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.

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Photo by Leah Kelley on Pexels.com

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.

From Samaria

A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)
Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?”

This is from John, chapter 4, verses 7-10.

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Before we go on, I’d love to give you a few cultural background tips to help you understand what’s going on a little more. First of all, Samaria. It says “Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.” Let’s review that a little bit.

A long time before this, Abraham is the Father of the Jewish nation. The Lord promises him a land of his own, for his descendants. The land is the land of Canaan. Years go by, and Abraham’s descendants grow numerous, and they have a long story in which the Lord really does give them the land. But one of the things the Lord tells the children of Abraham, Isaac (his son) and Jacob, (his grandson, also named Israel,) Is that they are a set-apart people. God warns them and says, “Don’t intermarry with other people groups. Stay separate. Be my people.”

And for hundreds of years, the children of Israel have a problem with that command. The constantly mingle with and marry other races and religions, and that’s not the real problem… the real problem is that they take on the gods of those nations.

And they are punished. The Lord lets them reap destruction and violence and all sorts of evils, because they just won’t obey.

Now, at some point in this long 2,000 year history of the Israelites, they are taken away to live in Assyria. Well, most of them. The poorest of them are left in the land, and the king also re-populates Canaan with non-Israelites, who intermarry with these leftover Israelites. There’s a strange story you can read in 2 Kings about 17 how these people are settling in the area of Samaria, north of Jerusalem, but they keep getting attacked by lions. So they send a message to the King of Assyria, their king, and say, “Hey. Tell us about the gods who rule this land, because we must not be worshipping them and they’re mad at us.” So this foreign king researches a little bit, and he finds a priest of the Israelites, and sends him down to teach them “how to worship the god of the land.”

Okay, the chapter goes on to say that they do. They follow his instructions. And unknowingly, they start worshipping the One True God, and the lions stop. But it also says that they won’t give up their other gods. They just add them in all together.

Fast forward. Years later in the story, some Israelites from the tribe of Judah come home and start trying to rebuild the fallen Jerusalem. At that time, the people of Samaria come down and say to them, “Let us help you! We also worship your god.” But the Israelites reply to them, “Go away from us, we want nothing to do with you.” And at that point, The Hebrews and the Samaritans become enemies. In fact, the good leaders of the Israelites even violently prevent their people from mingling with these non-kosher neighbors. They remind the people, “This is what got us into trouble in the first place!!” You can read all this in the book of Ezra and Nehemiah.

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But back to First Century Samaria. Jesus is a descendant of these Israelite people. He’s a Jewish Rabbi, and the custom of a Rabbi was to be even more holy that just the regular Israelites.  And holy, to the Israelites, means, “set apart.” Set apart from whom? Samaritans, for sure, and also- women. 

And yet here is Jesus, sitting by a well, and asking her for a drink.

There have been many things said about how phenomenal this is. How magnanimous of Jesus to talk to a Samaritan, and a woman. If you are a woman in a western society, you can’t fully grasp just how meaningful this is.

When I was a little girl, my great-grandmother had a photo album full of her travel photos. She had been all over. But what fascinated me the most was photos of her next to the Great Pyramids, and the Giant Sphinx. I asked her about them and wanted to hear about what it was like there. She waved me off. Of all the stories she would tell me, she only said, “I will never go back to the Middle East. They treat women like dogs. We paid a lot of money to stay at the nicest places and eat at the best restaurants. And the waiters won’t even look at you. They say to the man, ‘What do you want to order for her?’” She was completely disgusted.

There’s more to this attitude than just ignoring. In a culture that treats women like a second-class citizen, the most honorable men won’t look at you. But the ones less honorable are worse. They will look at you like something for their consumption. Like meat.

Women in this culture are carefully guarded by the men who care about them, because these men know- women are not safe in a culture like this. They aren’t treasured, honored, respected, or people outside of their family. They are seen as something to be used and taken, and only interacted with for the benefit of the man.

 

This is how this woman probably experiences life. In fact, later in the story we find out she has had five husbands, and the one she’s living with is not her husband. Probably out of his choice.

Do you think she expects a Jewish holy man to speak to her? Kindly??

Or want to share a drinking vessel of hers? 

 

And so she answers,

“How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”

 

He asks her for a drink, and she basically throws back 400 years of history in his face. She brings out her hurts, her ill-treatments, her wounds, and his part in them, and slaps him with them. 

But this, see this: If you knew who it is that you are interacting with, you could ask him and he would give you living water.

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Jesus is interacting with you. Every moment, every day, he is there, presenting you with opportunities to interact with him and hear him and listen to him. All day. Every day. And you go about your business, you have tasks to do and things on your mind. The Samaritan woman has a huge back story. Drawing water alone in the middle of the day, most likely to avoid the women of the town- because they likely look down on her. Not only that, she has more than 400 years of history on her mind, and questions about theology and her and her people’s ill-treatment, and prophesy of things to come. Her mind is a tangle of questions and heartache, and here, she meets the One Who can give her Living Water.

 

Will she recognize him?

