In All Your Telling, Tell Truthfully

By

Yesterday my son heard a story.

This is not unusual. I am one of those writerly dads who fills his children’s minds with many different tales. Poor babies.

I’m sure many of you do the same. Our stories include The Girl with Golden Wings, The Rabbits at Jupiter Crossing, A Polar Bear Named Fray, Clive the Mouse, and many, many more. I tell them these little stories (usually works of immediate improvisation, sometimes not) mostly to delight.

Now, I don’t see stories as merely a vehicle for communicating truth. In fact I have been one who has argued against allegorical, message-infested stories. They often really stink. But I’m beginning to be less and less certain about what might be an impossible divorce of story and meaning. And meaning means truth. And truth is not neutral. It is from an actual, particular God.

The God who is there.

I have no less disgust than I’ve ever had with trite stories that are merely vehicles for preaching –as stories. But I am coming to see that everything we do, including tell and listen to stories, is deeply meaningful. At the back of all meaning is God. In fact, he is not silent anywhere good exists. His word is even there in every lie, in every sin –these are all distortions, perversions of his world, his voice.

In the tales I tell my children I find myself inevitably communicating truths, values, morals and wisdom. Service is exalted, obedience to rightful authority honored. Bravery is portrayed as noble. Characters are not praised for their pride and selfish acts. Actually, they sometimes are –in the story- but that serves to illustrate another truth –the truth that sometimes that’s what happens in life. Truth is inescapable, even in a silly era where autonomous creation of “truth” is exalted.

So the idea, it seems to me, is to tell the truth about the way God’s world really is, and tell a delightful story while we’re at it. I consider myself to be one who is on a journey towards being able to tell good stories, with some hopeful and some discouraging signs. And it almost goes without saying that anyone who loves and follows the Lord Christ will increasingly love and be saturated in his Word.

I think it might come down to telling the truth while we are telling whatever it is we are telling. This goes for fiction as well. In all your telling, tell truthfully.

But trying to tell the (actual, knowable) truth, while we are telling whatever we are telling, has big implications.

I discovered this when I began telling my son his story. It was his birthday, he turned four, and I was recounting his life and telling him what he is like. His story. “The night you were born you slept on my chest all night and didn’t move,” it began. When I wanted to talk about his courage, I found things he understood about courage in our little stories, and in the other stories we love.

“You are like Robin Hood, courageous and loyal, committed to the true authority, even when it’s hard and doesn’t get you an immediate reward. You love to protect your sister, like Gawain, the noble knight. You have a humble heart, like Abraham, believing Yahweh.” On and on, truth after truth, story after story, identification with what is noble and worth thinking about and being like.

So we cannot help but be shaped by the stories we hear and identify with. It’s not neutral.

The world God made is full of meaning.

Every story teaches.

But what do the stories we write teach? What about the ones we live?


16 Comments

  1. Loren Eaton

    In the tales I tell my children I find myself inevitably communicating truths, values, morals and wisdom.

    Yes, yes, yes. All storytelling is inherently thematic. It’s up to us to choose good themes.

  2. Aaron Roughton

    Ack. I’m the guy that tells the trite stories. S.D., can you write down your stories and leave blank spaces where your kids’ names might be so I can reuse them?

  3. Jonathan Rogers

    I like what you’re doing with your boy, Estee: “Here’s who you are,” you say to him. “Here are some things that are true about you.” That’s something a child needs to hear from his or her parents. It’s hard to know who we are if we don’t have somebody to tell us.

  4. Shawn

    Nurturing hearts. Speaking the truth of who they are – gifted by a loving God who created them in His image. God’s greatness resides within each of them, and we do well to tell them. Frequently.

    So often we can find ourselves picking at the things that they do wrong. That is easy. We must spend more of our time feeding the positive and what is great about our children, about our spouse, and about, well, every person that is created in God’s image. So yeah, I guess that means a total shift of focus for a lot of us. Keeping feeding their greatness, which is God’s greatness manifested in and through them. Let them know who they really are.

  5. S. D. Smith

    @sdsmith

    Thanks My Friend Amy (That’s a long, but helpfully descriptive, name).

