We hear a lot about stories and sometimes about the art of storytelling. That could very well be because it has been around since people populated the earth and developed language. Long before we read stories in books or even parchments using words in whatever language was ours, stories appeared as drawings or pictures found in caves in nearly every part of the world. They come to us now in every known medium and circle the globe nearly at the speed of light.
Stories help us make sense out of the world and classify the patterns of thought and experience into forms we can share with others while also helping us better understand ourselves. And stories are one of the things that seem to be loved by every human in every culture down through time. The stories we love most become ones that we recall long past the time we first heard or read them and our choices of them say a lot about us.
“The stories we choose to spend our lives with are a reflection of our values, and, therefore, our character.”Wayne Booth
I once would have believed that each of us have memories of sitting on someone’s lap or beside them hearing a story when we were very young, but I discovered that was not true when I was still working as a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor. As a lover of stories, I found that some who came to my office were helped by reading a story because of how the author chose words to give a glimpse of insight or understanding that was more effective than a simple explanation. I loved reading to our children and the children in my classroom when I was a teacher, so it was a natural tool to use in my office. But I could never have guessed a person well into adulthood often shared they had never had anyone read them a story.
Our language grows as we listen to stories and so does our awareness of the world we are born into and the possible place we have in it. The stories we hear fuel our imagination of other places and things and stir up dreams as well as adventures we want to chart. They give us a connection with the person reading it by the physical closeness to them as well as the inflection and expression they use as they read. Stories also seem to be stitched into our memories differently than words we hear in other ways. Even when we are older, many of us can recall a story we read or were told in our childhood.
Discovering that some who heard me read a portion of a story had never had that experience reinforced my desire to use that tool often. One of the favorites was You Are Special by Max Lucado, but there were others or portions of them also – The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams and The Ugly Duckling by Hans Christian Andersen among them.
The adults I read to did not feel as though I was treating them as children but enjoyed experiencing the story and the connection it created for them that had sometimes been absent in their own childhood experience.
Stories are powerful tools.
Jesus knew well the power of stories and anyone who has ever had even a small exposure to the Bible has heard a few of the stories that He told. But even his disciples were curious about why He told stories and in Matthew 13 we see the exchange between Him and them as they ask Him directly why He uses stories. His answer?
“You’ve been given insight into God’s kingdom. You know how it works. Not everybody has this gift, this insight; it hasn’t been given to them. Whenever someone has a ready heart for this, the insights and understandings flow freely. But if there is no readiness, any trace of receptivity soon disappears. That’s why I tell stories: to create readiness, to nudge the people toward a welcome awakening.”Matthew 13:11-13 (MSG)
His answer causes me to think that the stories not only stay in memories, but they can be used to plow up the ground of the person’s heart and mind to be able to receive the truth of the story and grow to gain insight into its meanings.
Perhaps that is also why we might be more likely to recall an illustration in a sermon on Sunday morning more than the specific points or scripture references that were used.
Stories are indeed powerful, and it reminds us of how vital it is to expose our children and ourselves to the very best stories because they will not only be remembered for a lifetime but also because they will help to shape the hearer’s view and understanding of themselves and the world they live in.
Stories can be used for great good beyond educating us but evil can also use them to mislead and deceive us, to persuade us to accept something we would not otherwise choose.
“We will be defined, as individuals and as a society, by the stories we choose to live and by those we value enough to pass on to the next generation. This is perhaps our ultimate responsibility as characters acting freely. What stories will we tell our children and why? What stories will they choose to tell in turn?”Daniel Taylor in Tell Me A Story