Tell me another story when you were little…. When I was a little girl, on Saturday mornings, I would crawl into my mother’s bed and ask her to tell me a story about when she was a little girl. Nestled in her warm embrace, I heard stories about war and perseverance, Nazi occupation and resilience, scarcity and resourcefulness. This world was very different than the one I grew up in, and through these stories, I learned many things. I learned how my grandmother could make a meal from two potatoes and an onion. I heard how chocolate from an American soldier was both scary and a treat. And I understood that the women in my family were able to endure much hardship and still emerge strong, loving, and hopeful. Many years later, when I wrestled with a hardship of my own, I drew courage from these stories, realizing that they had become part of my story.
Several years ago, The Atlantic magazine published an article entitled “What Kids Learn From Hearing Family Stories.“* Along with many developmental benefits such as a better understanding of other people’s thoughts and emotions, higher self-esteem, and stronger self-concepts, children and youth “hear and tell stories of their family to understand who they are and from whence they came.” Family stories have great impact on our lives and who we become. As the author points out, stories only cost us our time, memories, and creativity. But these family stories “can inspire us, protect us, and bind us to others.”
Family stories impact our identity.
The Bible is full of stories. There are stories of kings and queens, ordinary people and a spectacular God, friendship and love, rape and hatred. And don’t forget one of my favorites – a story of a wicked man and his talking donkey (Numbers 22). The overarching story of the Bible is the gospel – an amazing story of God’s profound love for his children and his plan to rescue and restore them through Jesus Christ. In the church, we tell and retell these stories to be reminded of our history and where we came from. These stories shape our understanding of who we are and who we can become. These stories remind us that whatever I am experiencing right now – whether it is of great joy or deep pain – is not the whole story but only part of it.
If family stories impact our personal identity, then telling the faith family’s gospel story impacts our spiritual identity as well. As The Atlantic encourages us, telling family stories only takes time, the intention to remember, and maybe a sprinkle of creativity to keep it fun. The question I am pondering is this: Do we understand the profound power of story in our faith journeys? Are we intentionally making the time to tell and retell our gospel family stories to each other, so that we will be inspired, protected and woven tightly into our community of faith? I pray that we are.
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