Long past the time when those college history lectures have faded from your memory and all the latest reports of breaking news have blurred together in that vast sea called the inscrutable past, the stories you’ve heard throughout your life will live on, some as striking as the day you heard them. They’re the stories you’ll tell your children and your grandchildren. They’re the stories that will make you laugh and cry no matter how many times they’re retold. How many clips from the evening news can claim such a status?
I think there’s a reason stories stay with us. Whether they really happened (what we tend to call nonfiction) or whether they were made up (what we tend to call fiction), stories pack a punch that makes other forms of communication downright envious. But what exactly is it? What do they have that touches us deep down in our very core?
I’ve thought long and hard about that question, and I’d like to propose this as at least a partial answer:
A person often experiences reality better through stories than through daily life.
Now, I realize that’s quite a claim. I can hear the guffaws already.
“You’re telling me, Eric, that I can personally experience reality—what’s real in this ol’ universe of ours—better through a story than through walking around seeing and hearing and feeling what’s right in front of me in my own daily life?”
And I’m saying, “Yup, I think sometimes you can.”
Let me break my claim down a little bit and see if I can’t explain what I mean. Here’s that sentence again: A person often experiences reality better through stories than through daily life.
You’re a person. That means you were hand crafted in the image of a very imaginative God. The God who thought up time and atoms and hummingbirds and spiral galaxies before any of those things ever existed gave you the ability to imagine things that you’ve never seen or felt before, too. And that faculty of yours is very potent.
It’s so potent that when you hear or read a story, you step inside that story. In a real sense, through your imagination, you experience what the characters in the story feel. Your laughter and your tears are a reflection of just how in tune you become with what’s happening on the screen or on the page or with what your friend is telling you. In a story an isolated experience becomes a shared experience, an experience real enough to move you as if you’d been there yourself.
What exactly are you experiencing? You’re experiencing a small piece of reality, of what truly is. You might not have known that such a thing like unconditional love existed until you read the story of a man with two sons, the younger of whom takes his share of his father’s inheritance and wastes it on partying and prostitutes in a far-off land. Out of cash and starving, the younger son has the gall to come traipsing home one day, and to all of our surprise, his father welcomes him as if his son had died and come back to life.
Such unconditional love is real. It really exists whether or not you’ve ever tasted it personally or not. Stories afford us glimpses of reality that we might never bump into in our daily ramblings through life.
Of course, there are moments when daily life does its job and reveals reality to us. Unfortunately, mankind took a rather hard fall some time in our shared past, and ever since, the camera has been horribly out of focus. We catch glimpses of things like undying hope in stubborn tulips that bloom in early spring. We feel what true love must be like at times when a loved one whispers, “I forgive you.” We see meaning in what seems like absolute meaninglessness in those rare moments in which we look back on our lives and suddenly the long, winding path seems—at least for a moment—completely straight, as if there had been no other option for us but to arrive at this single moment, right here and right now.
For all the times life blurs the picture of what stands just behind this universe and in fact holds all the rest of it up, we look to stories. In them a once enslaved people can walk across a sea on dry ground, the sun can move backward, five loaves and two fish can become a feast for 5,000, and dead men can live again. In stories eternal hope is not naïve but a foundational reality in this universe, there really is a love that is stronger than death, and every last lily that has every bloomed and every last sparrow to ever flit and flitter across the sky has incalculable value and meaning. I’m saying we find such qualities in stories because those qualities reflect the very nature of reality itself, even when life seems to be telling us a very different account.
So I invite you to read more stories, stories that really happened and those that only happened in the imagination of the storyteller. Drink long at the fountain of a story and refresh your soul with some of the deepest realities we as human beings are capable of experiencing. I’ll only warn you that you should be careful. Those stories you read just might change your life.
If you’re not quite convinced or if you’d like to read more about this idea, we’d like to send you a free copy of Eric’s ebook called Why You Should Read More Stories. If you haven’t already, you can get your copy here.
May the hope you find in all those stories you read reach out and fill you up and become as real to you as the warm sun on your face in early spring. Happy reading.
What about you? What stories have taught you some of the most gripping truths? We’d love to hear about them in the comments section below.