Words amputated from stories lose accuracy, lose color and energy, congeal into god talk. They are flowers that fade and grow limp. For every theologian, we need five novelists to keep the language personally relational; for every biblical scholar we need another five novelists to keep the language participatory; for every church historian the church needs another five novelists to keep us aware that we are in the story.” – Eugene Peterson
Some people are more the scholarly type. They like to study. I admit, I’m one of them. I’ve always loved to study … mainly because of the reading involved, but also the joy of learning something new. Of challenging myself to understand and assimilate some concept or lesson. At any point in time I’ll usually be reading through some theological or scholarly book.
But at the end of the day, when I want to read for enjoyment, to read for me, I won’t be picking up the latest theological study. I will pick up a novel. A story.
A lot of people say we read to lose ourselves in the story. We don’t.
We read stories to find ourselves.
In the pages. In the narrative. In the overall story. The greatest stories, the ones that stick with us long after we turn the final page, are the ones that ring true. The ones where we see something of ourselves. Our fears. Our hopes. Our scars. Our joys. Those universal feelings that resonate within us viscerally. The things we know to be true without having to be taught it … because we have experienced it.
A favorite author of mine, N. D. Wilson, in a writing class spoke of this. The importance of writing truth into stories. No matter how far out a plot line might be, or whether the story takes place in some fantastic fantasy location, it needs to ring with truth. Good versus evil. The beauty of forgiveness. The power of sacrifice. The purity of light.
When a story or a book does not show forth these elements of truth … the story rings false. It falls short. The reader can’t help but feel something is wrong about that story.
Then there are the stories full of conflict and tragedy, sorrow and loss, even death … but there is hope. There is light. There is love. And these elements thread the story together, weaving a message stronger than the tragedy and loss.
Perhaps you are a novelist. Or a writer of nonfiction. Or simply a passionate reader. But we all have a story to tell. And we all have a story we are living out. Let your story – your stories – ring true. Whether you’re writing it or living it, thread your stories with hope. With the Weaver of all good things. With the Author of Light and Love. The Lord of Truth and Grace.
In Luke, Jesus tells a strange story. At midnight an unexpected guest arrives. He is hungry, but you have nothing to feed him . So you go to the house of a friend to borrow some food. “Don’t bother me,” the friend says. “The door’s locked. The children are all asleep. I can’t give you anything now. Go home.” But you keep on pestering him. You are so persistent that he finally gets up and gives you what you want.
Then Jesus adds, “For every one who asks, receives; and he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, it will be opened.”
And his point seems to be that the secret of prayer is persistence. Keep at it, keep speaking into the darkness, and even if nothing comes, speak again and then again. And finally the answer is given.
It may not be the kind of answer that we want — the kind of stopgap peace, the kind of easy security, the kind of end to loneliness that we are apt to pray for.
Christ never promises peace in the sense of no more struggle and suffering. Instead, he helps us to struggle and suffer as he did, in love, for one another. Christ does not give us security in the sense of something in this world, some cause, some principle, some value, which is forever. Instead, he tells us that there is nothing in this world that is forever, all flesh is grass. He does not promise us unlonely lives.
His own life speaks loud of how, in a world where there is little love, love is always lonely.
Instead of all these, the answer that he gives, I think, is himself.
If we go to him for anything else, he may send us away empty or he may not. But if we go to him for himself, I believe that we go away always with this deepest of all our hungers filled.
Originally published in The Magnificent Defeat