I think about our stories, about how varied they are. They have strange parts. Do you ever think about something that happened in your life and think, “That was so weird. Why did that happen?” And then I think about how similar all our stories are. How they all include some joy and some questions and alternate between pain and hope fairly regularly. I think about how when we share our stories, like Frederick Buechner says, we share a bit of each others stories too.
Stories help us share. They open us up. When you tell a story, your story, you are letting someone see a different way of being, of interpreting, of loving, and of failing. You are letting someone in to a new way of seeing. You are aiding and abetting the growth of empathy. That’s why we are told that to build empathy in children, we are to read them stories. With lots of characters, with lots of ideas. When we tell our stories we let light into places we might not even remember all that well, creating a place where the redemption of those stories can happen. When we share our stories, we create communities of people who can hold those stories; who, perhaps only because they are more than one, can lift that story up and into the light and hold onto it for us. And when we tell our story, there is a chance it might breathe life into someone else’s–it might in-spire them. And I wonder if thats the point.
Our stories are powerful because they are particular. They are specific. There is nothing vague about our stories. It’s the details that make then real and make us able to enter into them. All the bits of our story.
Think of Jesus’ story. A particular place, a particular time. A specific mother, family, cousins. A real town unlike any other town before and since because those exact people were only in that town at that time. Everything about the life of Jesus is a detail. He did not merely speak platitudes on hilltops to teach us. He told stories. He lived out stories. He talked to real people about their lives. He was a life and he was a story. And somehow this is how God knew to reveal his deep presence to us. Through one man’s life, through a story.
I led a retreat this spring where we looked at stories, at our own stories and how they were folded into God’s Big story. Not only is God in the details of our lives but we are also in the details of His Big Life. In one exercise, we brainstormed conversations or even arguments we’ve had that stood out to us from our past. And then we looked at what we recalled in those few minutes and tried to see how that small story fit in our big story. And maybe, I hope, there was a glimpse of how that bit of our each of our stories fit into God’s Big story.
When I did the exercise myself, I was struck by how this one conversation I had with a certain politician years ago kept coming to mind. A well-known former MP and Leader of the Opposition, was teaching a course at my grad school on faith and politics. Not about how to be a Christian and stand up for “Christian”-y things but about the balance of your own convictions and the mandate you have been given by the people you represent. All sorts of great conversations about democracy happened that week—it was a decent class. But what I was remembering was that I made an office hours appointment to go and speak with him. Other people wanted a chance to talk to him too, I suppose it was a cool opportunity—I mean when I was waiting for my turn, the guy in front of me was getting his picture taken with him.
I wasn’t sure what I wanted to say. We went into his little temporary office and he asked what he could do for me. First I blurted out, “I didn’t vote for you.” And then, after he laughed, probably rolling his eyes on the inside, I said, “Can you tell me about Jesus? Why do you follow Jesus?” I remember going red as I said it. But as I remember it, and this was about 11 years ago now, he seemed to relax. And then he talked about Jesus; very candidly he spoke about his faith. He talked about some questions he had and I explained a bit more that I still was having a hard time being a Christian. I told him I had a lot of questions too. And he talked about how he kept finding his faith being about more than answers—it was on a different level—You could have all your questions answered or none of them, but the essence of your soul and faith would still be there. And he told me about his wife and some of the things she struggled with and that I should talk to her! And then he asked if he could pray for me. And he, this middle aged, former politician, who had been displayed on my tv and radio for years, prayed for Jesus to open my eyes to where He was and to be with me. Then he smiled at me and I left the office.
I think about why this story is sticking out to me right now. Why this detail? It’s a little bit beautiful, for one thing. It’s a kind story. It’s a story about finding something true in an unlikely encounter, finding true things in people that aren’t like you. It was one of the first times I experienced a man who has or had a lot of power taking me seriously, seriously enough to be honest with me about his own story of himself. Its a story of being surprised. And, moreover, it’s a story about that something More that this gentleman was speaking of. That More that lets me know my heart is safe now, even as the questions still swirl around me. It’s a story about God’s big story—about how in sometimes wildly different people, He still speaks to the very core of us. In all these wildly different stories there lies that kernel of his image, that bit of truth that we let out every time we tell a story, or our story. And God’s story is that he has made us to image Him, in our being, in our details, and in our story’s development. And that through this image-bearing, He brings about His good and growing purposes on this earth.
I’m very thankful for that brief conversation. It is a part of my story in small ways I can see and maybe in other ways I am not even aware of. And it is this way with all the stories in our lives. All our encounters are invitations; all our stories are doorways through which we can walk and, beyond all understanding, know a bit of God. All the little things we notice. All the connections we make. The good stuff, and the hard stuff.
When you tell your story, all the parts, there is power there. Because you own it, you mine it like a diamond, and you release it to the world. And its not the greatness of how we do it that brings the power. Telling our stories is powerful because at their core, any true story is the story of us all and the story of Him with His hands in the clay.
Jesus, you, who uses those things that make no sense to bring about yourself. You, who uses those things that should not work to make known your immense self, your love, your power and givenness. You, who holds the world–You, who lifts up out of the grain of the world like a fingerprint. You use these bits of story to tell something grand and far beyond what we could tell. You use a life to give light to dozens of others. You breathe in and amongst us in ways we could never know. And yet we do know them—more than we know the back of our hand, we know them. Thank you for always having time to tell us just one more story and making it a good one.