The Stories We Believe, The Story We Become

It occurred to me this morning that I have written, talked, and thought about the idea of story a great deal over this past year. I have confessed that I want to tell stories, shared that I enjoy a good story, stated that I want to live a story worth telling.  I’ve even gone so far as to say people need story for their survival.

And I believe every word of that. I believe stories make magic out of the ordinary. I have seen it happen. 

Everything beyond our most basic needs for survival (food, water, shelter, as well as sanitation, touch and sleep) derives from our connection to story.

Every other thing we do we do because of a story someone told us or a story we have told ourselves.

If this is true, think about the power contained within the right stories. Think about the power contained within the wrong stories.

For over two decades I was fed the story that skinny is beautiful, that postpartum bodies are ugly, that a flat belly and scarless skin are to be coveted and that all of this mattered and would greatly affect my quality of life and value as a woman and human being. I was told this through conversations with my peers, through my observation of some of the adults in my life, and from the television, magazines and the internet. I believed it with all my heart.

Believing  this story created suffocating insecurities within me, it affected my desire to be a mother and it damaged the sex life I shared with my husband.

It took me two babies, a fierce commitment to open-mindedness and frankly a desperate desire to be free of my misery, to recognize my insecurities for what they were- simply a belief in the wrong story.

Because when you zoom way out and consider the whole world, the whole universe, in all of time and eternity…that story doesn’t hold up. It doesn’t cross generations, cultures, religions, and races. It was just a stupid little story that silly little me believed to be a True thing. Once I understood that it was, indeed, just a story I could begin the process of learning a new story. One that gave life instead of shriveling it away.

Stories affect everything, guys. They motivate us to go to college, to save for retirement, to obsess over sports, to place expectations on our children and spouses and friends and parents. They affect what we wear and what color we dye our hair and how much money we are willing to spend on shoes. They affect how we treat people of different race and culture and religion and sexual orientation than ourselves.

Marriages end because of the stories we have been told and because of the stories we tell ourselves.

People argue on the internet when they believe a story that is different than the story someone else believes.

People I know who live in some of the safest neighborhoods in the entire world are afraid to leave their house at night because of the stories they have heard online or coming from their television set.

Religious people shame and shun people of different religion or no religion for believing a story that is different from their own.

Almost every woman I know is disapproving of her body and married to a man who longs to touch and see and hold that exact same body. How’s that story working out for us?

If we were to turn off our televisions, our radios, our smartphones and laptops for one year, what stories would we hear? What stories would become important to us?

If we were all to take a vow of open-mindedness for one year, what stories would we hold onto? What stories would we lay down?

If we were to surround ourselves with people who believe in and tell life-giving stories, stories that infuse hope, that inspire peace, that encourage compassion, that instill confidence…what would our lives look like? What would our days look like? What would our homes look like?

It’s ok to believe in stories. We all do. And have since the beginning of time.

Believing stories is not the hard part or the problem. The challenge is in choosing which stories to believe. The problem is in not realizing they are stories at all.

I want to believe in stories that give life. The ones that are always nudging me toward generosity, grace, compassion, mercy, peace, freedom.

I know that path won’t always be easy. But I believe with all that I am it will always always be worth it.

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