I love seeing in scripture how much Jesus enjoyed telling stories. He told them often, using them to engage his audience and help them to see God’s kingdom in a new way. Stories help us find our identity and take up our role in God’s kingdom. We remember the big stories that shape our lives. As a mom, I can remember my little 3 year old boy constantly asking me to read the Doctor Seuss’ book What Was I Scared Of. My son begged me to read it using my scariest voice and then when I read it to him, he would pretend to shiver with fear. As a grown man he still giggles with the delight of a little boy when talking about that story.
Reading the story gave my little boy a chance to sit in my lap, laugh at all the silly voices, and hear the familiar refrains from the comforting assurance of my embrace. Yet my son's favorite story was also a chance to see the world differently. In this little story book my son experienced a different world and got to see life from a different perspective. This Dr. Seuss story was a reminder to set aside fear and see the humanity of those who seemed different. Stories help us gain a broader perspective as we see the world from the perspectives of various authors, views that differ from the one we routinely experience.
The stories our families tell anchor us and become a narrative that grounds us. Hearing the stories of how our family came to be helps us find our identity within the community that has formed us. My husband likes to retell our children stories about their infancy. “When you were little, you fit in the crook of my arm from here to here.” After a while our kids would repeat the same stories back to him word for word. My grandma and her siblings told stories of surviving an F5 tornado. That traumatic day became a major marker of time in every other story, which were either “before the tornado" or "after the tornado.” That narrative shaped my family. We learn the stories that have shaped our family and community. They grant us identity and help us to make sense of the confusing world around us.
God calls us to have a sense of curiosity about one another and spend time learning the real stories of one another’s lived experiences. We gain a wider perspective when we take the time to listen to the stories of others and learn how they have experienced the world. Our perspective grows as we step empathetically into the lives of others and begin to carry their burdens as God has called us to do.
Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others (Philippians 2:4).
Our parents are the guides that God gives us here on earth to point us to our Heavenly Father. In creation we meet the Creator and come to marvel at all that God has made. As we invite our children into the biblical story of sin and redemption, they come to know God as our perfect parent who loves and nurtures us not matter what.
As we learn God’s story we come to discover our own place in it. We explore what our identity is as God’s child and learn who God calls us to live. Not all of us understand from a young age the passions and gifts that God has placed in our lives. Most of us are learning as we go through life’s experiences, discovering more opportunities for service than we could ever imagine in our youth. We discover in time the roles and responsibilities that God has set before us.
It is not unusual for us to see our story only through the lens that we have experienced and heard, but God calls us to step into the experience of others. I remember walking with my teenage son through our town one day and discovering the oddity of dead fish on the sidewalk. We were both a bit shocked and we wondered about how these fish came to be discarded on our neighborhood walkway. As we walked we began making up stories about how these fish arrived on the walkway. Each of us created a taller tale more obscure than the one before as we wondered about the situation and thought through all the remote possibilities that led to fish on a downtown sidewalk. It was a silly game but curiosity and exploring the stories of others is important.
When we hear stories we discover the pain that others have experienced and are invited to bear witness to it. God invites us to be agents of grace in this world overturning systems of injustice that are harming image bearers of God. Stories move us to step in and care for the hurts that others are experiencing.
Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2).
We all have our own story to tell. No one else has our same story. We are all individuals walking our own unique path and using a distinct set of gifts that is not the same as anyone else. Our lives are a gift and an invitation to share our unique gifting and experiences with others. Sharing our story of God's faithfulness and leading in our lives points others to God’s kingdom being established.
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra