“Story.” “Find your story.” “How does your story connect to God’s bigger story?” “Tell your story.” “Live the story God has given you well.”
I was at a big conference recently and noticed that over the course of three days these phrases keep showing up again and again. Each speaker found value in telling their story and how it is a part of the greater story of God. This word “story” has become very popular in current culture and in particular with Christians as we are finding ways to share Jesus in the world.
But stories are much older than this current resurgence. God is a god of stories. From the tales of people in the Old Testament to the parables that Jesus taught the crowds, God understands there is power in telling about how and where he is at work. Even throughout Christian tradition stories have been valued. Accounts of saints and other Christians share truth, grace and praise of God in amazing ways.
I love stories. I love to read about triumphs and bravery and beautiful endings. I love to know how people felt through joy and heartache. But I have realized that there is one thing that a story needs most.
A story needs someone to listen.
Ann Patchett shares in her book What Now? “People need to talk and often a willingness to sit and listen is the greatest kindness one person can offer to another.”
Without someone to listen, books and blogs are just words on a page; stories dwell in hearts without opportunity to find expression. Listening gives stories life.
But listening to a story is hard. Life is so full of distractions, obligations and trying to work on our own stories that it often feels nearly impossible to stop and listen to someone else. Most stories we hear are the middle parts. We might have some knowledge of the beginning and we don’t know the end; all we can see is the messy work in progress.
Yet truly actively generously listening to another person’s story can be one of the most important acts we ever do. To listen without interrupting or offering suggestion, to hold a safe space for someone to share how God is working on them, to reflect back how we see God showing up in the process, recognizes value and hope in the muddled middle. It provides connection with others, a gift of kindness in the midst of uncertainty, and a reminder that our God is worthy of all glory from stories being told.
I have discovered that while I do love stories, I am often not a very good listener. While God continues to work on this in my heart, one tangible way I am practicing listening to stories is by hosting “Girls Dinners” at my house. The evenings are filled with good food, laughter, struggle and hope. At one of the dinners I had last fall, I invited a couple of friends and had each of them bring a guest. One of the girls who came was an acquaintance of mine whose children attend the same school as my kids. She shared that night about two of her boys who were having struggles this year at school. That dinner allowed us to reconnect and over the next few weeks I was able to continue to listen to her story as God answered some big prayers for both of her boys. Even months later when I run into her in carpool or Target we have a deeper connection and understanding of each other’s lives and can continue to listen to where God is working. Her story is nowhere near over but God is allowing us to intersect where he was working in her life. It is a gift to both of us.
Listening helps remind us we are human but God is present among us. Listening prompts us to know while we are in the uncertainty of our own story there is a glorious ending we have been promised. We are called to share our stories with the world but God has been teaching me how we are also called to be an audience for others to share. Seeing Jesus means finding him in my own life and often that is found by listening to stories of how he is at work in others.