Recently I’ve been on a story kick. I love stories, and I think that’s why I enjoy writing so much.
In anticipation of the upcoming “Blue Like Jazz” movie, I’ve been reviewing some of the stuff I’ve read by Don Miller and remembering just how much he focuses on the idea of our lives as stories.
Naturally, I followed this experience with a trip to the movie theater to see “The Vow,” which uses a framing narrative that describes the theory that we are all a sum of our experiences. Essentially the idea behind this theory is that everything we go through in our lives makes us who we are. I’ve always believed something along those lines, and hearing the idea applied to a movie like that really made me think it over a bit more.
I’m a story person. I love hearing stories; I love telling stories. I think most people would tell you that I am a pretty good storyteller, provided you have several hours to kill. I’m longwinded and believe that it’s better to share too many details than not enough. This is because I believe sharing our stories offers a glimpse into who we are and how we have reached this point in our lives.
I have a few major stories that really reveal why I am the way I am. But really, as people get to know me they start to hear the smaller stories that create the nuance. These stories may not give the bigger picture of my identity, but you reach a certain point where you really discover who someone is based on these past experiences.
When I start to grow close to people, I begin to yearn for their stories. I want to know everything about them, and in order to do that I need to hear every one of their stories. I believe that each story tells me a little bit more about this person and invites me into his/her heart in a way that draws us closer together. The exchange of stories is an opening of the door to the attic, revealing everything we hide about ourselves from the rest of the world.
Thanks to Don Miller, I’m starting to think of God in a similar way. God already knows everything about me, but by my own limited nature I know hardly anything about God. So He’s been so generous as to give me this great big book, with thousands of pages of stories. Up until now I’ve pretty regularly looked to the New Testament writings as a source for inspiration and encouragement. But I’ve sorely neglected the other 70 percent or so of the Bible.
Forever I found the Old Testament to be quite difficult to read. Some of the stories are fascinating, but much of the collection focuses on seemingly mundane laws, genealogies and censuses. And it seems like almost all of the rest of the writings focus on doom and gloom prophecies because the Israelites blew it again. Because I’m a selfish human being my first desire while reading the Bible is to see something that applies to me, and so often I don’t find that in the Old Testament.
But perhaps that’s not God’s intent. We read the Gospels, Paul’s letters and the rest of the New Testament to get a glimpse of the life God has called us to live. We form a relationship with our Father based on what we find in these writings, and that is absolutely enough… for starters.
Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t imagine meeting an amazing woman and dating her for a while and falling in love without ever asking anything about her past. My love for stories and desire to know how she became the person she is would overwhelm me. I would feel like I’ve fallen for a façade, because I do not know anything about the substance behind it. She may be completely genuine, but I have no way of knowing that if I have no idea how she got here.
Perhaps the Old Testament is the same way. We fall in love with a God who loves us enough to die for us as we read the Gospels. We seek a relationship with our Father as we find the encouragement and love in the Apostles’ letters. Don’t we also need the depth of knowing more about this lover for whom we have fallen? The Old Testament provides that depth. It is God’s history – a history full of love and anger, betrayal and forgiveness, wrath and mercy.
I’m trying to read through the Old Testament again, but this time with a different mindset. My goal is to avoid the desire to read every passage with the question “what can I take from this?” and instead to ask the question “what does this reveal about God?” I want to know God more fully, and the most effective way He shares Himself is through stories. He has given us a lot of stories, but when we fall into the trap of trying to apply everything directly to our lives we miss out on the fact that He is opening his heart and welcoming us inside.
I think it finally hit me when I heard Don Miller talking about the idea of listening to a friend tell a story. He asked what would happen if you interrupted your friend midway through the story and asked how it applied to you, how it could make your life better. Naturally, your friend would think you’re a self-centered jerk.
Too often I am a self-centered jerk. At least I am with God.
When I’m with people I care about, I want to hear their stories. I could listen for hours, laughing at the fun parts and crying while sharing in their devastating memories. In the end I feel like I really know another person far better than I ever could just hanging out. Our lives are our stories, with each scene and chapter an experience that brought us to this point and beyond.
Why would we think of God any differently? When I love someone, I want that person to really know me. I tell a lot of stories and probably drive my friends crazy. But in the end they really know me. I want to really know God. No selfish motives, no desire to “apply it to my life,” just an eagerness to better relate to the heart of God. I think it’s time I start listening to His stories.