The way we humans think – that we think at all – is a marvelous thing. There are, of course, different parts of the brain – the mind’s amazing instrument – which perform different functions in the collection, storage, and transfer of information. When the mind uses that information, it does so (in large part) by storying.
Humans use stories to categorize and contextualize information – information that would be practically useless without the God-given ability to make stories. Storying is an essential part of what it means to be human. When God “formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life …” (Genesis 2:7), he became a living storyteller.
The way we process marital bliss and marital problems, vacations, flat tires, and personal conflicts is through stories. This means that if we categorize and contextualize information – including marriage problems and bad bosses – using the wrong stories, we will go wrong. A grateful and happy life will be simply impossible.
An illustration might help. A jet crash-lands on an island in the South Pacific. The survivors scramble off the plane and stand huddled together at a safe distance. And then someone shouts, “There are blankets, clothing, and food in the cargo hold!” As soon as the significance of that dawns on people, everyone tries to get to get to the provisions first, afraid of not getting their share. People are stuffing bread and pretzels and meat in their shirts and trying to get ashore without their fellow castaways knowing they have provisions. Everyone is afraid of starving.
Disgusted by the riot on the beach, a husband and wife decide to explore the island. What they find just over the first hill surprises them: there are cows and chickens everywhere – must have been brought by a shipwrecked vessel a decade ago or more. There are fruit trees and pineapples – the valley is filled with them. There are even cases of dried food rations that must have been left behind when those first castaways were rescued.
Instead of trying to stuff a chicken and a pineapple into their shirts, they return to the beach shouting the good news to everyone and sharing the things they’ve brought back. Why the difference? The one group is telling themselves a story of deprivation and hunger while the other is telling themselves a story of provision and plenty.
Now, one of the things to notice is that the panic the people on the beach felt was real even though the story they told themselves was false. That’s how the stories we tell ourselves work. They affect the way we feel and think. But it is even more than that: the stories are the way we think, at least in large part.
In these last few years of political turmoil and civil unrest, not to mention the calamity of Covid-19, the story many people are telling themselves is one of chaos, loss, and death. How will that affect the way they feel and think? The answer is obvious. They will experience feelings of anxiety, anger, and bewilderment.
Christians believe that their story – having been written into God’s story in Christ – is not one of calamity, loss, and death but of blessing, provision, and eternal life. This doesn’t mean that Christians don’t have troubles – a glance at St. Paul’s laundry list of hardships in 2 Corinthians 12 will convince anyone otherwise – but it does mean that whatever happens in our part of the story is being written into a bigger, better, story. It’s the best story ever, by the best author ever, with the best ending ever.
It is because St. Paul’s understood this that he instructed people to “rejoice always.” This will seem like outrageous advice to anyone who is oblivious to the larger context which Paul assumes. But if his assumption is correct, then his instruction is nothing short of life-giving.
It is time to re-story our lives. Instead of sickness, broken relationships, and political discords, we need to find a stable axis around which our lives can revolve. For Christians, this will mean interpreting and telling their story as part of the adventurous love story God is telling through Christ.
(First published by Gannett.)