“Remember the days of old,
Consider the years of all generations.
Ask your father, and he will inform you,
Your elders, and they will tell you.” Duet. 32:7
“Daddy, tell us a Story!”
These were the five best words I heard as a dad. Of all my memories as a young father, family story time is one of my favorites.
Many evenings after dinner was done, the kitchen cleaned, and our five children were ready for bed, we would all gather around for a story. My wife and I would share the small couch, while the children sat cross-legged on the shag carpet . Staring up at me, they eagerly wait for the next adventure to be told. I see in their eyes an imploring look, begging for a story that will make sense of a world too big for them. I feel the weight of their future on me. I begin the story hoping I am up to the challenge.
They loved adventure stories, when the challenges and dangers were real, and innovation, creativity, courage, and resourcefulness were rewarded. They especially looked forward to how the story ended. They were thrilled when it finished with everyone safe, happy, and better off for the adventure.
Stories like Swiss Family Robinson, Treasure Island, The Legend of Tarzan, Robinson Crusoe were favorites, as well as the adventure stories from the Bible; stories of Adam & Eve, Noah and his arc, Jonah and the whale, the talking donkey, Jacob and Esau, his son Joseph and how his own brothers sold him into slavery, the feats of Samson, and David the young shepherd who slew Goliath and went on as a young man to be King of Israel.
This time became a sacred time for my family— a time to draw close and share an experience of story, to enter into another world together. It was a time to experience what family is—a shelter from the rough and tumble world, a place to find solace, peace, and strength of safety that comes with family unity.
As the children got older, too old for story time, my youngest would plead to me each night “Daddy, tell me a story about Jesus!” And so, I would—stories of his miraculous deeds, of his gracious and wise words, of his tenderness towards children, the disenfranchised, and the marginalized. I told her the stories he himself told – stories of the prodigal son and the grace and love of a Father, or the good Samaritan and the power of a stranger’s love, or stories of his refusal to condemn others for their human frailty
What was it in these stories that drew my young children to them night after night? Was it the prospect of adventure involving real risk, scary moments—met with courage and persistence overcoming against all odds and coming out in some way transformed? Was it the struggle for moral heroism they could not see in their every day world?
Did their need for stories reflect their anxiety as they moved gradually, imperceptibly, but permanently further away from the safety of mom and dad—out into the public, with noise and traffic and strange people? Were my children seeing their world growing beyond their understanding –an Island full of hidden dangers, pirates, wild animals—and our home their only refuge?
Today, my children still need my stories from time to time. They are now all adults, some with their own children. And yet, I can’t help thinking that when they ask me a question about a problem they are facing—they are asking for a story. They want to know, in the same way they wanted to know as they sat on the floor in front of me, that in the end it will all work out.
That is one of the reasons I write this blog—to pass on to them some of my experience— lessons I have learned from my own struggles— where I turn to for strength and my hope and the will to keep moving forward. To pass on to them that the world is a beautiful place to pass our time in.
We all want to know life will all work out in the end—that the pirates chasing us up the hill will be turned back, that we will be rescued off the island. We want to know that there is a purpose in what we experience from day to day, and from year to year. In the meantime, we keep moving through our lives.
One of the greatest social movements in history is that of Alcoholics Anonymous. It began with one man telling his very personal story of experience, strength, and hope to another, who in turn told his to another, and then another, and so on – for the past seventy-eight years. With this foundation of individual storytelling, an estimated 5 million alcoholics have recovered. Thus is the power of stories to instill hope and courage in others. As Author Ernest Kurtz wrote in his fine book “The Spirituality of Imperfection”,
“For once upon a time people told stories. In the midst of sorrow and in the presence of joy, both mourners and celebrants told stories. But especially in times of trouble when ‘a miracle’ was needed and the limits of human ability were reached, people turned to storytelling as a way of exploring the fundamental mysteries: Who are we? What are we? How are we to live?”
There are stories or narratives that are false, and therefore not helpful to me. Stories of doom and alienation and dystopia are flying off the bookshelves in bookstores. Social Media has become the haven of naysayers, propagandists, cynics, and nihilists. I must look elsewhere for my stories.
I still need a place where I can hear and tell stories of hope in the midst of hopelessness, of courage in the place of fear, and of love in the place of division and alienation. Where will I get my stories—who will I gather around to listen to and to share with? I choose to look for stories of hope, where I see the courage to serve, and the boldness to love.
When I told my children the stories of Jesus, the Bible Heroes, and the great adventure stories, I was creating for them a world of hope, a world that in the end makes sense, and that even amid seasons of darkness, alienation, uncertainty, and fear—when surrounded by tragedy or discord for days, weeks, or months, there is someone or something looking out for us. There is a benevolent power presiding over us.
What is this power? I can only say I experience this power as love, therefore as God, for God is love. This love becomes the safety net underneath me. It is the story within every story.
As the Psalmist wrote:
Yes, my soul, find rest in God;
my hope comes from him. 6
Truly he is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will not be shaken. (PS 62:5,6)
If I follow this love, the story is sure to end well. In the words of Julian of Norwich, the medieval English mystic, “All is well, and every manner of thing shall be well!”
Our children need to hear this often throughout their lives, and the best way is through telling them stories. The comfort my children seek is no longer found with mom and dad and our tiny little home, but I am happy to tell more stories that will point to it.