The Stories We Tell

narrativesI was once told that the stories we tell ourselves determine each and every choice that we make. The narrative we weave about our world, our experience, our character, our nature, and our God all play a part in our decisions. We are embedded in the fabric of our stories.

Some of these stories and their resulting actions are pretty basic: I believe that other drivers will generally stop at a red light so I feel comfortable cautiously proceeding when my light turns green. Some of these stories are much more complex: From the stories I believe about God and the story that I believe about myself, I will choose a job according to how it fits in my vocation story.

Though most of these stories are true enough, some are less so and others even completely faulty. When I was a teenager my narrative led me to believe that people were not hurt by the language I used; eventually I learned that this was false and that my words could actually cause pain.

Evaluating Our Narratives
During Lent, we’re called to re-evaluate the stories that we tell both to ourselves and to others, especially the ones that can be hurtful. Lent calls us to ask again the tough questions about self-identity, beliefs, and relationships. Throughout the year it is easy to fall into a complacent attitude regarding the hard narratives. We allow false stories to go unquestioned when we’re tied up with work, family, and other responsibilities. Lent affords an opportunity for struggling with these things in a unique and intentional way that may shed new light on our stories.

It may be useful to spend time with each of the following narratives:

  • God – How have I imagined God lately? What metaphors have I been using for God? What stories do I believe about God that affect the way I live, positively or negatively?
  • Me – How do I identify myself as unique? What stories do I believe about myself? What do I remind myself that I am good at? How do I see my gifts? Where do I see my privilege? In what ways can I hope to grow?
  • Relationships – What stories do I tell myself about other people? Do I fairly and truthfully discover others before I make judgments about them? How might I act more justly towards others in my own interactions?
  • Society – What do I tell myself about the world around me? My country? My city? My job? Where am I called to look with fresh eyes? Where does injustice live in these narratives and how might I work towards more just structures?

ask questionsAsking these types of questions requires indifference. For example, if I refuse to investigate the possibility of racial justice and am not open to learning more about race in the US, how could I ever hope to grow towards finding a story that is more true and prompts me to act more justly? This is not easy. It requires us to set aside much that we believe in order to let God in a bit more clearly. It requires indifference and openness to being changed by God for the better.

But, this can also be a time for joy. Through this exercise we discover new things about ourselves, God, and others that may cause us to celebrate better relationships and healthier identities. Ultimately, when we are able to indifferently discover truth, we can work towards a world where all are loved and feel loved for their whole selves.

Doing this sort of activity with a trusted friend or loved one can be even more fruitful. When we struggle honestly with another person who is ready to join us, it helps us to see things even more lucidly and even helps us to ask ever deeper questions.

Spend time this Lent asking the tough questions about the stories we tell. God will meet you there.