Saturday, August 07, 2010

The Stories We Tell

Everyone has a personal story, of course, but everyone also has a personal myth. That's the story we tell ourselves, and sometimes others, about ourselves. It's how we create ourselves, or the selves we want to be--the selves we want others to see--by sifting the facts of our personal history through the sieve of our psychical need. We create, thereby, a kind of interior autobiography--the "portrait of a life"--played out, over and over, inside our heads, and glimpsed frequently in our conversation.

We see this in faith circles as much as any. There are the people who always want to tell you their faith story. Or tell you how often and how much they pray. Or tell you about something they did that they're sure made the angels rejoice, or how this or that good deed at work is causing their co-workers to wonder--they're quite sure of this--just what makes them so dang kind, generous, and humble.

There's this meme (I guess you'd call it) going around Facebook that I quite like. It says, "Be kind to everyone, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."

Yes! I "liked" it with an enthusiastic click.

Anyway, these personal myths are indicators of the kind of battles we're facing. I'll give you an example. When I was having a little trouble with my boss a while back, I found myself imagining hypothetical scenarios in which I gave my boss what for. In which I proved myself. In which my wisdom and competence was fully on display, silencing all possible counter-arguments. Sometimes I shared these hypotheticals with others, seeking confirmation and encouragement.

I hear this sort of thing all the time from Christians. Tales of Wisdom and Competence, I call them. Along with these we have Tales of Spiritual Fervor, or Tales of Toughness (guys like these stories), or Good-Deed Tales. I have known whole sermons (many of them) built around these personal myths. They all speak to our need to be respected, to be commended.

And they make me sad. Because it means--I'll just speak for myself here--that I have less confidence in the grace of God than I thought I had. My "final pleasure" is not so much in the grace of God in Christ, after all, so I seek instead the affirmations of men. I'm still needy of human approval. I'm still fighting the old battle with self-doubt and self-hatred. I'm still not resting in His grace!

In short, I have not so soaked in His grace toward me--the worst of sinners!--that I can put all this compensatory self-talk to rest at last and simply be thankful. And I think many others are like me in this.

And it only goes to show that our great and never-ending need is for the Gospel, which is the story of God's satisfaction in all who have trusted in Christ. The Son's story has become, by the grace of God, our own.


Milton Stanley said...

Thanks for sharing your insights here, Bob. Probably the single most valuable truth I gained in years of study and tens of thousands of dollars in seminary is this simple truth: preaching should not be aimed at helping listeners make the Word relevant for their personal stories, but at helping them see their own little stories as part of the story of the Word.

Erin Hope said...

this is one of the best blogs i have read in awhile.