my extra free time. I thought that by the end, I would have pages upon pages of meaningful written work to show for my sabbatical. “Look how many books I can write when I’m not on Instagram,” I expected to say.
But quite the opposite happened. I hardly wrote a word. I found that my well of words and ideas had run dry. Instead of reaching for my pen, I reached for a book. At every spare moment, I was reading. I hadn’t realized how thirsty I was until I started drinking. By the end of the two months, I had read ten books. A personal record!
I kept a log of meaningful quotes I read in non-fiction books. I highlighted beautifully crafted sentences in the fiction books I read. I savored every story, chewing on its truth. And when January rolled around, I found that I had words to share again.
In a recent article from Relevant Magazine, Rick Cummings shared his thoughts on the power of story:
I learned that if I want to learn how to think well, act well, and live well – Christian or not – I should be reading stories. Stories, including and maybe especially fiction, teach us how to live well by opening our eyes to experiences we couldn’t otherwise have.Source
So, how can we leverage the power of story in our lives?
Get lost in a book. Open an e-book instead of a social media app when you find yourself reaching for your phone. Try reading in a different genre. Make a note of what stories stick with you, what themes resonate, what sentences stand out to you. Join a book club (or start one!) and marvel over the deep connections you can make with others by discussing stories.
Teach your children
Share stories from your own life in order to shape theirs. Our seven year old son recently got into some trouble while playing in our neighborhood. What he thought of as a harmless prank resulted in an upset neighbor he had to apologize to. When my husband talked to him about it afterwards, our son was in tears. But then Max told him about the time he played a funny prank in his high school class once by messing with his friend’s computer. As he shared the story about the consequences that ensued and what he learned as a result, our son’s tears dried up. He took comfort in knowing that his dad understood what he was going through.
Our personal stories have the power to guide, comfort, and shape our children in a much more meaningful way than a list of do’s and don’ts.
Share your story with others
Sharing our story with those around us is a way to invite others into our lives, a way to forge connections. Be brave and go first: this is a gift to the other person, paving the way for them to share too.
I remember when a new mom joined our MOPS group. When she shared about the recent loss of her two year old by way of introduction, another mom who’d been coming for a while worked up the courage to say “me too” and shared about the boy she’d lost a few days after birth. These two women formed an instant bond because one mom was brave in telling the hard part of her story. Sharing our stories is an act of hospitality.