I enjoy stories. I really enjoy stories about real people or their biographies, memoires, and stories based on real events. I believe fact is better than fiction. At work a patient came in and shared a story about an adventure he had when he was young. I got thinking about all the stories I’ve heard from the people I’ve met over the years. In my job alone I’ve met CEOs, movie stars, entrepreneurs, authors, soldiers, cruise ship employees, concentration camp survivors and people who have done interesting things in fascinating places. I’ve heard a lot of stories and told some good ones too! My father-in-law, we joke, has done everything and knows everyone. He’s got stories about flying planes, breaking horses, sailing, his time serving in the navy, and some stories better left unmentioned.
Stories can move us, change our minds, change our hearts, inspire, and often times provide a much needed laugh. There are stories though, I believe, that are the most influential of all. Those are the stories we tell ourselves.
Think about it. When we think we didn’t succeed at something we tell ourselves we’re failures. When we get a bad score on a test we tell ourselves we’re stupid. When our willpower doesn’t resist the cake we tell ourselves we’re weak. When our pants don’t fit we tell ourselves we’re fat. When someone else gets the job we tell ourselves we’re not good enough. We tell ourselves we’re unhappy, we can’t handle the stress, we’re broke, we’re not tall enough, we’re too old, we’re too young, and on and on. We’re always telling ourselves stories.
When I was a teenager my family had gone through a difficult time. Unfortunately for us it made the news. I’ll never forget one report specifically. The reporter had gone to our home and found the one person available to interview, the bottle man. The reporter asked the man questions about our family and the bottle man answered based off what little he knew. The bottle man used to come to our home to collect the bottles my grandmother would leave on the front porch. The report which aired on a local news channel created spice for a story that contained very little fact. The reason the story was so memorable to me was that the tale failed to mention how well he knew us, under what context he knew us, and it certainly did not identify him as “the bottle man”. The reporter took a small truth and twisted it into a story that hurt us and was designed to allow others to believe mostly false assumptions. I remember how angry I felt that I was not able to correct the context of the story. It made me feel victimized. At least that was the story I told myself at the time.
The truth is we have control over the stories we tell. Usually our stories are better than we realize; if we would just stop weaving giant falsehoods of victimization from threads of truth. It’s like the man who went fishing but didn’t keep his catch, the fish got bigger every time he told the story.
Jesus used to tell stories too. The Bible reads, “Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable.” (Matthew 13:34) The reason he used parables is because they illustrate points more clearly. It allows us to imagine what we would do or feel being in the story. His stories had purpose, they empowered, they instructed, they were for teaching truths that changed lives for the better. Instead of telling tall tales that cause hurt, imagine if we told stories of hope and encouragement. Stories based on facts. For instance the story, “I’m terrible with money that’s why I had to file bankruptcy,” leaves us feeling defeated with no resolution and no where to go next. However, “I’m going to learn about managing my money and finance so I don’t have to file bankruptcy again,” has truth in it, there’s an action step we could take and a lesson learned from past experience. One story keeps you stuck in the same place and likely to make the same mistakes again while the other gives hope for a good future. Kenneth Copeland once said, “What if instead of saying “Let there be light, God said, boy it’s dark in here?”” We may be a victim of a circumstance but we don’t have to stay a victim for life. What stories are you telling yourself?
Remember The Little Engine Who Could? “I-think-I-can, I-think-I-can, I-think-I-can,” that was the story he told himself. If we put our stories in a more positive perspective we can learn to appreciate the life we have. Without adversities there would be nothing to overcome. Think of every great story you’ve heard, there’s always a challenge, a battle, or some sort of relational conflict. How the characters choose to see those situations and get through them determines the end of the story.
One of my favorite stories is The Count of Monte Cristo. In the story the main character goes to prison for a crime he didn’t commit. His future looks grim with no hope of release. While he’s there however he finds hope, he uses the time to grow. He learns to read, he studies history, government, literature, and mathematics. He practices sword fighting techniques. I won’t spoil the ending for you, but let’s just say eventually all that he learns becomes useful later on. One of my favorite lines is when a companion of his says “God sees you out of the corner of his eye.”
We may feel at times like God isn’t watching us or paying attention to our story. I believe if we would take this time to learn and grow, we will find he’s been watching us out of the corner of his eye. He has plans for a good ending to a great story.
Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you says the Lord; plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans for hope and a future.”