One of the first stories I remember hearing is the classic Goodnight Moon. As I got older, I appreciated books like If You Give a Mouse a Cookie and later The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I was captivated by the plots in movies like The Lion King and Little Giants. As an adult, I still enjoy stories, usually in the form of heartwarming news pieces or poignant sermon illustrations.
Stories are captivating to children and adults alike. So captivating, in fact, that we become experts at making them up. We typically think of make-believe as child’s play, but grown-ups imagine too, although we’re often fueled by fear, insecurity, and the like.
Because our imaginations run rampant even as adults, our relationships can be sabotaged by make-believe. In her newest book Rising Strong, social scientist Dr. Brené Brown explains the importance of identifying “the story that I’m making up”. By that she means it’s imperative for us to be honest about what it is we proclaim to ourselves as truth.
For the sake of illustration, imagine I spent a large portion of my afternoon preparing an elaborate dinner for David. I wanted to try a new recipe I thought he’d enjoy, so the time seemed well-spent. As we sat down at the table, I could hardly wait to hear his reaction. After a couple bites and still no feedback, I finally asked him, “What do you think of dinner?” His straightforward reply: “It’s fine.”
This scenario hasn’t happened, but I can easily imagine how it would make me feel. My mind would immediately race: Doesn’t he realize how hard I worked? Does he even notice all I do around the house? Why doesn’t he appreciate me? Is he always dissatisfied with my cooking? What else am I doing wrong? I could go on.
At this point, Dr. Brown would instruct me to get honest about the story I’m making up, which is that David doesn’t notice and appreciate my effort, and it’s possible he thinks I’m a failure as a wife. Only after I had been honest with myself about the story I made up would I be able to sort through my underlying emotions and respond accordingly.
Since I started reading Rising Strong, my eyes have been opened to the danger of living in response to made-up stories. Until this morning, though, I had only applied the principle to interpersonal relationships. As I sat on the couch earlier today, I sensed God ask, “What are the stories you’re making up about Me?”
What story do I tell myself when times are tough? What do I make up when I’m forced to wait? What about when I see evidence of growth? When life is a breeze?
Sometimes it seems like our proclivity is to embrace flat-out lies or half-truths while ignoring or rejecting facts. Living as if our made-up stories are true is damaging to relationships with spouses, relatives, coworkers, friends, and even God. Dr. Brown writes, “The opposite of recognizing that we’re feeling something is denying our emotions. The opposite of being curious is disengaging. When we deny our stories and disengage from tough emotions, they don’t go away; instead, they own us, they define us.”
If we’re convinced God doesn’t care, we’ll struggle to feel safe and loved. If we believe God got it wrong, we’ll be on the fast track to bitterness. If we tell ourselves God has lost control, we’ll have a good excuse not to trust Him. Do you see how detrimental this is?
But what if we got honest about our made-up stories? What if we did the hard work of identifying the root causes of our faulty beliefs? What if we then chose to combat lies with truth?
It might sound something like this…
The story I’m telling myself is that God doesn’t care, but His Word says He is concerned with the intricate details of my life. The story I’m telling myself is that God got it wrong, but His Word says His way is perfect, and He does all things well. The story I’m telling myself is that God has lost control, but His Word says He upholds the entire universe by the word of His power.
When we’re honest about our made-up stories and the underlying beliefs that drive them, we are freed to live according to the truth instead of being imprisoned by ever-changing circumstances and emotions.
Because we live in a fallen world, believing the truth about God can be a tremendous challenge. Compounding the difficulty is the fact that God has intentionally left us with a degree of uncertainty about Himself and His ways (Deuteronomy 29:29). Still, fighting to know, believe, and respond to the truth is worth the effort it requires. And when we find ourselves writing faulty stories, we can always cry out to the Author of our faith: “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).