The Power of a Story (plus, 10 things we fear)

April 14th, 2011

Everyone likes stories. I think. 

"Researcher story-teller" Brene Brown defined story as, "data with a soul."

A more stodgy definition is, "An account or recital of an event or a series of events, either true or fictitious." (source)

For an example of a brief, well-told story, you might enjoy this short piece about a conversation between two ladies Donald Miller overheard at a restaurant.  I enjoyed it.

In fact, this story really touched me – and challenged me.  It raised questions: Why am I not always honest in my relationships?  Why do I have this tendency to always want to, "smooth things over" instead of speaking plain truth? 

Sure, I understand there is a balance between truth and love, but when I catch myself talking ill about someone behind their back, it’s probably time I be talking directly with the offending party.

Does my reluctance in being straight-forward in delicate situations come from a fear of hurting others?  Or a fear that I’ll get an angry response?  Or a fear they’ll even reject me completely if I speak the truth?  Probably all the above. 

What’s amazing is that this short story Miller told raised all these questions within me, and affected me at a core level.  That is the power of story.

As an aside, regarding fear, I heard this quote recently, "Sin is nearly always born out of fear, and codified in pride." 

Here are some things we can fear:

  1. We fear that God won’t work all things together for good, so manipulate circumstances to help God out.
  2. We fear that God won’t lead (or will lead where we don’t want), so take the wheel instead.
  3. We fear that God won’t meet our deepest needs, so look for quick substitutes to meet our own needs. 
  4. We fear that God does not exist, so live as if this world is all there is.
  5. We fear that God does exist, and that we’re in big trouble.
  6. We fear death, so hedge our lives with safety nets. 
  7. We fear life, so drug ourselves with entertainment’s amnesia.
  8. We fear losing our stuff, so insure everything. 
  9. We fear intimacy, so build walls around our hearts.
  10. We fear fear, but don’t know how to stop.

I shouldn’t say, "we."  I should say, "I."   I fear, I fear, I fear.  *sigh*

“For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (2 Tim 1:7, KJV)

But this bunny trail on fear has got me far afield of my original topic: the power of story!  (Focus Nick, Focus)

Jesus taught mainly through stories.  Why?  Because a story sticks. 

Which do you think makes more impact:

  1. being told, "Love Your Neighbor as Yourself," or
  2. being told the poignant story of The Good Samaritan? 

I think the latter.  The theme in that story is absolutely relevant today, the ramifications of “who is my neighbor” something I even now struggle with and often think about.

So, what exactly is the Power of a Story?  Perhaps this quote sheds some light:

A message prepared in a mind, reaches a mind.
A message prepared in a heart, reaches a heart.
But a message prepared in a life, reaches a life.

The power of story is that it is a message from a life that can reach a life.

6 Responses to “The Power of a Story (plus, 10 things we fear)”

  1. Amanda Carbon Says:

    (case in point)… thank you for sharing.

  2. Seth Says:

    I like stories :)

    I do think that honesty is not everything… there is also the value of being polite, or discrete, or even kind by sometimes not telling the whole truth… or not telling the truth as bluntly as you theoretically could. You know, the “did you like the fruit cake?” moments. I think couching something in terms which don’t smart quite as badly, “smoothing things over”, can sometimes be a very valuable and Christian trait. Blessed are the peacemakers…

  3. nick Says:

    good points seth. tact is good. i’ve always felt dad was a good example of that, he’s perhaps the most tactful person i’ve ver known.

    for myself, the point i’ve been convicted about recently is that if I have a complaint with someone but i don’t feel it’s bad enough or necessary enough for me to bring it to their attention personally, then maybe i should keep the entire matter to myself and not complain about that issue to other people behind the offending party’s back.

    but maybe i’m off here. there’s this fine line between complaining against someone behind their back and making simple observations about their actions behind their back.

    then there’s this whole issue of sometimes i feel like i’ve gotta share my biggest gripes with at least ONE person. so i’ll gossip up a storm to one trusted confidant. seems like there should be some loop hole in the gossip clause that it’s ok to do if you only do it with one person. so there’s that aspect too.

    but then, mom always used to say, “if you don’t have something good to say, don’t say anything at all.”

    i over analyze things.

  4. Danny Says:

    You can share gossip with a wife.

  5. olatunde Says:

    i believe we’ve been deceived in our society about the truth, with phrases like “brutally honest.” we assume truth has to be hurtful and negative. if it is not, we’re not “keeping it real.” but what about when we really like someone, or want someone to like us? why can’t we be “brutally honest” about that? and even when we have to tell the truth about something “negative,” does it have to be hurtful? if i ask you (the one reading) if you like my shirt, am i not inviting you to tell me the truth, that you either like it or dislike it? why is it “rude” to dislike my shirt? or why should my feelings be hurt by your honest preference. a simple, “no, i don’t like that shirt,” is not rude, hurtful, or mean. a “well, maybe you would look better in a different color?” can be more hurtful then simply saying you don’t like it. why do we do this to ourselves? why do we ask questions that we don’t want the answers to? we accept sarcasm and condescension, even as christians, but we don’t accept plain honesty…not “brutal honesty,” but plain honesty, like in this article, and in the story by donald miller.

  6. nick Says:

    Good points, Olatunde. I think the reasons we aren’t always truthful are many. Interestingly enough, I work with a number of Indian Nationals (from the country India) who think us Americans are very “straight shooters.” They feel like the honesty here in America between people is a magnitudes higher than what goes on in India.

    I think that in certain respects truth has to under gird any legitimate relationship. If a relationship is built on a lie, is it even really a relationship…?

    But like Seth said above, there may be cases when telling the truth may do more harm than good… Using your example above, if someone asked whether I liked their shirt, I agree with you it would be best for me to answer honestly. But if I didn’t like their shirt and they didn’t ask, it might be best I not volunteer that information for no good reason.

    Anyways, thanks for dropping by Olatunde! I enjoyed meeting you down in Key West, we’ll have to stay in touch.

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