“Can we read this one before bedtime?”
My nephew presents me with a book about a young fish who strays away from the safety of the reef, gets caught in a fishing net, taken away from his home and is eventually found by his father who travels the ocean in a relentless search for his lost son. The story is a firm favourite with both of us and, as I reflect on it now, is imbued with more than a little biblical allegory. I treasure these intimate times reading stories together with my niece, nephews and godchildren. I love seeing their imaginations come to life as they enter into the plot and relate to the characters. But in watching how children absorb stories, how they identify with the hero or heroine and apply the plot lines to their own lives, I have been struck by the power of story to shape our lives – for better or worse.
Humans are surrounded by stories – cultural narratives that offer meaning and purpose and can play a part in the construction of our identity. The stories we believe and see ourselves as living in affect the way we make sense of the world. They can have a powerful influence on our priorities and on how we live, relate to others and respond to events. Have we been told that life is about having a successful career, or that it’s all about self-actualisation and self-fulfillment? Are we defined by the story of a traumatic event? Are we disappointed life didn’t work out according to the story we were told as a child? Do we believe life’s about gritting our teeth and enduring, or is our narrative one of chaos where we are unsure what story we fit into?
In my own journey, I’m learning to recognise the false narratives I’ve lived by, or that I’ve wrongly believed God to have authored. As I do so, I’m intentionally choosing to repent of them and to replace them with a new story, a true story, a love story into which I am welcomed. The gospel story is both a greater narrative which gives our lives meaning and a story that invites a response: a foundational story to build our lives on. As I come into alignment with God’s story and begin to change the way I think, through confession and the ‘metanoia’ of repentance, I start to be able to be more God-focused than self-focused and to see things more as He sees them. As I learn to live within God’s meta-narrative of creation, the fall, redemption and restoration, I begin to find my place and to experience abundant life.
Our stories are intrinsically entwined with who we are and who we are becoming. Paul Young, author of The Shack, goes as far as to say we are stories, and stories that will all be told. As such, stories are a powerful way of coming to understand and know each other and God better. They can cut through religion, debate and dogma; as CS Lewis put it, stories have a way of stealing past our watchful dragons. Stories are meant to be shared and we are made to journey together. Some of the most precious and encouraging evenings I have spent with friends are those when we have taken the time to share our testimonies. Doing so has brought down masks, led us into greater intimacy and allowed us to see the beauty in each other. Sharing what Jesus has done in our lives glorifies Him and can be prophetic of what He wants to do in others: for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy (Rev 19:10). As I became a Christian, hearing stories of how Jesus had brought healing and transformation in people’s lives helped me see how the same could be true for me and to make sense of all that had happened in my life so far. To quote the film Walk the Line: “you can’t help nobody if you can’t tell them the right story.”
Where the journey to become fully alive, free and whole can often seem slow, hearing how God has and is walking with others provides perspective and offers a glimpse of the bigger picture. It also offers assurance that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion (Phil 1:6). Remembering that we are part of God’s greater narrative and sharing testimonies of what Jesus has done bears witness to the truth that we are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory (2 Cor 3:18). Jesus invites us into an ongoing journey and as we continue to partner with God, hope and adventure lie in the knowledge that our stories are still being written…
Kat – Team member