The Importance of Stories; or How Netflix Helps you Find the Meaning of Life

My daughter just turned thirteen. On the day after her birthday, as I was brushing out her long golden hair and trying to resist singing the Rapunzel song to her, I started reminiscing to her a little about when I was that age.

I told her that by thirteen, I considered myself more of an adult than a child. I had plans for the path I wanted to take- what I wanted to be when I grew up, where I wanted to live, and the kind of family I wanted to have.

While I was thinking about these things, and how none of them transpired the way I thought they would, my daughter said, “I don’t have any of those things figured out yet. I don’t know where I want to live, or work, or anything.”

She seemed a little distraught. I stopped brushing her hair, and she turned around.

And then… out of my mouth came something that I didn’t know myself.

This happens to me sometimes. I’m teaching, or trying to encourage a friend, and out of my mouth comes truth from the Holy Spirit that I don’t even understand myself until I say it. For the last week or so I’ve been blown away by what I told her. I feel like I’ve told everyone. I told my husband, I told my mother-in-law, I told my best friend and her daughter. And now I’m telling you. But I mostly telling all of you, because I know that I need to hear it. The Holy Spirit spoke to her, and to me, through me, and the magnitude of what He said has been washing over me like waves.

Here it is.

It doesn’t matter, I said to her. Don’t you know none of those things matter? It doesn’t matter what job you do, or where you live or move.

I mean it does. Those things are worth thinking about and praying about, and I believe the Lord cares about every little decision in your life. But when you are thirteen years old and thinking about your future, you don’t have to think about the mechanics and specifics. You don’t have to decide whether you want to be a vet or a lawyer, or whether you want to live by the beach or the mountains or in a house with horses or in an apartment with cats. Those things are temporary.

What matters is the eternal. That’s what you need to decide about.

I homeschool my children, and I’m constantly pushing literature at them. Stories of knights and Nazis and Amazon jungles and Austen heroines. Stories about space travel and princesses and struggling during the Depression, stories about foxes and beavers and witches, stories from all cultures and all climates. I’m always pushing them to read.

I remember a friend saying to me about a year ago- “What is the point of reading fiction? It’s all pretend!” And when she said it, something inside of me rose up in horror. I told her that the point of fiction is that stories- whether real or imaginary- stories communicate truth.

But I didn’t fully understand what that meant until now.

I said to my daughter- when you’re reading these stories -these hundreds of stories, whether they’re in books or in movies or film or whether they are stories told by a friend over dinner- when you listen to stories and something inside of you wells up and resonates; that’s the time to take notice.

blur book girl hands
Photo by Leah Kelley on

For instance, if you read a story about a family who is hiding a Jewish child in their home during the Holocaust, something inside of you burns. What is it?

It is the recognition of Truth. You recognize when you read that story how true it is that we should rescue the oppressed. That is a truth. And as you listen to stories- whether in books or film or youtube or instagram- there are different concepts that rise up. Concepts about the value of love, freedom, justice, truth, and peace. The Great Stories- often the ones that earn Newberry Awards and last for generations- are often heroic and moving stories. Stories that make us laugh or cry or understand life. These are not just entertainment. These stories are communicating Eternal Values. When we read of men giving their lives on the battlefield for their families, we learn about freedom. When we read about a grandmother caring for her grandchildren with grace and patience, we learn about love. The greatest stories are the ones that are communicating about the deepest things to the deepest parts of us.

Of course, some stories communicate false things. They speak lies and hopelessness. Which is why we, as parents, should walk through these stories with our children, and discuss with them what they’re hearing from the storytellers in their lives. I don’t know how many times I’ve paused an animated movie to point out something to my children about life or theology, and asked them if it’s true, or if we don’t believe what the filmmaker or author seems to be trying to communicate.

The truth is that no story is neutral. All stories communicate something about life- and as we listen to them, we have to make judgements about what we believe in. It is a foolish person who thinks they can binge watch a netflix series and not be affected by the worldviews of that producer. But this is all of life- nothing is neutral.

But Stories are the means by which most conversation about eternal things are said. A few people will listen to sermons, or teaching, and some people will listen to political speeches- but stories- stories are consumed by millions, every day. And the storytellers are the ones that are telling our generation what is True, and what is Important, and what to Believe in.

And most of the time we don’t even notice that it’s happening.

But back to the thirteen year old.

When you are thirteen years old, and you are trying to decide about your future, you don’t have to decide the specifics. Those things will become apparent. What you have to decide about is what Eternal values you believe in.

Because if you believe, for instance, in fighting for justice, you will find that whether you love mathematics or volleyball or selling real estate, you will use your skills and talents and gifts and abilities to fight Injustice. And if you believe that truth must go out, you will use your talent for painting or journalism or teaching to speak truth. The gifts and talents you have, your natural inclinations and abilities- they are only instruments to pursue what is deep. They are not the ends themselves, they are the means.

I see so many young people who are highly skilled and good-natured, but they don’t have a passion. Oh, they might have a passion for Comic-Con or a drive to play soccer, but they don’t know WHY they are doing what they’re doing. They become obsessive about the niche culture they’re interested in, or they become competitive in the field they’ve got abilities in, but if they break their throwing arm or get laid off, they don’t know what they’re doing. It’s because they don’t see their skills, talents, and interests as a means to do something deep.

