All our lives we are surrounded by stories: nursery rhymes and fairy tales, scripture and literature, gossip and family history. How do these stories shape and define us? Can changing a story change a life? I believe that it can. Think about what stories you most often tell about yourself, your family, your faith. What do those stories reveal? What messages are sent? Are there aspects of those stories that don’t work for you anymore? I believe as we come unto Christ we can find the power to rethink and reclaim our stories. It is how we interpret the events of our lives, and not the events themselves, that determine our happiness. Let us be like Mother Eve and realize that we all have the power to transform pain into wisdom, sorrow into joy, and despair into hope.
Today I would like to posit that 1) stories matter to us, as families, as a community of faith, and as individuals; 2) when stories don’t work for us, we suffer; and 3) we have the power to change our stories, and thru Christ, find happy endings.
A. Stories in Families
We all need to see ourselves as part of something bigger than ourselves. We all need to be part of stories where we see that trials and problems are part of life but ultimately we will endure and triumph. In studying families, Bruce Feiler concluded that happy families were not the ones who had the least troubles, but ones that talk about their challenges and found “positive stories” to tell. He writes:
When faced with a challenge, happy families, like happy people, just add a new chapter to their life story that shows them overcoming the hardship…. The bottom line: if you want a happier family, create, refine and retell the story of your family’s positive moments and your ability to bounce back from the difficult ones. That act alone may increase the odds that your family will thrive for many generations to come.
B. Stories in the Gospel
The Lord has always taught us through story. The first chapter of the first book of the Bible is our powerful origin story of Adam and Eve. It explains how we came to be and sets a pattern for all of our lives. We arrive innocent but eventually face ambiguous situations that force us to make hard choices with even harder consequences.
We all know about Eve’s choice to partake or not to partake. And I respect her bravery and foresight. But even more, I love how she responds to the “what now?” challenge: how does she live with that choice. Does she pine away for the Garden? Does she try to shirk her responsibility? Yes, but only for a little while. Eve, like the happy families in Feiler study, knows that they will bounce back. Moses 5:11-12 records her testimony of wisdom and perspective:
And Eve… heard all these things and was glad, saying: Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient. And Adam and Eve blessed the name of God, and they made all things known unto their sons and their daughters.
They are sharing their family narrative of faith with their kids.
C. Your Story
When you and your family of origin get together, what stories are told? Is there a theme? Crowd favorites? Is there a “smart” one, a “funny” one, a “ditzy” one? What is your role in these stories? Which, if any, of these stories do you tell your friends or your kids? Do these stories serve you? Do they keep you from growth and change? Do you like the character you are supposed to be when you are with them? What part have these stories played in defining you and your family? What have you embrace? What have you rejected?
WHICH STORIES SERVE US? WHICH DON’T? HAVE SOME STORIES HIJACKED YOUR TRUE STORY?
Take a moment to reflect on your current level of happiness. If you are filled with bliss and joy, congratulations! A shuttle to Kolob awaits. If, however, you feel your life is letting you down, take a look at your stories. Do they begin with “This would only happen to me…” “If only…” “Everybody else….” “I’ll be happy when….”
Or the 3 P’s of permanent, personal, and pervasive. Let me explain: this is when you interpret a singular event that happened to be permanent, (I lost my keys. Things will never change); or sometimes we make everything personal (I didn’t’ get invited to that baby shower because they hate me); or we make things pervasive (I burned the birthday cake—I ruin everything). Any and all of these negative explanations cut off any chance of a happy ending. Listen to how you explain the events in your life. Look for patterns. Is happiness perceived as unattainable? Remember, how you interpret and explain the everyday stuff of life will shape your story into a tragedy or an adventure. In short, what is keeping you from happiness? On FB recently I saw a meme that read: When awful stuff happens, shout “plot twist” and move on. Try it. Adventure is everywhere.
Something else that keeps us from joy is we hand our stories over to others. Like being trapped in roles from childhood that no longer fit. And whoever authors your story, authorizes your actions. When we are defined by others expectations, our mistakes are seen as failures, moral flaws. And even our triumphs feel hallow. There have been times when I have lost control over my story because I was trying to live up to an Ideal that did not work for me.
Let’s look at a little discussed story from the OT to see how to “choose one’s own way.” Let’s turn to 2 Samuel 20:16-22 where we find the fun little tale I refer to as “Heads will roll.” It’s a rather bloody chapter, where one of David’s men, named Joab, is tasked with chasing down a Benjaminite rebel named Sheba. Sheba hides within a walled city and Joab and his men plan to destroy the city to get their guy. This is where Sophia comes in, who lives in said city and does NOT want to die. Okay, her name is not Sophia but she is very wise and everyone deserves a name so that’s how I think of her. Listen to how she diplomatically handles the situation where she is ostensibly doomed.
Then cried a wise woman out of the city, Hear, hear; say, I pray you, unto Joab, Come near hither, that I may speak with thee. And when he was come near unto her, the woman said, Art thou Joab? And he answered, I am he. Then she said unto him, Hear the words of thine handmaid. And he answered, I do hear.
At this point you can practically hear her guilt-inducing reproach of this man that holds her city’s destiny in his hands:
I am one of them that are peaceable and faithful in Israel: thou seekest to destroy a city and a mother in Israel: why wilt thou swallow up the inheritance of the Lord?
Clearly Joab is caught off guard by her spiritual indictment and has no choice but to back peddle: “Far be it, far be it from me, that I should swallow up or destroy.”
He explains his predicament to Sophia that if Sheba is delivered to the army, Joab will retreat and leave them in peace. What does she say in return?
Behold, his head shall be thrown to thee over the wall. Then the woman went unto all the people in her wisdom. And they cut off the head of Sheba the son of Bichri, and cast it out to Joab. And he blew a trumpet, and they retired from the city, every man to his tent. And Joab returned to Jerusalem unto the king.
Not all of us are as brave as Sophia. Fear is a common stumbling block is fear. The sooner we throw away the old scripts about who we are, the sooner we live the glorious life we could be losing. To quote a certain frozen princess: “Let it go!” she writes. Let it go.
Change your story, change your life.
Change your story, change your life. It sounds ridiculously simple, but with the Lord’s help we can own our stories and make them serve us. We can repent, rethink, retell, and reclaim our stories.
The Savior’s atonement is to free us—from death, from sin, but also from suffering and emotional bondage. In Helaman 14:30-31, the Lord tells us, “for behold, ye are free; ye are permitted to act for yourselves; for behold, God hath given unto you a knowledge and he hath made you free. He hath given unto you that ye might know good from evil, and he hath given unto you that ye might choose life or death; and ye can do good and be restored unto that which is good.” The atonement can release us from whatever keeps us from growing and moving forward. But it is up to us to act. To believe you are trapped in a story is to lose sight of the healing power of Christ.
Rethink your reaction; retell their motives, reclaim your happiness. Remember, whoever authors our story authorizes our actions.
Tell Your Story
How do we tell our stories? We talk to our friends and family and share our lives. We learn to rethink and reclaim our tales with generosity, leaving room for growth and forgiveness. We take our pain and put it into words so that our loved ones can share it and infuse our sorrow with the sweetness of their compassion. We mourn with those that mourn. We revel in the silly and laugh until our embarrassment runs for cover. We bear testimony, at the pulpit and the dinner table so that we know what we believe. We text and email and include real pieces of ourselves. We speak our ancestors names out loud so that no one is forgotten. We tell and retell our stories until we find versions that ring true. And one day, like Eve, we will bear testimony that our pain and sorrows have made way for the joy of our salvation. Repent. Rethink. Retell. Reclaim. Redeem.