Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Why I Love Stories

I was five months old the day I gave my mother her first gray hair. Sure, I had already kept her on bed-rest for most of her pregnancy, been the reason for her first C-section, and pitched off a table and landed on my head before then, but that day was different. That was when my mom walked in the room and I said, “Hi.”
Since that time I have loved words – their sound, their meaning, how they fit together and become something more than themselves. I was the two-year-old making my mom write down what happened when we went on a walk that day. I was the eleven-year-old who took a week (maybe two) to read Lord of the Rings. I am now the senior in high school who will read three novels in almost as many hours and then explain the plot of all three to anyone who happens to be around. (Usually no one, because I finished the last one at 2am. Too bad.)
I think the reason that I, and everyone else I know, enjoy stories, is because it is how we were created – to know that there is an Author with a plot for our lives. Story-telling is an unsurpassed approach to sharing truth. Although some people may not recognize the importance of telling stories or doubt their own ability to tell a story, it is one of the easiest ways to communicate with others. We remember what we learn through stories, and they can be used to illustrate and explain difficult subjects. God Himself speaks to us through stories in the Bible. A skill that almost everyone can learn, story-telling is a way that we can glorify God. Even simple stories can teach and bless others.
Those who hear a story will remember it much better than those who hear an explanation of facts or theories. I have learned a great number of historical dates and facts and eventually forgotten them. What I remember about history are things like Ethan Allan waking the British commander and announcing that the fort was surrounded, or Teddy Roosevelt learning to be a cowboy and losing his glasses, because these were part of a story. I had to read Across Five Aprils before I could remember the dates of the Civil War.
Not only are stories memorable, they can be used to illustrate intangible things. My mom once used a story about a little boy and his neighbor’s dog to explain false positives and true negatives in a statistics class. It helped her learn it, and she got an A. Any message can be part of a story, but the story itself needs to stand alone. A book by one of my favorite authors, Regina Doman, deals with homosexuality. Knowing people who struggled with that issue, she determined to give them a tool with which to fight it. She didn’t write an essay on “The Bible Says Homosexuality is bad”. She wrote a novel about a young Catholic man who doubted himself, doubted his manhood, and learned not to doubt his God. The book never preached; it simply told the story of a boy following after God who, though wounded by the evil of the world, was willing to fight for the God who called him. It was beautiful.
Stories can also make difficult concepts easier to understand. This is why Jesus taught in parables. To those who hated Him, they were merely foolish stories. To his disciples, however, they explained the truths of God’s kingdom. Jesus Christ used stories to illustrate truths because it worked. Had He merely said, “Even though you have rejected God and a relationship with Him, He still loves you and wants you to come back to Him,” would we have understood it quite so well? Instead, we have the well-known story of the Prodigal Son to help us see our need and God’s forgiveness. King David was able to see his sin only after a prophet explained his adultery using a story about a little lamb. Throughout both the Old and New Testaments, our Creator teaches us through stories, which suggests that we learn better with stories.
It is easier to share truth with stories as well, because stories are so effective and influential. Because of this, stories surround us, and every day we are bombarded with the stories in movies, books, and magazines, and on the radio, TV, and internet. Advertisers, lobbyists, advocates, and even lawyers use stories to make their point. Psychological studies have shown that when people’s emotions are engaged, as in a story, their behavior changes more than when they are simply given information or data. A story can affect those who hear it long after it is over.
Because stories are so effective and their messages can often be subtle, some people object to them. Recently I got some new novels from the library. They were exciting and even brilliantly written, but after breathlessly finishing them, I realized that the main characters were pantheistic lying thieves. In the context of the story they were also delightfully kind and funny. Stories like these do not show a Biblical view of the world; however, even from them I was able to learn things that helped me understand others and could benefit me as a Christian. As long as we are aware that others often wish to influence us with their stories, we will not be as vulnerable to any negative influences in them.
Certain people feel that they cannot tell stories because they are not gifted story-tellers. However, novel-writing has been called a craft instead of an art. As a craft, it can be learned, and I think the same goes for story-telling. The stories can be simple. The other day I told someone about Kim Meeder and how she and her husband created Crystal Peaks Ranch out of an old open pit mine, a bunch of half dead trees that they got for free, and a herd of abused horses. Today their ranch is a haven where, as their website says, “broken children, horses, and families could find hope within the healing circle of unconditional love.” When I finished, he looked at me and said, “That just made my whole day, hearing about something like that.” Just telling about a small answer to prayer could help another person more than one might imagine. It does not need to take much thought or preparation. Nor do the stories need an obvious moral or point. In fact, it is better if they do not, since no one likes to be “preached at”, even through stories.
Of course, it is true that when and how stories are told is important. Those who object to story-telling probably have someone in the back of their mind who feels obligated to pull out, “When I was in graduate school…” every time they think of it. This is a misuse of storytelling, though, not a reason to dislike it. It is possible to learn to incorporate stories into conversations in a fun and interesting way.
Certain people might think other methods of communicating truth more important. This is true in some circumstances. There is a time and a place for everything, and sometimes there is nothing appropriate to say, let alone a story that needs to be told. Stories can, however, be used in most situations.
Besides the fact that there are certain ways and times for story-telling, it is also true that some people love stories more than others. This does not mean, however, that stories are not useful for all kinds of people. There are audiences for both O. Henry and for Leo Tolstoy. Those who are “cut-to-the-point” type of people can simply use a different technique. Even those who appreciate using statistics and graphs when learning can still benefit from stories. In fact, I have seen news article entitled “Every Graph Tells a Story” and “How to Tell a Story with Your Data.” A well placed story can help anyone.
When properly used, story-telling has been shown to make an effective impression on listeners. Telling stories is the perfect way to communicate truth in a memorable, uncomplicated, and easy-to-learn way. Story-telling is a craft that almost everyone can learn, and even the simplest of stories can brighten someone’s day. Many people are telling stories the way they see the world, with chaos and evil exalted. We can counter this by taking people’s love for stories and showing them how God meant it to be used. Simply by using stories in our conversations with others, we can share what God has been teaching us, explain what He has done for us, and encourage people in their walk with Him, communicating truth in the best of ways.
Yes, that was long. And yes, it was an essay I wrote for school. And, to be perfectly honest, I was more like 8 months old when I broke my head. But I had fun writing it and needed something to post, so.... ;D If you actually read it all and have any thoughts on story-telling, please let me know! :)