They don’t know what they personally are called to fight for.

I think that this is the answer to so much in life- to find out what you are called to do here. Are you called to promote the cause of love and peace? Are you called to fight for freedom? Whatever that deep value is that resonates within you, use your gifts and talents to do it!

Use your amazing talents in making costumes or your advanced welding skills to stand up for the poor and powerless! Build your farm in such a way that it brings peace to your corner of the world. Whatever you do, whether for work or play- know that it is just a tool for something more deeper and more important.

I told my daughter that when you are thirteen, your job is to listen listen to stories, listen everywhere you go, to hear those deep things call to you.

And when you know what is calling, use everything you have to answer.

You don’t have to be thirteen.

I’m thirty-seven, and about since the age of thirteen, I have struggled. I have so many different things I love to do. I love the Fine Arts, I love working with children, I love writing and travel. And ever since I was young, I have struggled with figuring out which things to pursue and which things to set aside. I’ve always worried that I would “miss it.” I would miss that amazing destiny that I am called to.

When I was in college, I couldn’t pick a major. I love biology and I also loved art classes. I loved the theater, but also wanted to take advanced writing classes. I felt as though the answer was to “specialize, specialize, pick a path!” And to specialize, to choose- meant laying down all the other paths. And I couldn’t.

I got overwhelmed, and I didn’t chose any of them. To make a long story short, I didn’t finish college. I got married and have been a stay at home mother. For some people, this is a dream and a specific choice. I don’t feel like it was that way for me. I did it because it was right in front of me, and seemed the best thing to do, but it wasn’t really my life goal- to be a stay at home, homeschooling mother.

For years I have watched other people go towards career goals. I’ve watched friends succeed on paths that I had the opportunity to take, and honestly I have many times regretted not taking them! Not that I would give up one day with my children. But to be honest, I have often believed that I messed up- I missed it. I took the step in front of me- motherhood- and I missed my destiny. I don’t know how long- maybe since the beginning- that I have felt like a failure and ashamed of myself because I didn’t “do” the thing I was meant to do while I was busy raising my children.

This might seem like another digression, and I’m sure many of you who are mothers will feel offended and as though I am belittling your chosen path. I am not, I’m really not! I’m trying to be honest about my own path, and my own inner struggle. I obviously value motherhood, or I wouldn’t have devoted the last 15 years to it.

But I bring this all up because as I think about this concept- that there are deeper, more important things in life then what career path you take- I begin to realize that the Eternal values that I value are Truth and Justice, love and peace, and these things I have continued to work towards in my life. I have taught my children them, I have used my talents in writing and art and music to further them. I have supported them with my time and money and prayers.

And so I haven’t missed it! My career “path” took a completely different route than I expected. It hasn’t involved broadway, or advanced degrees, or traveling… but it has ABSOLUTELY been in the pursuit of the eternal ideals that I believe in.

My thirteen year old self planned to be an artist or to find Broadway and conquer, my thirteen year old self probably would have looked at me right now and been ashamed. I am not president or a Nobel Prize winner. I’m not in great physical shape and I am I’m pretty poor housekeeper. I don’t make good money at anything I do, and I don’t have any degrees or titles. But guess what? I am not my thirteen-year-old self anymore. I’m thirty-seven, and my thirty-seven-year old self, who values love for others, fighting for the oppressed, and speaking out for truth- My thirty-seven year old self says, keep going. You are on a good path.

I want to say before I close that I have been vague about my Christianity in this post. Some of you who are believers will think that I am getting off path- that I’m not teaching about the Lord, that I’m not pointing out the gospel or saying explicitly that it’s about Jesus or reaching the lost, or pointing to the Scriptures. But I want to say to you that I’m not writing only for you. Yes, I believe in the Bible that points to Christ as the Messiah and the only to the Father. I believe in evangelism, and one of the most vibrant examples of a life lived well is a young woman I know and honor who uses ballet as the means to be an evangelist.

But I also believe that anyone searching for truth, in honest, genuine pursuit of truth and justice and love and hope- can’t help but find the Lord Jesus. Because He is all of those things. So I’m happy to use language that isn’t American Christian, if it maybe speaks Truth to someone outside of our culture.

Thanks for scrolling all the way down here. I hope if this encourages you about anything, it encourages you to think deeply about the stories you engage with these days- to listen with your heart, and recognize what they’re communicating with you- and to seek the truth. I think that the most heroic, happy, satisfied, and lovely people on the planet are the ones who have deep, passionate reasons for the things that they do- the ones who create or build or serve or suffer in the name of something Great and Eternal, and that we recognize it when we see it, and we all aspire to be that- and the way to start is by seeing- really seeing- what those eternal things are that are so important, and acknowledging them. And it so convenient that we find them in the stories that we fill our lives up with all the time.

So go ahead- watch a Marvel film, read a novel, listen to your Uber driver talk about his crazy mother. But when you listen, listen.

Listen for justice, love, and peace. Listen for freedom.

Listen for Truth.

And go after it.

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