By: Sarah Morrison
Whether it be the life of Corrie Ten Boom, the dystopia of George Orwell, or the woven novels of John Steinbeck, I love stories. I love stories because I value what they communicate about us. Humanness demandsstories. Our own stories inhale and come alive when we take in the stories of ages past. Even if we shouldn’t take up a book, we will find stories by picking up a remote, if not the TV, then our cell phones, if not there—then friends and family. The reaches of stories are boundless and inescapable. Through storytelling, we dive into one another while we dive into ourselves.
My love of storytelling is rooted in the Bible and the God who wrote the best stories of all, including the life-books of each of our own stories today. My understanding of the value of stories is forever increasing. God’s chosen medium to communicate Himself to mankind is the act of storytelling. Cain and Abel, the flood, the exodus, Job, Esther, the exile—each are unique, individual stories that tell a greater truth about who the Lord is and what He has done. God has chosen to reveal Himself through storytelling. He appears to like this art, too.
As I’ve sought growth and shaping in writing through the past year and a half, I’ve realized the growth and shape that mere stories have given me. I’ve been shaped by lore, forged through tales, fiction and nonfiction. Biographies and autobiographies and The Bell Jar and East of Eden and Alice in Wonderland and The Fruit of the Drunken Tree have each molded me. Their characters, real or not, have given curves and corners to who I am and fixed a mirror in front of me into which I look and see my flaws, failures, and strengths. I’ve seen that real stories are just as legitimate as fake ones, and that each one forms us, makes us, marks us.
The place I long to put my words is in non-fiction storytelling. As our own story in Cleveland has unfolded, I’ve seen the importance of sharing our stories with one another. I’ve slowly drawn an outline of our time here and hope to gradually give it color and texture. The stories I’ve told have illustrated have revealed our place as vermin traversing the Grand Canyon, always working, gaining little ground, and tortured by predation. I was reminded of how formative stories are to us while reading 2 Corinthians 1 last week.
“He comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction, through the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ overflow to us, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation. If we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in your patient endurance of the same sufferings that we suffer. And our hope for you is firm because we know that as you share in the sufferings, so you will also share in the comfort.”
We share in sufferings and we share in comfort and we do this by sharing stories. Paul continues to say that his and Timothy’s mission to Asia was overwhelming beyond what they were able to bear to the point that they “despaired of life itself.” Convinced that there was only death that waited for them ahead, they entrusted themselves to the God who is known to resurrect the dead. They were delivered, and millennia later countless Christians have read their story. Being reminded of Paul’s difficulties in ministry encouraged me and offered me a friendly solidarity. Seeing his faithfulness remain and his account of the worthiness despair on behalf of the gospel and the Church gave me back the spine I thought I’d lost, crushed and milled to dust. Countless Christians have been bolstered by Paul’s testimony, and we would have never had the opportunity to be so emboldened had he not written his experience down. God uses our stories to build up His Kingdom.
I’m a firm believer that our stories matter, each one, big and small, sad or happy. I’m convinced that storytelling is one avenue by which God’s presence in tangible amid a disorienting and absurd life. As a church planter, the stories I’m always told are the stories of explosive growth, fruitfulness, and plenty. I’ve soaked-in the stories of co-laborers in my city, though, and I’ve seen the small stories, the stories shoved away in the back of the cupboard, or pushed down into the cracks of earth, buried. I hear of great successes more like folklore and hear of impossible battles far more often.
I’ve seen the faithfulness of servants who’ve given their lives and happiness and comfort to the benefit of the Kingdom. I’ve heard the phrase, “Even if it was only for the one, all this time and effort would be worth it.” I’ve heard the holy desperation, the broken heartedness, and the steadfastness of women and men across our city who are determined to keep their hands on the plow despite the barren desert before them until the Lord says, “stop” with utmost clarity and conviction.These stories are necessary. God seems to take our stories when we lay them on His altar, and He tends to use them for the benefit of His other children, our very own siblings in Christ.