What were some of your favorite childhood stories? A few of my favorites were The Velveteen Rabbit, The Secret Garden, and Heidi. But my all time favorite story was a book named My Side of the Mountain, a story in which the main character is a 12 year old boy named Sam who lives by himself in a hollowed out tree in the Catskill Mountains. Sam left home because he was unhappy with the life that he was living in a New York apartment crowded with eight siblings. He longed for something different. Looking back I see that this book was probably a strange choice for most young girls, but not for me. I was a bit of a tom boy. I liked Barbie dolls and playing beauty shop, but I LOVED Lincoln Logs, Legos and Fishing. It seemed to me that boys got to have more fun than girls. So it comes as no surprise that I identified with the storybook character of Sam. I entered into Sam’s adventures as if they were my own. When I discovered that this book had also been my husband’s childhood favorite, I think that I fell in love with him right then and there.
Who doesn’t love a good story, but its importance and impact in our lives goes way beyond the entertainment value. The longer I live, the more I see how true this is. Everybody has a story and everybody wants to somehow be a part of a bigger story. But not everybody is in love with the story that they live in. This is where my story overlaps with my husband Randy’s. As children we both yearned to be like the boy Sam who had escaped the life that he was living, instead Sam was living an adventure of his own choosing. When I realized that My Side of the Mountain was also Randy’s favorite book, I found a very deep common ground with him. It was as if our lives together began back in that hollowed out tree on the side of the mountain. It’s not surprising that we became best friends.
Most people enjoy a good story, but I don’t know many people who take pleasure in reading technical manuals or listening to academic lectures. Story is a very effective way of learning and communicating knowledge. Generally speaking, story is the way that people process information; it’s the way that we think. As intelligent human beings we have amassed a huge body of knowledge, but all of the knowledge in the world doesn’t do a bit of good until it somehow impacts our life in a personal way. Story has a uniquely wonderful way of packaging information so that it engages our mind and our emotions. When we identify with some aspect of the story, whether it’s a character, an emotion, a mystery or an adventure, we are drawn into the narrative and taught at a heart level. Knowledge that is understood at a heart level has the effect of helping us to understand otherwise hidden truths, including truth about ourselves, our situations, and even about other people.
I can’t help but think that this is one of the reasons why God included so many stories in the Bible. Instead of reading like an academic manual trying to pound and push information into our brains, the Bible stories draw us into the narrative, helping to drive the message deep into our hearts where it can have some real impact. To name but a few of these stories, my mind immediately goes to the Psalmist David and the plethora of his stories that I could choose from. Stories like his victory against the giant Goliath while he was yet still a scrawny teenager. Haven’t we all faced giants of some kind in our lives? Wouldn’t we like to discover what it was about David that helped him to have the courage to face this giant, yet alone the ability to defeat him? And then there’s the story about David lusting after Bathsheba and eventually murdering her husband to cover up the fact that she was pregnant with his child… yet God called David a “man after His own heart!!!” Wow, most of us aren’t guilty of murder but haven’t we all found ourselves in need of forgiveness of one kind or another and don’t we all want to grasp the lifeline of hope found in this story?
The best teachers are those who refine and utilize the art of storytelling. Jesus himself was an excellent story teller. He often taught in parables (simple stories that illustrate moral and/or spiritual lessons.) You may or may not consider yourself to be a good teacher, or even a good story teller, but for sure you have a story to tell. The first chapter of your story began before you were even born. And every single day of your life a new page is being added. Some pages will be filled with beautiful pictures of new beginnings, overflowing happiness, and fulfilled dreams. Other pages will reveal times of loss, uncertainty, doubt and pain.
All of the elements of your story, the good, the bad and the ugly, have the potential to help and impact the lives of others. But when your story is being lived in the context of God’s bigger story, the help you have to offer has eternal value. As you allow others to see God through the lens of your life, your story becomes a valuable tool to bring God’s kingdom, His love and hope to the people around you.
Ever since the idea of story has been working its way into my thought processes, I have begun to see and hear incredible God infused stories everywhere I look. It’s kind of like when you buy a new car, and before that particular moment in time you didn’t see very many cars of that make and model, and then once you own one for yourself, you start seeing the car everywhere you look. My friend, there are stories all around you. The grumpy lady at the grocery store has a story, the CEO where you work has a story, the pierced-up teenager sitting next to you on the bus has a story…. You have a story and your story has the potential for great impact when you yield it to the purposes of God.
Like a fingerprint, your life story is unique to you. What you have to offer others cannot be duplicated. You don’t need to be super intelligent and your words don’t have to be eloquent. All you need to be is willing and all you need to be is you. If you welcome God to use your story, I am confident that He will bring you and your story to the very people who need to hear it. I can’t begin to count the multitude of stories that God has used to encourage me in my daily life. Just last week I was encouraged greatly by a story that I happened to encounter when scanning Insight for Living’s June E-News. I opened the E-News and clicked on a link that took me to a video interview between Colleen Swindoll Thompson and a woman named Jennifer Shaw. Jennifer was being interviewed about a particularly difficult time when it felt like her life was spinning out of control and she was down in the bottom of a pit. She was open and honest about what happened during this time. Before I knew it, I was captivated by the raw truth and the beautiful hope of God in her story. God used Jennifer’s story to bring a healing touch to an old wound in my heart. If you want to hear Jennifer’s story, you will find a link to her web page at the bottom of my blog.
Allow me just a few more words to wrap this up. Whether or not sharing your story comes easy, I would encourage you to ask God for a heart of wisdom as to what to share, when to share, and with whom to share your story. And if you are one of those people who would rather open your mouth to eat dirt than to speak, you might start by asking God to give you a willing heart to share your story. In God’s Word we are told that, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven… a time to be silent and a time to speak (Eccl 3:1-8.)” Today we’ve talked about when it’s time to speak, in the next blog article we’ll talk about the times when it is best to remain silent. But even when you are silent, always be willing and ready to speak when God gives you a green light. Someone needs to hear the story that only you can tell. P.S. The only story that doesn’t have value is the one that goes untold!