I grew up hearing stories of my ancestors. Some of those stories were of people who lived long enough ago that their stories were legends of people I never knew. Some of those stories involved people I knew very well—my grandparents, aunts, uncles and parents. These stories often taught values and lessons. My family cherishes these stories of faith, perseverance, kindness and humility.
Stories can be a powerful tool to teach others about our values and to learn those values ourselves. All cultures have stories they tell, and by analyzing a culture’s stories we learn about what that culture values and teaches each other.
Jesus was another master storyteller. He often taught His followers by telling stories, or parables. These parables had power beyond most stories because of their depth of meaning. While many people understood these stories to be merely a narrative describing an event, there were others who saw beyond the story to identify the principles Jesus was actually teaching.
Jesus acknowledged these layers of meaning in the parable of the sower, particularly when He told His apostles that they could know the mysteries of God through these parables. Those mysteries are available to those willing to dig deep enough to find the value of the parables He told.
We often create stories for our own lives—what we see happening, what our ideal lives would look like, and what we would like to achieve. Adam Miller recently reflected on the value of stories in a podcast for the Maxwell Institute.
Miller said, “Stories are an inevitable part of being a human being.” He went on to caution about the trap of valuing a story more than what the story is trying to teach or describe: “We end up preferring the stories we want our lives to tell over the actual life that God is giving us, and in that sense preferring [our] stories about [our lives] to the life that God is actually giving is a way of rejecting God and distancing [ourselves] from Him.”
If we take Miller’s words to heart, we face two problems: 1) If we fail to see the layers of meaning in a story we cherish, how will we learn the values the story teaches? and 2) If we cherish the story we want to create more than the life (or story) God wants us to live, we risk rejecting God and distancing ourselves from His plan for us.
These problems provide a paradoxical dilemma for us. We need to value our stories enough to understand the meaning we glean from them while also putting our stories at arm’s length so we don’t cherish the story more than what the story teaches us or what God wants our story to be.
While working out the balance between these two problems is one we all must work out individually with God, I offer two suggestions in the meantime:
1. Cherish stories of the past and their lessons. The stories we tell of past experiences provide opportunities for learning and growth. What can we learn from past experiences of our own and others? How can these stories help us be better people?
2. Allow our present and future stories to be fluid. Our society values goals and accomplishment, but sometimes we need to allow our goals to change, especially if those goals don’t line up with God’s story for us.
Our families and culture find value and meaning in our stories, and discovery awaits us as we craft the stories God wants for us.