sharing stories: what you miss when you only see your own
Winding down mountain roads, the conversation followed, winding slowly but surely down into the deep places. He told me stories of a time before my own and with each sentence spoken the curtain peeled back, showing me so much more to the father before me.
It’s sometimes hard to imagine the lives our parents led before us, mostly because we know them solely as our parents. But before they were mom or dad, they were a girl or boy—a child, a teenager, then adult. They had hopes and hurts and dreams and fears, and a story all their own.
Growing up we don’t see that—we see them for the role they play in our own stories. But when that’s all we see of them, I think we miss something— and maybe more than we think.
I absolutely love Thanksgiving. At the risk of having anyone up in arms, I’m going to go ahead and admit that I may even love it more than Christmas—gasp. Maybe it’s the food and family time, or the fact that when Christmas comes and goes, it feels like the excitement is all over whereas with Thanksgiving, you get to enjoy the holiday while still retaining anticipation in knowing there’s more to come. Anyone else? What I love most, though, is that it’s the time of year when people stop to be intentionally thankful. At times, life can feel like a continual chase after the next thing, and the pace only seems to quicken as you age. If you’re like me, any opportunity to pause and ponder, to momentarily remove your eyes from where you’re going and what you want in order to look at where you’re at and what you have, is a welcome one. I’ve found that the fastest fix when you’re discouraged with where you are is to stop, and look back at where you were a year ago. My guess is, you’ll see that you’ve come a long way.
But even when we look back on our own journeys, we’re only getting a partial picture of God’s faithfulness. To see it more fully, we must look also at the journeys of those who came before us.
I recently read through the biblical book of Acts and let me tell you, if you need to get a little fired up, that’s the perfect place to start— talk about lit. Chapters six and seven tell the story of Stephen, one of the early Christian church martyrs. Reading about those so rooted in their faith that they were willing to pay the ultimate price never ceases to astound me— and that seems far too mild a word. Stephen’s story in particular stirs me up— because of his martyrdom, yes, but also because the words spoken of him make me want to live out my own faith in a manner worthy of their weight.
In Acts chapter six, we’re introduced to Stephen as one of the seven men chosen to fulfill the ministry of distributing food to those in need. He’s described as “a man full of faith, and of the Holy Spirit…full of grace and power, doing great wonders and signs among the people” (Acts 6:5,8). When he’s falsely accused of blasphemy and brought before the council, ultimately leading to his death, we are told that “gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel” (Acts 6:15).
Chapter seven is where I noticed something interesting. Stephen is asked by the Sanhedrin, a religious ruling group at the time, whether or not the charges brought against him were true. In response, Stephen stands up and tells the story of God’s people—the Israelites—from the time of Abraham all the way down through King Solomon and the prophets, in immense detail. We’re talking exact dates, obscure names. Basically, all 39 books of the Old Testament, recited on cue.
In the past, I’ve skimmed through this section, wondering why I needed a repeat of Old Testament stories I could already read about in, you know, the Old Testament. But this time, something clicked, and I realized that what’s being said isn’t so much the point as is what’s being communicated through what’s being said. What struck me this time was that Stephen even had the ability to recite those stories so fluidly, from memory. I realized that in order to do this, Stephen must have rehearsed many times over the years, the stories of God’s faithfulness through the generations. In doing so, he’d hidden in his heart God’s story. I wondered, could it be that Stephen’s fire and fervor, the fact that his face was like the face of an angel, was a direct result of him doing so?
I think that for those whose goal is to drink in God’s faithfulness, to be motivated by His glory, our scope will remain limited if we only ever look for it in our own lives.
As my dad and I drove down that mountain road from a weekend at Hume Lake earlier this month, it was the stories he recounted to me that not only allowed me to know him more, but to also know the hand of God in our lives. He told me of the nasty motorcycle tumble he’d taken while traveling 100 miles per hour the year before he met my mom, and nearly twenty years before he knew Jesus. How, after several somersaults on a busy freeway, a stranger began zig-zagging to prevent him from being run over, and he somehow landed face first into a pile of gravel in the center shoulder, with nothing more than a sore forearm to show for it. He told me of the series of events several years later, which ultimately led him to make a call in to a Christian radio broadcast show and give his life to the Lord, when I was five years old.
I think of my childhood—one where many nights were spent curled up on one side of my dad, my brother on the other, reading through the Gospel of John, one where Sunday’s at church where I heard about Jesus were the norm—and how the foundation I’ve built my faith on is a product of God’s work in the lives of those before me, seeking me out before I was even born.
If you’re ever discouraged with where you’re at, I encourage you to take a look at where you started. Then, take it a step further and look at where those who came before you started—recognizing that God’s faithfulness in any of our lives as individuals is only part of the equation. Maybe it’s a parent, or maybe it’s someone else who introduced you to the church, to your faith, to Jesus. Whoever it is, when we learn the stories of those before us, we see all the work it took God to get to us, and we’re filled with comfort that He’s not done yet—that He won’t stop.
Like Stephen, let’s practice telling and passing on the stories of those who came before us, letting our hearts fill with renewed wonder at God’s faithfulness and love for us. When we do—it just might propel us to live out a great story of our own.
Have an encouraging story of how God’s worked in your life, or in the lives of those before you? Tell me about it in the comments below—I’d love to hear!