What comes to mind when you hear the word “story”? Is it an epic adventure? A Fairy-tale for children? A drama? A story of Heroism?
We often see our lives and the lives of others in the form of stories. We tell these stories to help make sense of our reality in a simplified and easy to understand way. But doing this can have a negative impact on how we view ourselves and others around us.
In contrast, Jesus was able to see beyond the stories that people told about themselves and others. He saw people as people with complex stories and not necessarily with totalising labels.
Right from a young age, the stories that we create tend to have simplistic and clearly defined characters such as heroes and villains, goodies and baddies, cowards and the courageous. The labels we apply to the characters tend to totalise that character and defines who they are in the story without looking deeper into conflicting details of their character.
When we label characters we assume that a character’s action is a total representation of who they are and not simply one part of many.
He saw people as people with complex stories and not necessarily with totalising labels.
Interestingly we tend to do the same when we tell stories about ourselves. Each of us has a story to tell and is often based on our experiences. Some of us may have experienced significant times of success in our family life, our work, our walk with God etc, yet because we have experienced this success then we tend to perceive ourselves as successful in a totalising sense.
Alternatively, we may have experienced times of failure in our lives which could result in us developing overriding stories that tell of our insecurities.
Am I the villain of my story? Am I the hero? Am I the confident One? Am I the insecure One? Am I the rebel? Am I the Angel?
We can tend to see ourselves as those totalising characters. These insecurities or successes then travel with us wherever we go as a totalising story. It lives and breathes in our every action – at work, in our families and even our walk with God.
Just because we may have failed at times in life it doesn’t mean we are a ‘Failure’.
What we tell ourselves is actually only part of our “story”. Just because we may have failed at times in life it doesn’t mean we are a ‘Failure’. Just because we have at times or in some areas succeeded in life does not mean that we are ‘Successful’. It is all about how success and failure are perceived.
What we tell ourselves is what we actually become. If we are always thinking “I am a failure” then it may mean that we will see ourselves always as a deficit when it is not necessarily true.
Parenting can be like this. Those times when we find ourselves embarrassed to call ourselves parents is often really only a part of our story. In fact it often is only a small minority of our parenting life which is also made up of times of being a fantastic parent. Yet we can persist on labelling ourselves and others as being either a good or a bad parent’s.
We tend to judge ourselves and tell ourselves stories about ourselves that are only partly true or true only in the way the stories are perceived.
How Jesus Sees Us
Jesus saw through the labels and totalising stories when others could not. The Pharisees labelled themselves and others when they made totalising comparisons. They seemed to think of themselves as holy compared to others. They labelled others as beneath them – totalising them as mere tax collectors and adulterers. They simplified the world and couldn’t see past their own narratives and prejudices about themselves and others in the world.
Jesus saw people not as mere adulterers or tax collectors, but as people with complicated stories who exhibited only a small portion of who they really were. I do not intend to and nor do I believe that Jesus ever considered harmful actions towards others as insignificant, but He did see that people were more than what they were labelled as.
Jesus sees our full selves, not as merely a mono threaded story as we tend to do. God’s thoughts and ways are far above our own and it’s God’s story of us and others that should really dominate who we are and how we perceive others.
Jesus sees our full selves, not as merely a mono threaded story as we tend to do.
Sometimes people can think of acts of sin as totalising who we are, which limits us to focusing on an unhealthy guilty complex. Sometimes acts of sin can put a huge block between us and God to a point where we find it hard to come before God to ask forgiveness. We even find it hard to forgive ourselves. When this happens we find it hard to see ourselves as more than our act of sin.
If we totalise ourselves and label ourselves with this act of sin, we are over simplifying who we are before God. We can ask ourselves – does that action of sin truly reflect who we are as a total person? Are we merely a Tax collector? Merely an adulterer? Merely a….? You name it.
Before Christ we are His, with all our imperfections and merits. I am not belittling sin – sin should be taken seriously if we are to conform to who God wants us to be, but please keep ourselves and others in perspective. When we judge ourselves or someone else, please think deeper as to what multiple layers of story could be behind our own or another’s behaviour.
Before we judge ourselves or others remember that we each have a much fuller story than what one moment in time can show. I want to encourage us to be slow to speak and quick to listen (James 1:19) and aim to hear multiple sides to a story (Proverbs 18:17) because there is always more than one.