It’s one of the most familiar phrases in the English language. It carries power to change circumstances, shift world views and even shape nations. It is known by people from age 2 to 102 and usually elicits a similar response regardless of the age. It is spoken in houses, schools, universities, churches and countless venues by moms, dads, teachers, statesmen, clergy and the like. Although timeless, it grounds itself in a particular place and time to convey truth and experience in the most powerful medium of communication the world has ever known. And the phrase is simply this, “once upon a time…” We sometimes see variations of this phrase and we understand that what follows will be still be a story worth hearing i.e. “in the beginning…”, “I remember when…”, “Did I ever tell you about the time…”.
But what is it about a story that gives it such power? As alluded to earlier, story has the ability to transform the world. I think we have to consider what a story is meant to accomplish. Stories are somehow coming alongside our human experience to speak of a shared human experience that resulted in some new way of understanding the world. The root of the word story even comes from from the Latin word historia, so you can see how there is some necessary expectation behind what a story is meant to convey. Consider the person of Jesus for a moment. Whenever he was attempting to introduce a new understanding of the Torah or of the world, He would usually begin like this, “There was a man who had two sons…” (Luke 15:11) or “A Jewish man was traveling from Jerusalem down to Jericho...” (Luke 10:30). It’s almost as if he understood the power of a story to challenge preconceived notions of the way things are supposed to be.
Now many of you might not consider ourselves to be storytellers. I am sure many of you have friends who are great storytellers but might not feel so gifted. The thing is though, we all have stories to tell. We have all had experiences that have shaped our lives and shaped our worldview differently. We all have lived storied lives. We just need to find ways to tell our stories better knowing that they can, and more than likely will, effect the hearers. In his short eBook, How To Tell a Story, Donald Miller reveals his structure for how to tell a story. “A character has a problem, then meets a guide who gives them a plan and calls them to action. That action either results in a comedy or tragedy”* I think the power in this structure for us is to see ourselves as the main character in our life’s events and then finding a way to relate it to others through those lenses. For many of us who follow Christ our problems are often aided by others in the church or through Christ himself. The challenge for us is to realize how much of an impact our story could have for someone else. Paul puts it this way in II Corinthians 1:3-4 “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”
Our stories have power; power to comfort, power to transform, power to help, power to heal. May we find meaning in our stories and find ourselves willing to share them with the world around us today.