Telling Stories

I’ve been thinking about stories.

Why do we tell stories?

In our small group we learned that songs (which are mostly just stories sung instead of spoken) are more powerful than just delivering sterile information or pure data.

Jesus often used parables—which is just another term for stories—instead of telling his followers outright what he wanted them to know.

Everyone intuitively gets this.  

Everyone tells stories.  You’ll tell half a dozen before lunch tomorrow.  You might not even really think that that’s what you’re doing, but it will be.

But why?

The study of storytelling is fascinating.

Stories help individuals clarify, amplify, make sense of the world, convey meaning to others, vent, express, and share emotion, and develop relationships.  

Stories help communities and societies define identity, reflect values, form culture, establish norms and mores, enforce moral codes, and create social bonds.

Stories can be about true events, complete fiction, or somewhere in between.  It doesn’t matter because the thing about stories is that even if they are made up—as long as they are authentic—they still are true.

My daughter will be entering college in the fall to study theatre.  I tell her that hers is the very important art and craft of intentionally pretending in order to tell the truth.

Pretending for the exclusive purpose of telling the truth, in fact.


Jesus said that where your treasure is, your heart will be also.

He also said that where your heart is, your stories will be also (Luke 6:45).

Think about the last 10-12 stories you told.

If you’re like me, they were probably all over the map.  Some were maybe ribald stories you couldn’t tell in mixed company if you wanted to maintain decorum.  Some were probably entirely self-centered. Some were frivolous, some were tinged with righteous indignation, some were about sports, or politics, or current events.

Some may have been serious, such as warnings to children.

It occurred to me while thinking about telling stories that I don’t tell nearly as many stories about my relationship with God and the things He shows me as I do the other stuff in my life, much of which is completely expendable.

What did Jesus tell stories about?  

Well, we don’t know every story He told.  Not even close. I have no doubt that he told frivolous stories too, just like me.  I have no doubt that building relationships happened through stories for Him just like all of us, and few relationships start with really heavy, hard stories passing from one person to another.

But He also told a lot of stories about His relationship with God and the things He showed Him.  And He told them to everyone. Not just “safe” people in the context of the Temple.

Stories reflect values.

I challenge you to pay attention to the stories you tell.

And not just what they are, but to whom you tell them and in what context.

They will reflect your values.  They will also reflect your consistency of character, as character is nothing more nor less than consistent adherence to values.  If you find yourself frequently telling entirely different stories depending upon who your audience is, you might be compartmentalizing your values, or even reflecting false values to gain acceptance.

I think studying my own stories can tell me about myself.  

Am I pretending for the purpose of telling the truth, or am I just pretending?


Telling Stories
(By master songwriter Tracy Chapman)

There is fiction in the space between
The lines on your page of memories

Write it down but it doesn't mean
You're not just telling stories

There is fiction in the space between
You and reality

You will do and say anything
To make your everyday life seem less mundane

There is fiction in the space between
You and me

There's a science fiction in the space between
You and me

A fabrication of a grand scheme
Where I am the scary monster

I eat the city and as I leave the scene
In my spaceship I am laughing

In your remembrance of your bad dream
There's no one but you standing

Leave the pity and the blame
For the ones who do not speak

You write the words to get respect and compassion
And for posterity

You write the words and make believe
There is truth in the space between

There is fiction in the space between
You and everybody

Give us all what we need
Give us one more sad sordid story

But in the fiction of the space between
Sometimes a lie is the best thing
Sometimes a lie is the best thing