The Stories Which Make Us



Though my children are now 31 and 29, I can still hear echoes in my mind and heart of one of the things they said to me over and over again: “Daddy, tell me a story.”  Even at the end of a long day—sometimes especially at the end of a long day—there was nothing better than story-time with Amanda and Eliot.  Sometimes I read other people’s stories to them, and it was a delight to watch their eyes widen with anticipation as we traveled through the wardrobe into Narnia, through the looking-glass into wonderland, and out of the tornado-tossed house into Oz.  I enjoyed laughing with them over how deliciously hungry the Cookie Monster could be and how charmingly grouchy Oscar could be.  We bounced  and sang with Tigger and trudged-along and moped with Eeyore. 

As much as I enjoyed reading other people’s stories to them, my favorite thing to do was make-up stories in which they were the hero and heroine who saved the kingdom from an evil adversary, the adventurer who rocketed to other worlds, or the explorer who found a long-lost utopia.  Sometimes, I made them characters in fairy tales and Bible stories. 

They went into the woods with Little Red Riding Hood and managed to defeat the menacing wolf.  They learned how to find their way home by leaving a trail of bread crumbs with Hansel and Gretel.  They became a real boy and a real girl, not a puppet on a string, with Pinocchio.    

They walked with Jesus in fields of flowers, looked with him at the birds of the air, and heard him say that God takes care of flowers and birds, and children, so they didn’t need to be afraid. They shared their lunch with him so he could feed thousands.  They sat on Jesus’ lap, leaned their head on his chest, heard the heartbeat of God, and received his blessing; 

And, often, I told them about the days they were born and how much laughter and love they brought with them when they came.    

Poet Brian Doyle wrote

. . . Maybe children are made of stories more
Than they are of bone and hair and turkey sandwiches.
Maybe the way to think of a teenager is as a wry story
That's all verb and no object as yet. Maybe we guzzle
Forty stories with every breath we draw and they soak
Into us and flavor and thicken and spice the wild stew
We are. . . (From “Maybe the Future is a Story That Hates to Wait”)

I think all of us are made of stories.  We are and we become the stories we “guzzle with every breath we take.”  And the story which makes us who we truly are is the story of God revealed in Jesus—the story which the Bible tells and which the Holy Spirit breathes into our breath.  

The story of God is a collection of hundreds of other stories which God’s people have told each other for thousands of years.  For Christians (people of other faiths will read the Bible differently, of course), those stories, collected now in the library which we call the Bible, find their center and their fulfillment in Jesus.  All the stories in the Bible either tell us about the faith which shaped Jesus, or show us how desperately the world needs Jesus, or describe the life, teachings, death and resurrection of Jesus, or marvel at how, against steep odds and hard obstacles, the good news of Jesus made its way into the whole world.

There are other ways to read the Bible, of course: as a literary classic; it has generated many of the master plots and enduring imagery of Western literature.  As history, but it’s not history as modern historians practice it; the Bible’s writers mixed their memories of what happened with the meaning of what happened.  We can read the Bible as a collection of principles, proverbs, and aphorisms, and there is a great deal of insight about who we are and why we do what we do; but the Bible isn’t like a series of tweets or text messages: little snippets of inspiration, fragments of wisdom, and 140 characters worth of motivation. 

We ask the Bible to be a lot of things it isn’t.  The Bible isn’t a secret code to success;  it isn’t a set of predictions about the future, and it isn’t a collection of advice columns.  The Bible isn’t a book of science; it’s interested in who and why, more than it is in what and how.  The Bible isn’t an ancient version of Wikipedia, a warehouse of facts and information, where we go to get answers to all our questions.  In fact, the Bible raises at least as many questions as it answers. 

The Bible is the story of God made known, made close, made audible, and made visible in Jesus.  The Bible leads us to Jesus, who shares his life with us and makes us like him.