Lately, my two boys have been talking a lot about their great-grandpa C. He’s become a mythic figure to them–someone awe inspiring and legendary. They love sharing stories about him, especially the ones that involve great-grandpa C. doing ornery things like throwing firecrackers under a bed on which his brother-in-law was napping.
The interesting part of this is that they have never met their great-grandpa C. He passed away well before they were born. But in our family of story-tellers, Great-Grandpa C. is as real to them as you or I would be. He was the nucleus which held our small family together. And although he is gone, his legacy lives on into a new generation, teaching them as he taught us about the importance of love, faith, generosity and courage.
I read a recent article in Good Housekeeping magazine which talked about the importance of sharing stories with our children. New research shows us that family stories passed down through the generations do more than entertain. Our shared stories, both good and bad, have the power to connect, unite, shape and mold us. Our family stories instruct us and ground us and remind us of who we are. We have the ability to learn and grow through the lives of others who may have passed on long before our time.
My dad is a natural born storyteller. I remember, even as a little girl, being swept away by the tales of his childhood. Family “characters” came to life in my imagination through his words. Although I never actually met all of those mythic figures who helped shape my father into the man he is, I carry them each inside me in the form of the stories my father told.
Because of my father’s stories, I know of the strength and spirit of my great-grandmother who left an abusive marriage in a time when divorce was unheard of and remarried a man 10 years her junior who shared her same indomitable spirit. And the knowledge that such spirit flows through my blood strengthens me in times of weakness.
Because of my father’s stories and my own experiences, I know of the unshakable faith and courage of my grandfather who always trusted in God’s provision, whose last words to me were, “I’ll see you when I wake up, or I’ll see you in heaven.” I know that the faith he held from which his courage came is also a part of me. And so, in my moments of fear, I think of my grandfather and he still gives me hope.
Because of my mother’s stories, I know of the extraordinary women I come from–women who cast off traditional roles and forged independent lives of their own. I know of these women who looked at a world in which women had few choices and yet, who decided to blaze new paths for themselves and their daughters and granddaughters to follow. And even though I didn’t know them, their independence inspires me to dream big dreams for my own life and the lives of my children.
When I think back to our family stories, I am filled with so many things. There is joy, as well as sorrow. There is love, as well as loss. There is strength in the midst of fear and courage in the midst of great obstacles. But above all, there is faith and hope and love.
And this, I think, is the true power of the stories we share as Christians. Those timeless stories found in the pages of Scripture which have been passed down from generation to generation. Those stories of God’s people, of our greater family, which remind us of where we come from–of WHO we come from–and all the promises that are ours to keep and hold and see made manifest in our lives.
They are stories to instruct, to enrich, to strengthen, to ground, to unite and to hold together. And although our stories, both from our earthly families and our faith families, are a gift, some of them might not be good. They might be ugly. They might hurt. They might make us uncomfortable. But those stories of human failing and frailty are the stories that have the most power to redeem. For in looking at our mistakes, at the mistakes of those who have gone before, we learn to forgive. We learn redemption.
As we approach this holiday of Thanksgiving, I hope that you will spend some time sharing some of those family stories that have helped to shape you. Pass them onto the next generation. Let them know where they come from. Show them all that they hold within them.
I love this song by Sara Groves. It goes to the heart of the power of stories to strengthen and mold us. It’s called, “When the Saints.” We are part of a great legacy of hope. May we seek to pass it on to the people who come after us.
Blessings and Peace,