Ever since I was little, I loved hearing stories. I’d sometimes come home from the library with seven or eight different retellings of Cinderella or Robin Hood so I could notice the details each author would bring out, listen to the different voices, and look at the pictures. My dad would tell us stories as we hiked along mountain trails, and we’d forget our complaining and sore feet as we laughed at the exploits of the smart children (us, of course) who always managed to outwit the bad guys or bad monsters or bad bears. To this day, hiking through a pine forest brings flashbacks of dinosaur stories. Stories can connect you to a place and even take you back to that place despite the passing years.
Stories move us and touch us and connect us in a way that nothing else in the world can. It’s how we talk, how we listen, how we teach, and how we learn. Stories are how we make sense of the world. For me, hearing a child ask in breathless anticipation, “What happens next?” is the essence of storytelling. Stories bring out their natural curiosity, their desire for discovery, and their yearning for life.
Books, whether you read them or write them, make an indelible connection between people. When I meet someone who mentions they love Moby Dick or Kim or To Kill a Mockingbird, I feel like we’re already friends. But if you’ve ever read a book that has changed your life and changed the way you look at the world (and I think all of us have), you know that it goes deeper than that. Stories not only connect us with each other, a truly good story connects us with God.
Jesus taught with stories. He could have said, “God forgives those who repent,” but instead he told us a story, a story about a young man who demanded his inheritance and wasted it in riotous living. We saw the father watching down the road for his wayward son, running to him and throwing his arms around him, his eyes brimming with tears of joy. And when we heard that story, we knew that no matter what, our Father would be waiting for us, would run to us, embrace us, and weep over us when we came to ourselves and made our daily (or hourly, or minute-ly) journey back Home.
The obvious message in Jesus’ story speaks to our minds, telling us that we can be forgiven. The deeper message speaks to our souls. It’s that power of speaking to our souls that especially draws us to His stories, and that drew me to writing. I think that’s why God gives us stories to tell, as well.
Writing is a calling. We can lecture our children about how they need to abandon sin, or we can hand them The Lord of the Rings and let them learn for themselves how the burden of sin, although it may look powerful and appealing, will destroy them unless they at last find the strength to cast it away and be free. I’m not Tolken, or Lewis, or Alcott or Harper Lee. But I do think that if God gives us a story to tell, then it’s our duty and joy as Christians to tell that story. Tell it as well as we can, polish it as much as we can, but above all, tell it. I have children and a husband, and work, and friends and church and commitments. But I also have a story God asked me to tell.
Sometimes in the crying and cleaning and rushing around, I lose track of why I’m writing. But maybe one day someone will say, “When I read Ruth’s book I felt closer to God. I am a better person today because of it.” Or maybe she’ll just say, “I couldn’t put it down.” Either way, if it’s the story God asked me to tell, I think it will make Him smile. Me too, actually.