Thursday, December 2, 2010

The power of story

About 2 years ago now, I sensed that I needed to get away from the craziness of life for a week and go to this little place of prayer called The Hermitage in Three Rivers, Michigan.  It's a place where they practice the discipline of silence and you have time and space to just meet with God.

I'd been somewhat avoiding having such extended time with my own thoughts.  My brother had been diagnosed with cancer that year, and I'd spent a lot of the year just trying to survive.  I can't even explain now what the realization of his mortality did to me emotionally.  He's the only person who experienced life with me in that way - we grew up in the states, and then left with our family to move overseas when I was 13 and he was 11.  The thought of not having someone in the world who understands that life experience was horrifying to me.  But I think I only cried about it once, and then I proceeded to take care of everyone - him, my sister-in-law, myself.  My parents were still gone, you see, living overseas.  So taking care of everything fell on me.

I'd spent a lot of years before that surviving too.  The moving back and forth overseas and losing all important relationships made it hard for me to be able to open up and risk needing other people around.  Inevitably, they would leave or I would leave.  It doesn't help that I have a passion for and an interest in the world, so virtually all of my friends are forever jet-setting around, spending a year in this country or that one.  I had finally come to a place of healthy interdependence within a community, and then once again I was headed toward survival.  And for me, that means shutting everything off - all emotions, all relationships - and just walking through life.  I was well on my way toward doing that again.  And what I've noticed about life is that if you hold on to a pattern like that long enough, it becomes very difficult to undo.

So away I went, to the Hermitage.  I took a stack of books from the library - spiritual books, devotionals.  I took my guitar, my journal, my Bible.  And I went and I stayed in a tiny cabin in the woods.  And I had space and time to listen.  When I got to the cabin, I found some books sitting in the desk.  One of them was CS Lewis's "Till we have faces."  When I got tired of reading "serious" books, I picked that one up.  And I was engrossed.  Here was a story about a person whose whole world had fallen apart.  I read and I read, and then I got to the part where she is led to the room to read her charges against the god in the story.

And I stopped.  And I cried.  And I finally made the choice to be real about my own "charges" against God - about my questions about whether he is good and whether he will provide for us.  My refusal to admit those questions, even to myself, had created a barrier between myself and God, and probably myself and other people.  Once I said those words out loud, I was able to hear the truth from Scripture about who God actually is.

And that's the power of story.  I don't know if there's anything else that would have unlocked my barriers to relationship with God, because I'm not sure that I even knew they were there.  Reading the story and feeling the character's pain and walking with her through her own experience allowed me to draw parallels with my own life and allowed God to bring me to a place of willingness to be real with where I was at.

So part of the reason I believe so strongly that story is a way to engage with people's barriers to faith and trust is because that's what worked in my own life.  That's what spoke to my own barriers and allowed me to move forward and take a risk to speak and to trust.  I don't think it would have been half as powerful for someone to just look at me and say "Anna, you're obviously not trusting God right now."  And how many people were there who I would have trusted to speak into my life anyway?  I was basically emotionally removed from everyone and everything.

Story is nonthreatening.  Story is compelling.  Story gives people a chance to absorb truth in a way that it never will be absorbed when it's communicated through declarative statements.

For example, which was more compelling to you?  The last paragraph of this post?  Or the story I just told about myself?

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