The Stories We Live

Look closely and you'll see the Author's marks on every page of your life.

At a workshop I gave years ago, one participant made clear his disinterest in writing fiction; he wanted to learn how to write only what is "true." I tried to explore what "true" meant to him. A historian, accountant, or politician can use facts to deceive, while a novelist can create a story that reveals truth to its readers about themselves. The gentleman wasn't convinced; he had yet to learn the power of story.

Story teaches us to recognize meaning. When God fashioned us, we were wired for storytelling and story learning. We understand our lives as story: First this happened … and then she said … and then the other thing happened … and so this is how it turned out. I sometimes joke that, for the women in my family, even recounting a trip to the grocery store involves a beginning, middle, and end—we cannot simply supply information. I suspect what seems a family trait mostly is a shared human tendency to view life as a series of events that truly matter.

We respond to story because it imbues meaning to what we might otherwise see as random. Because God created and loves us, what happens to us matters, as does our response. By seeing and reflecting on our life as a story, we string together all the pieces of our experience. And in the process, we can see some of the significance of what we've endured.

I say significance, because I can look at my experience and understand how it's important to me. That doesn't mean I can always figure out why it happened. In a good novel or short story, not everything is completely explained. Such open-endedness is frustrating sometimes, but real life doesn't always provide us with an explanation.

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May 25

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