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Why God Loves a Good Story

The power of telling—and retelling—our spiritual history

Oh great, here we go again … My little brother and I shot a glance at each other across Grandma and Grandpa's extended dining room table. Dinner was long over, but we sensed that the aunts and uncles were gearing up for yet another nostalgic storytelling marathon.

We were antsy to be excused so we could play games or explore the basement with its endless hiding places. But we knew that once the stories started flowing, one tale would lead seamlessly into the next, and we'd be trapped at the table all evening.

My dad is one of 12 children in his family, all within an 18-year span. As kids they pretty much had free reign of the outdoors, so there's no shortage of wild tales. There's the infamous account of the time they caught a rattlesnake and put it in the binocular case for safekeeping, the time they lowered my uncle Danny through the second-story window—in his underwear—during bridge club, and the time they launched off the swing into a trash can filled with water.

And then there were the countless trips to the ER—the time the tricycle ramp experiment went awry and Aunt Ruthie broke her arm, the time Uncle Paul ended up with stitches in his head after swimming in the off-limits city fountain. And of course there was the time they tried to cross the swollen Yakima River in an old playpen.

We grandkids heard the same stories over and over from the time we were old enough to sit at the table, and even the most dramatic of the tales had become commonplace. Nothing changed in the retelling, except perhaps for a few embellished details here and there, or my poor grandmother's fresh horror at the things her children had kept from her until they figured they were no longer in danger of a spanking.

A Richer Meaning

It wasn't until recently, when we started adding in-laws to the family mix that I started to appreciate our "family canon" of stories. With fresh ears to hear the antics of our fearless (if slightly masochistic) relatives, the post-dinner storytelling sessions became the highlight of our get-togethers. My siblings and I suddenly found ourselves itching to tell the stories too—begging our aunts and uncles to fill in the latest in-law about one event or another, and interjecting any details they might leave out.

Recently I came across this passage in Psalm 78, which talks about a family canon of sorts:

I will teach you hidden lessons from our past—
stories we have heard and known,
stories our ancestors handed down to us.
We will not hide these truths from our children;
we will tell the next generation
about the glorious deeds of the LORD,
about his power and his mighty wonders.

It strikes me how important it was to the Israelites to pass on stories to the next generation. They wanted to leave their children and their children's children with a spiritual legacy—the stories of God's faithfulness and miracles in their lives. I imagine there were times when the kids rolled their eyes long after their lentil stew was gone, thinking, Oh great, here we go again … Those stories, nevertheless, became woven into the fabric of their souls. And I have to believe that as the younger generation grew older and as more place settings were added around the table, those stories started to take on an even richer meaning than before.

And I wonder about my own spiritual canon of stories. Do I keep a mental record of the times God has come through for me and worked in powerful ways in my life? Am I sharing those stories with the next generation? I used to think, with an ache of disappointment, that this mandate of spiritual storytelling didn't apply to me since I don't have children of my own. But the more I look at this passage, the more convinced I am that God expects the training of the next generation to be the responsibility of his whole family, not just our biological families.

He commanded our ancestors
to teach them to their children,
so the next generation might know them—
even the children not yet born—
and they in turn will teach their own children.
So each generation should set its hope anew on God,
not forgetting his glorious miracles
and obeying his commands.

So I guess that means I'd better be ready to share my "God stories" with my niece, my godson, my friends' kids, the junior high girls I mentor, and anyone else God may bring into my life. Chances are they'll roll their eyes at some point and think, Oh great, here we go again … But I'll just imagine that big dining room table at Grandma and Grandpa's house. And I'll tell the stories. Again.

Stephanie Voiland, an editor and writer, lives in Illinois.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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