A recent article by Harvard Business Review connects the influence of stories with behavior. It is called “experience taking” – we become like the characters in the stories with which we interact. Honest or dishonest, It’s how our brains work, we mirror. We become the stories we believe.
According the neuroscience of narrative, inspiring stories not only make us feel cozy, they cause us to trust the storyteller through the release of oxytocin, a chemical that helps us bond with one another. Often, the kinds of stories we immerse ourselves in become a larger story that holds us together, a narrative glue for our experiences. As storyteller Michael Meade says, “stories hold the world together.” Our brains are built to navigate the way forward by adapting to stories. Poets, storytellers and writers have known this since ancient times, that some of the most important information we need to develop can only be comprehended through the use of poetic and story language.
This is because, as John Truby explains in his book, Anatomy of Story, stories unlock a “dramatic code” that is unique to human nature. Through the use of characters, ancient archetypes, images, challenges and problem solving, stories help us interface with our own unique character and learn how to live out our stories in the world. The stories that we attach to have the effect of helping us to discover the story inside of ourselves. Without guiding stories, we seem to be lost.
Storyteller Michael Meade says that these days we are living in such chaos because we have fallen out of any larger story that would hold us together. When we fall out of a story, whenever we cannot perceive that there is any larger guiding narrative of our lives, we tend to lose hope.
The time of falling out of stories, he explains, is also a dangerous time, because not all stories send positive messages. In these times, people tend to grasp for any story that makes them feel powerful, in control and less anxious. So much of our cultural conditioning focuses on how to “control the narrative.” But the stories that lead us to our own, unique story within will help us learn that we don’t control the narrative, many great writers will quickly tell you that good storytelling is more about asking the story what it wants to be rather than trying to control what it will become. We grow as we learn to trust in a story that is true.
If we are to learn to trust our story, we need storytellers who are capable of pointing us to our true character, teaching us how to navigate the obstacles we will certainly face in our lives and let our story live authentically in the world.
Jesus understood this, he came from a culture of trusted storytellers who perfected the art of telling stories about God. He felt that he had come into the world at a time of chaos, when many people had fallen out of their story, been pushed out or simply had lost faith in a larger story. The spirit of the people had been conquered by many forces, including the force of institutional religion. He felt a particular mission to call back the “lost children” of God to live out their story in the world.
He became a trusted storyteller by so many because he spoke from the world of his own heart. He called it the kingdom of Heaven. He was approached over and over again to tell stories of what this realm of God is like. He used images that people from an agrarian and fishing culture could relate to:
It is like a tiny seed, a weed seed, that is planted in the ground and grows into a large tree that becomes a shelter and shade for all who need it in a hot and dry land.
It is like yeast buried in the dough of bread that makes the whole loaf rise.
It is like this, a master pearl salesman finds the one true pearl he’s been searching for all his life and he throws away all the others which seem to be only imitations of the real thing.
It is like this, too, a man finds a treasure hidden in a field. He goes and sells all his possessions so he can buy this one field where that treasure is buried.
The point is, we don’t have to chase a story in the world or control it in order to find our way. We don’t have to settle for a story in which we feel we are worthless or just cogs in a wheel. We don’t have to force ourselves to believe in a story that just doesn’t ring true.
Jesus tells us there is buried treasure inside of us all, and once we find it, everything we have chased after in our lives seems insignificant in comparison. We find it by living the story he shows us how to live, by trusting that the story he is telling us is true. As we do, we begin to see our lives bloom, we begin to see the impossible become possible. We become living parables in the world.
The greatest story ever told is the one inside of you.
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