“If you keep telling the same sad small story, you will keep living the same sad small life.” —Jean Houston
This Sunday after the morning worship service, we return to a series that has become a Redeemer favorite: Encountering God through Story. If you’ve attended this series in COR@9 in the past, you know how powerful it can be to hear each other’s stories, and how the Spirit shows up to do something new when we gather to bear witness to God’s work in each other’s lives. This Sunday at noon in Rodine 124 (the first classroom down the hall on the right) we have the opportunity to hear from Bob Decker, Redeemer’s former treasurer and resident movie buff. Childcare will be provided, but lunch will not, so grab a snack from the hospitality table or bring something with you. We will wrap up our time no later than 1 p.m.
Whether you’ve attended the series in the past or are considering coming for the first time, you might be asking the question, “Why Story?” Why does it matter for me to know that person A’s mom died when she was young or that person B struggled with depression for years? Why do we feel that Story is significant enough to ask you to come after church when there are so many other things you could be doing?
On the one hand, “Story” is just another way to talk about giving a good ol’ fashioned testimony — telling about what God has done in our lives and what he is doing in the world. The Church has done this kind of story-telling from the very beginning — just check out the apostles’ big speeches in the book of Acts! But when we talk about Story, we’re not just talking about a conversion narrative in a narrow sense, as in when did I get “saved.” Some of us do have those sorts of stories, but for many of us, God’s transformative work in our lives has played out in more diffuse, less linear ways.
When we talk about Story, we’re talking about the long version — the many moments and seasons of conversion every disciple of Christ must go through. When someone shares their Story, we listen for how God has worked in that life uniquely, how that person has encountered God and been changed by Him in ways both particular and universal. In other words, through Story we come to see our lives as our witness to God’s power and grace. And in listening to another person tell his story, we gather as her community to affirm, “Yes, we bear witness to God’s work in your life and your unique gift to our community and to the world.” When we hear Story, we bear witness and have the opportunity to affirm and build up the one who shares, as well as to bring new insight from the Spirit to bear on that story.
In our cultural climate, story is everywhere, whether or not we are tuned into it. In movies, in tv, in advertisements, on the radio, in politics, in podcasts, in books, in schools — all utilize personal narratives for a purpose. In fact, it seems as if personal narrative is the primary form of persuasion that confronts us each day — a form of truth that almost cannot be argued with but only listened to and affirmed.
But as Christians, we know that we are not free to tell any story we wish about ourselves and world. We are part of a bigger Story that gives meaning, shape, and even content to our individual stories — the Story of how God created, redeemed, and is renewing our world. As followers of Christ, that larger Story always pushes us to ask, “are the stories we are telling true?” Does the story I tell about myself and about this world fit with the big Story?
We all have a story that we tell about who we are, what we’ve done, and what has happened to us along the way. As writer Patrick Rothfuss puts it, “It’s like everyone tells a story about themselves inside their own head. Always. All the time. That story makes you what you are. We build ourselves out of that story” (The Name of the Wind). If I say, “It is my fault that this bad thing happened to me,” that is a story — one that may or may not be true. If I say, “Everything I have I got because of my hard work,” that too is a story — one that may or may not be true. In a fallen world, our sense of our own story and how that fits into God’s Story is inevitably broken and twisted. Our challenge as Christian story-tellers is to seek for the stories we tell to and about ourselves (our identity) and others (our witness) to be renewed, remade, and understood in the light of God’s story. Only when we see ourselves and others the way God sees us will our stories be true.
So, to return to the question, “Why Story?” Your story matters, because you matter. You matter to God, and you matter to this community. As the quote at the beginning of this reflection puts it, “If you keep telling the same sad small story, you will keep living the same sad small life.” When we gather to hear and to tell our Stories, we seek God’s interpretation of our lives, through the Spirit working through our vulnerability and our community — so that we can live lives of purpose and wholeness and freedom the way God desires for us. That is the kind of life that points to Jesus. God has given and is giving you a story to tell — even if you don’t see it yet. Our prayer is that in this series, each of us will encounter God through and in our stories, and be changed.
~Deacon Amanda Holm Rosengren
Resources for further reflection:
- To Be Told: Know Your Story, Shape Your Future (Dan Allender)
- Storyline: Finding Your Subplot in God’s Story (Donald Miller)
- Rising Strong (Brene Brown)