Yesterday, I listened to a presentation about our local public library given by the new library director. It was enjoyable and informative. There was one particular statement he made that resonated with me.
Let me paraphrase it: humanity is deeply rooted in, interested in, and shaped by story.
And I believe he is absolutely correct. Why is it that humanity is drawn to things like books and movies and plays and musicals and magazines and social media? What do all of these things have in common? In some way they all tell a story to some degree. We are exposed to plots and themes, whether they are real-life or made-up. And people resonate with that.
Another word that could be used for “story” is “experiences.” Our experiences in life, individual ones within the whole of our lives, make up our overall story. Those experiences shape who we are and are becoming as people. Numerous research has been conducted on the cyclical effects of environment of nurture experienced as children. They form a baseline, a default mode, so to speak, for who we will become unless that baseline is intentionally broken.
When in conversations with people, when we respond to questions, we naturally share in story because we are sharing our experiences. For example, I have been asked how I came to live in Iowa. I then tell about my journey, which includes my experiences – my story, of growing up in Michigan, moving to Pennsylvania, and then finally coming to Iowa. It is often the case that when I want to illustrate an answer to a question, I will use an experience to do so.
Jesus often taught in stories. They are called parables. And he often also used actual things witnessed to teach something. Witnessing the widow that put just two small coins into the temple treasury after a very rich man put in a lot more in, but did so in small coins so it sounded like a huge amount comes to mind.
Everyone has a story, and everyone’s story is important. And it is important for us to listen to their stories, especially as followers of Jesus. God has a story; it’s found in the Bible. It’s His story of interacting with His creation. It’s His story of physically interacting with humanity in Jesus.
But God’s story didn’t stop at the end of the Bible. It is still ongoing. It continues as He lives in His adopted sons and daughters.
But I must admit, there are those who have given God’s story a plot twist, a change of theme. They have unfortunately reverted back to the plot as it existed during the early parts of the story, instead of continuing with the theme change God created in Jesus.
I think the advent of social media has increased the importance of story because the availability of information has increased astronomically. People, more than ever, I believe, are interested in sharing their own experiences with people and people are interested in reading about them, because stories impact us. I believe this to be the case because people are more interested in the “actual” (what has been a person’s experience and response regarding someone, some thing, or some situation) than they are in the “factual” (the facts of what occurred).
During much of the 20th century, the typical evangelism strategy of the church was preaching at people, declaring what was factual (and it was and still is true) about God and the gospel and the way to receive eternal life. That method worked because people, though still interested in story, put a higher value on the actual facts rather than the experience of people regarding those facts.
But that’s not reality today. There is a much higher value on story than on the facts, though the facts remain important.
So, what does that mean for the church and followers of Jesus? It’s not that the facts aren’t important, because they are, but the reality of those facts is demonstrated in our own experiences, our story, and that is what people want to experience. If there are no experiences of what we say is true to be experienced by another, then people are highly doubtful of the truth of what we say is true.
“You say God is a loving God and you have experienced His love? Then why is so much of what you say filled with hate or passive-aggressiveness or judgment or condemnation or condescension? No thank you, I don’t want to be like you.”
“You say God gives hope and peace through Jesus? Then why do you live just like everyone else with stress, worry, anxiety, and a sense of hopelessness?”
Here are three things followers of Jesus must do:
- Examine our own individual stories. What does how I actually live say about what I proclaim as factual in God’s story? What does that say to those around me when they experience my actual story?
- Be willing to take the time to “read” another person’s story. This means not “judging a book by its cover.” It means truly and honestly and genuinely diving into a person’s story, understanding the basis for that story.
- Finally, look for ways to connect God’s story as revealed in our stories to the story of the other so that the other’s story is impacted by God’s story. This is what I call the bridge.
Admittedly, this takes time, and is often quite messy, but that’s okay.
So, maybe you’ll think about this the next time you ask someone, “So, what’s your story?”