Our lives are stories in the making.
“And Hezekiah was glad and welcomed them and showed them the house of his spices and precious things—the silver, the gold, the spices, the special ointment, all the house of his armor and his jewels, and all that was found in his treasuries. There was nothing in his house nor in all his domain that Hezekiah did not show them. Isaiah 39:2
Over the years, I have appreciated the works of many authors. Each one seemed to fill a desire in me, plug a hole leaking emotions I preferred kept locked up, or I simply enjoyed reading what they had to say.
My favorite types of stories have been mysteries, westerns, spy novels, those dealing with the lives of people as they tried to figure out life. Then there are the allegories. Allegory is my absolutely favorite style of communicating ideas via the written word. I discover new insights and opportunities to view the world from a new perspective each time I reread them.
C.S. Lewis is my favorite allegorical author. I especially appreciate his ability to offer transparency, vulnerability, and his honest portrayal of his characters evolution as they encounter various experiences. Lewis’s apologetics reveal his honesty about where he as the author is, has been, and most of all, is going. Yet it is in his books written for children, which have become known as the Narnia Series, we see him at his most vulnerable. The depiction of his convictions is woven into the stories because they show who he is even more than what he believes.
I mentioned my reading material had included westerns, but there was really only one western author I read. Louis L’Amour had a way of taking me out of myself and placing me in the saddle of his heroes. And just as Lewis brought a certain vulnerability to his writing, L’Amour’s heroes were strong and capable, intelligent, and just as flawed as the rest of us. Even as he provided these heroes with almost superhuman qualities, they still found themselves in situations where they “got it wrong”. L’Amour’s stories allowed me to find in these characters a moment in time where I was no longer someone who couldn’t get anything right. As I turned page after page, I stood tall and strong, able to face down the toughest, baddest, meanest villains. And I, just as L’Amour’s cowboy heroes, came out the winner. For that moment in time, I was the Cowboy Hero who made everything come out just as it should.
But you and I know reality is rarely reflected in the fiction of any time period; nor are we able to live in a land that does not exist except on the pages of a book. So why do we read stories, what purpose do they serve as we face the challenges in our lives? Some will tell us they find answers to the curve balls life seems to constantly throw. For others, it is the need to escape from those same curve balls. It may also be the need to feel like a hero instead of, as Charlie Brown would put it, the goat!
Let me add another theory as to why many choose to read stories. Our own lives are stories in the making. We each have a beginning, some of us have already passed our middle, some are in it or just beginning it, and others of us are reaching the conclusion of our story. However, there is an interesting fact about each of our stories. No one knows them completely, not even ourselves. Because of this, many of us have a tendency to create and recreate our stories as we try to find and face who we are, who we are becoming, and who we have been.
How do you want your story told? Or do you, like myself, prefer not to have it told at all? I don’t think for a moment we can escape the truth that our stories have been, are, and will be told. Maybe the question we face is not if we will have our story told, but what is the story we are telling about ourselves in this very moment of time. This brings me to the story of King Hezekiah who ruled the nation of Judah.
He was a good king who one day received a message from God. Quite simply, the message was that the king needed to put his house in order for he was soon to die. Most of us would not take the information well, and Hezekiah was no different. Hezekiah figured God might give him more time if he asked long enough and hard enough. The “long enough” wasn’t very long. Before the messenger had even left the palace, God sent him back with a new message. God would grant Hezekiah 15 more years of life, however adding the extra time would mean disaster for his decedents.
I don’t believe I can really blame the king for his choice although there was a time when I did. That was before I had lived nearly two-thirds of my lifespan. I do have a hard time with his attitude to those who would suffer for his choice. But, isn’t that the way life is? Our family members who come after us will too often reap the harvest of our choices.
The story continues. Hezekiah, like the rest of us, couldn’t take God at His word. He needed a sign, so God made the sun move backward adding several hours to the day. The sign was notable enough to quell the king’s doubts. Others who witnessed this particular phenomenon were extremely curious to discover how this impossible action could have occurred. One day some visitors show up at the palace full of questions about what they had witnessed back in their own land. And here is where the issue of the stories we tell or seek to tell about ourselves becomes significantly important.
Hezekiah showed the visitors everything he believed made him such a famous, powerful king. He failed to introduce them to the story of how the miracle of the sun moving backward was accomplished. He forgot to mention God in his story to the foreign visitors entirely. Instead, he showed them all that made him wealthy and important. Unfortunately, since Hezekiah chose to tell this story rather than the one in which God played center stage as the Hero and made the miraculous happen, the visitors from Babylon returned home with a far different story than the one they had come seeking. It was the story of Hezekiah’s wealth which would one day send a Babylonian king to Jerusalem to strip it and its king of all the wealth his emissaries had been shown. And eventually, many of the residents of Judah would be taken into a 70-year captivity, living in Babylon.
Stories are an excellent way to communicate information, ideas, thoughts, and even truths, whether they are written or spoken. Jesus used stories to enlighten those who sought truth from Him. His stories were used to bring home principles in the simplest form so they could be known and understood. Stories are also extremely personal and often deeply hidden. We choose with care those whom we can trust with our stories. More profoundly are the hidden depths to our stories that God doesn’t allow anyone to see or know, not even ourselves. This is another aspect of God’s grace constantly surrounding you and me. Because God knows how fragile we really are, and this brings me to the conclusion of this post.
Jesus told us not to judge each other for several reasons. However the most compelling reason is this: we don’t know what another’s story is so we have no idea what we are talking about or the damage we cause when we endeavor to judge someone else.
Our stories are a gift we give when we tell others of our daily, personal experience in our relationship with God. We can reveal to others the “riches” of temporal blessings or we can show them the transformations that are eternal. What our stories reveal in many ways rely on how we see God, what we expect from God, and how we choose to believe God when it comes to our own stories and those of others.