    Word, Loren.

    Aaron: Yes and no, mostly no. I have a hard time believing you tell lame stories. Please write them down and send them to me for a careful critique because I’m on the internet and know stuff.

    JRRR: I concur. I am also a fan of the out loud description of things the kid does well in the presence of the child but directed to important people (like Uncles, Aunts, Grandparents, etc). “Let me tell you about Billie, he’s one who you can trust to take care of his brother…”

    Shawn: With you, bro.

    Lynx- Thanks. Hey, that rhymes.

  6. Peter B

    Great stuff, fellow traveler. Thank you again. Like Shawn, I find myself swatting at faults left and right; these stories provide a great opportunity to do the other half of correction and instruction.

    Aaron, I feel your lame… though my stories are less trite and more just… well, simple. I haven’t made up any since the one about the Bwuh (a reclusive fellow who resembles Captain Caveman) and The Girl Without a Head.

    Mostly just my own fear of failure keeps me from doing this more often; then again, I doubt my 3-, 5-, and 7-year-old are going to think less of me for trying.

    End ramble in 3… 2… 1…

  7. S. D. Smith

    @sdsmith

    Jesse D– All right! May God give you wisdom, passion, a humble heart and loads of grace. Peace to you and your little girl. My firstborn is a girl. So great!

    I am fond of your ramblings, Peter B. And our kids are “simular” in age.

    In my tiny, tiny experience (7 yrs) I’m for giving the kids both barrels. That is, a lot of instruction in the Bible and a lot of imaginative stuff. Just like being serious about obedience and respect for parental authority on one hand and huge gobs of love and encouragement and catching them do right all the time on the other. I think they serve each other.

    Also: I think kids need to hear the hard parts (I don’t mean the sexually explicit –Lot’s daughters, etc.–, but the bad news about how bad off we are in sin, that God kills people, wiped out the world etc.) so that the good news makes sense in context and is seen for what it is: Undeserved, incredible, amazing and ALL grace as a gift.

    End preacherizing in 3….2….1

  8. Pracades

    I was really touched by this post. One of the main reasons I read this site is because of my love for stories, and I love the insight all the “posters” give in to how stories relate to real life. I am always looking for a way to share my love of stories with my children and I love how you created your own child’s story by relating his truths to things that he knows and loves. I wish I had someone encouraging me when I was four, telling me all the gifts the Creator had given me. Heck, I wish I had that now! Kids need to know who they are and they need to know young, so they may have courage to go out into the world and do the things God calls us to do. Stories are such a great way to show them!

  9. Canaan Bound

    S.D. Smith,

    Don’t know how I missed this post. Good words. One of the things I liked most about AP’s book one was discovery of identity. The Igiby children learning just who (and whose) they really are. It’s so incredibly important for all of the redeemed to understand a new identity that they have been given. In Christ. I love a story that can remind me of that.

    But actually, what I liked most was this:

    “I think kids need to hear the hard parts (I don’t mean the sexually explicit –Lot’s daughters, etc.–, but the bad news about how bad off we are in sin, that God kills people, wiped out the world etc.) so that the good news makes sense in context and is seen for what it is: Undeserved, incredible, amazing and ALL grace as a gift.”

    So many parents don’t want their child to be scared or frightened by God, so they hide the truth of His holiness and wrath. But children are not fools, and in their heart of hearts, they can feel the gravity of their sin. We have to tell them the bad news, so that they will know why the Good News is good.

  10. Canaan Bound

    Just ran across this the other day, and I think it applies…

    “You cannot worship God if you do not know what He is like, and you will not know God if you have not read His book. If you try you will be worshiping a God of your own imagination.”

    We should worship God as he is, not as how we would wish Him to be.

  11. JWitmer

    So glad I dug into the archives again. Sam, we write letters to our kids (in a journal) on their birthdays, trying to express the same things you discuss here.

    Thanks to this article it suddenly occurs to me that they’re getting old enough that we should probably read these letters to them. Thank you.

    And yes, yes to story-truth-telling.

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