5 thoughts shared:

Lady Blanche Rose said...

Oh, I loved it! Such awesome thoughts. I think one really cool thing about story telling is that so many different mediums can be used...words, painting, dancing, etc. Someone might be a wonderful storyteller and just not realize it. And I really like this passage: " is how we were created – to know that there is an Author with a plot for our lives. Story-telling is an unsurpassed approach to sharing truth."

Can do mom said...

Thought provoking post. I agree that we remember things better when they are included in a story. When we identify with a character it touches our hearts.

You are a gifted writer and I commend you!

Kelsey said...

Have you read "The Atonement Child" by Francine Rivers? It is one of my top fav books and a great example of a beautiful story with a REASON (abortion).
Great essay/article--you are a good writer! :)

<3, Kelsey :o)

Katherine said...

I hope you're comments are moderated, so that you'll read this ;) I read your profile and we sound alike :) Anyhow, I came to respond to your question about believing in Jesus , yet not being a Christian. I know it sounds crazy, let me explain.
If you want to name my faith, it would be called Messianic Judiasm, but there are so many forms of it, I have to clarify.
As Messianic Jews, we believe in all of the New Testament, and the truth therein :) That is where we are like our Christian brothers and sisters. Where we are unlike though, is that we believe that the law of the Old Testament, known to us and all of Judiasm as the Torah, is still valid, and the Jesus did not abolish it. For example, we keep the Jewish Sabbath, the festivals, such as Passover.
I am willing to answer questions and discuss, but not to debate things. A good idea, if you are interested, is to go to the labels on my sidebar and see what you find on Judiasm- for example, I have a label entitled "Holy Days" , where you can hopefully understand more what I mean by festivals. :) I hope this helps,

Katherine (nice to meet another Katherine, though its my middle name).

Katherine Sophia said...

I hadn't completely thought that whole part out, Lady Blanche Rose, but you're right! So many things can be used... Very cool. I'm glad you liked reading it!
Thank you Can Do Mom and Kelsey! I have not read "The Atonement Child", I'll have to try to find it!


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