“One person’s story has the power to affect a million others” (A Million Miles in a Thousand Years)
We evangelicals are crazy about the power of stories these days. Actually, this has been a good shift, because it has enabled us to look beyond the set formulas of our doctrines to see the long view of God’s redemptive action.
Nonetheless, I sometimes suffer from “story-fatigue”. Instead of looking at the long history of something, I prefer the bullet points. Last week, however, I was reminded of how a well-lived story is powerful in ways that are impossible to replicate.
It hit home with me when I held the body of a little girl who had died in the womb due to Edwards Syndrome. Her parents had known that this was the likely outcome of her brief life. In fact, at first they were told that it would be wise to end their pregnancy as soon as the diagnosis was confirmed. However, powerfully, they chose to see their daughter as a gift – for however long she lived. They chose to see themselves as parents, called to love their child, no matter what, even if they never got to hold her alive in their arms. They chose this not because it made things easy or because they thought they would get any answers from it. They chose it because they saw it as a part of God’s story for them, no matter how painful.
They chose to share this with our congregation, and in response they’ve been showered with love, prayers and support. They’ve been an inspiration to us, an example of what it means to believe that God really walks with us “through the valley of the shadow of death”.
Nonetheless. this is a painful journey. This stage of it culminated when the doctor’s realized that baby Mila had passed last Wednesday and induced labor. She was born at 5:00 AM on Friday morning, and my senior pastor and I were able to be present with them all soon after.
It was a surreal experience. More than anything, there was exhaustion, both physical and emotional. There was plenty of pain and tears in the room. In a small sense, there was also triumph. We were reminded that they had walked the difficult road faithfully, and that Christ had triumphed over our mortality and brokenness. In that room, the story didn’t provide conclusive answers, or respite from turmoil. It did give some peace, however. Peace because there wasn’t regret, and because love was there.
I could talk about love. I could explain how God gives it, how we receive it, how we share it with others. I could never explain it, however, in a way that scratched the surface of what was seen and felt in the hospital room. This story is the power of love in context – beautiful, terrifying, sacrificial context. It was love at it’s most real.
That’s why stories are so powerful. They are the context needed for our deepest expressions. Whether it’s faith, fear, anger, joy, trust, hope, doubt or love, they’ll never find their true depth until they stand in the middle of life actually lived. When I saw Mila, held her, and prayed with her family, I understood walking by faith in a deeper way than ever before.
Living a brave story didn’t answer all of their questions, it didn’t make the path easy, and it didn’t alleviate the pain. It did, however, remind Mila’s family that they were choosing to trust the God who writes a greater story. It brought out triumph in what felt like defeat, and it proclaimed the love, power, and presence of God in the midst of the darkness.
God interacts with us. Not in bullet-point bursts. Not in neatly, theologically constructed patterns. Instead he walks through the twists and turns and complexities of our daily lives. So often, the magnitude of his work can only be grasped with the perspective of months or even years.
I’m thankful for the power of stories. I’m thankful that they show the awesome scale of God’s interaction with us, and I’m thankful that God’s still writing them.