“Stories make us more alive, more human, more courageous, more loving.”
— Madeleine L’Engle
I’ve been thinking a lot about the power of story lately. This past weekend my husband and I attended a theological conference on the writings of C.S. Lewis, entitled “Longing for a More Beautiful Story.” C.S. Lewis scholars from the University of Oxford, Wheaton College, and Boston College spoke on different aspects of Lewis’ faith and writing. I’m an unabashed C.S. Lewis nerd, so this conference was a dream. I bought too many books, drank too much coffee, and came home with a happy heart.
Good stories speak to the heart and point us toward truth. They have a particular ability to draw us into an experience. They don’t just impart information. They create reality. Everyone has a story, and no two stories are alike. Your story, indeed your life, is like a beautiful, fragile snowflake. It is completely unique. No other has ever been or will ever be quite like it.
Think of your favorite story. Why do you love it? When you think about it, what emotions rise to the surface? Maybe it evokes a sense of comfort or wonder. Perhaps it makes you feel less alone. Maybe it gives you hope. This is the power of story.
Growing up, my favorite story was Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. It captured my imagination and made me believe there is more to reality than we can see. I understand now that it instilled in me a sense of what C.S. Lewis called “longing”— a desire to know the source of wonder and beauty.
Jesus used story to express deep truths and help us understand the nature of his kingdom. One can’t draw a map or provide a blueprint of something spiritual and infinite. But one can paint a picture with words. The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field…(Matthew 13:44) The kingdom of God is like a man scattering seed on the ground…(Mark 4:26)
Jesus continually speaks in similes and parables not merely because he is trying to impart information but because he is aiming for the heart. Take a look at the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13. Right in the middle of the parable, we find this interesting exchange between Jesus and his disciples:
The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?”
He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. This is why I speak to them in parables:
“Though seeing, they do not see;
though hearing, they do not hear or understand.
In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:
“‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
For this people’s heart has become calloused;
they hardly hear with their ears,
and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them.’
You see, perceiving God’s kingdom is not a matter of intellect. The things of God often defy human reason and can only truly be understood by the heart. This is something the Pharisees could not understand because they had allowed their hearts to become hard. Thus, Jesus speaks to hearts that are open, soft enough to receive. Our stories can do the same.
I am reminded of a wonderful quote from Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince. “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eyes.” I am certain I did not understand the profound truth of this quote when I first encountered it in high school. At the time I thought only of romantic love, hoping that one day someone would look beyond my perceived physical and social shortcomings and see the “real” me. But as an adult with a few decades in the review mirror, I can begin to understand the different dimensions of this statement. Our hearts matter in ways we often forget; our hearts are God’s primary focus.
Every human life has a story, and we are not the sole author of our story, although we certainly have the choice to write parts of our narrative. If we try to write those parts alone, we risk feeling disconnected from the true Author. It’s also important to remember that the Author doesn’t just write the story and leave. He inserts himself in our stories—and what joy he brings!
How has God inserted himself in your story? How can you share that story with others to encourage and inspire them? Allowing ourselves to share our stories with vulnerability and authenticity promotes heart connection, allowing God’s love to flow. What we share from the heart can be received by the heart.
C.S. Lewis was masterful in what and how he shared. Although intellectually robust, the heart is never absent from his theological writing. And his fictional writings, in some ways not unlike Jesus’ parables, seem to transcend human reason without being disconnected from it. Through the use of imagination, Lewis opens our hearts to longing and wonder, which is precisely the place where God enters.
My husband and I, along with our dear friend Janie, just recorded a new episode of our What If We Loved? podcast. It is a further conversation about story and what it means to each of us. It was also a great opportunity to read a little from my favorite Narnia book. Any guesses? I hope you’ll tune in.
Whether you are a fan of memoir, science fiction, history, Jane Austen, or Dr. Seuss, consider the role stories have played in your journey. How has God touched your heart through story? What might God have placed on your heart that needs to be written on the heart of another? How might your story point people to what is beautiful and true? Don’t hold it back. It is a treasure to be shared.