Will she notice how tender He is towards her?

 

Will you?

Jesus doesn’t ignore her, or treat her like dirt. He asks her for a drink, yes, but he doesn’t demand it from her. In fact, he’s willing to share her cup.

When you go about your business today, and the Lord speaks to you, will you recognize his voice? 

When he asks for a cup of cool water, will you brush him off, or will you bend down and ruffle his hair as he drinks?

Do the wounds of your life, does your back story leave you with a chip on your shoulder? Do you expect to hear the voice of the Lord as a demanding One that brings up 400 years of your sins and lays more burden on you?

Lay down your theological wrestlings and come to him like a little child. He meets her right where she is, and he wants to give her the living water. 

Expect him to love you and meet you, right in the middle of your day. Don’t throw back in his face 400 years of what you consider ill-treatment. Just listen, and ask him, and let him give you the water you need. 

 

He doesn’t throw your sins in your face. He doesn’t avoid looking at you to talk to someone else. He doesn’t want to use and abuse you, or put heavy loads on you.

 

He doesn’t deal with you according to the history of your nation, your family, or even yourself. He just comes to you, person to person, and asks you to meet him for a drink.

 

And do you know why? Because he loves you. Later in the book of Acts, he’s called “The Author of our Souls.” He truly is intimately acquainted with our grief and heartaches, he understands all the backstory of our lives and theological questions. But he is a Person, a real person, and he meets us right in the middle of where we are, because he loves us and wants to quench our thirsty souls.

But when he comes, we often miss him- we walk right by opportunities to hear him and meet him, because our minds are on other things.

So watch, today. Wait for him by the side of the well, and linger over the dishes. He’ll meet you today. Watch and listen.

 

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The book of John (1)This post is part of an ongoing series traveling through the book of John to meet the Mercy Man. If you’d like to follow along, you can subscribe by email or go to the lead page and follow at your own pace. Just click here. 

Born Again

We are going on in the third chapter of John. If you’re just getting started, you can back up and start at the beginning by clicking here. Or you can jump into the story right here. A man, Nicodemus, has come to Jesus at night to question him.

Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”
Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.  Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Here we are still in the middle of the conversation with Nicodemus. We’re talking about being born again. What a strange phrase, but then, it’s become so common it has lost it’s strange-ness in our ears.

Born Again.

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Nicodemus wants to know what God is doing, and what Jesus has to do with God, and Jesus answers by saying, “You won’t understand unless you’re born again.”

Then he gives an analogy. We can feel the wind going by, but we can’t understand it. That’s how it is with the Spirit’s ways… Unless.

Unless.

Unless what? Unless you are born of the Spirit.

Unless you are born of God, you don’t understand God. Unless you’re born of the Spirit, you don’t understand the Spirit. Jesus can’t explain anything of God to someone who isn’t born of God.

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Nicodemus answered and said to Him, “How can these things be?”
Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things? Most assuredly, I say to you, We speak of what We know and testify what We have seen, and you do not receive Our witness.”

Here he’s gently reprimanding Nicodemus, and saying, How can I talk to you of God? This is harsh. Remember, Nicodemus is one of the religious leaders and teachers. He should know of God more than anyone, right?

And then Jesus goes on to refer to Himself in third Person. “We.”

It’s just like God spoke in Genesis. “Let us create man…”

It’s because He’s about to say something about Who He is.

Nicodemus says, “We know you have come from God.”

Jesus is about to say He IS God.

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“If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe,” He goes on, “How will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven.”

So he’s saying, no one has ever come from God, except the One who IS God. The Son of Man is a title that Jesus refers to- it’s essentially saying, “God who was born as a man.” And He’s saying it about himself. 

What do you think Nicodemus thinks of this? He came and said, “Okay, we know you came from God…” And Jesus answers him by saying, “If you want to understand what I’m about to say, you have to be of the Spirit. And by the way, I’m not from God. I am God.

But that’s not all, he says even more. He tells Nicodemus the answer to what he came to ask- Why are you here? What’s your purpose?

“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” 

It’s only this beginning of the book of John, but he’s already telling what the ending will be. He’s saying, “I’m God’s Son, and I’m here to rescue all of you through my death.”

This is what it means to be born again: To believe. To come to Jesus, listen to him, and look at him, and recognize that this is the Son of God, who has come to die and take away our sins.

If you do that, you’re born again- and then you can understand more and more of the kingdom of heaven. You can go to Jesus with your questions, and he can answer them.

Do you have to go back inside your mother’s womb? No.

You have to lay down at the feet of Jesus, and say, “I believe you have come from God, because you are God, and you have come to rescue me from my sins.”

And he washes you, not with water, but with blood. And you stand up, free from sin, your old self dead, and your new self born through Him into a new life.

You are born again.

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The book of John (1)

This post is part of an ongoing series moving through the book of John. You can subscribe by email at the link on the side, or you can head to the lead page and go at your own pace. Just click here. 

Light / Dark

 

This post and series is now a podcast! You can listen to it instead of reading, or read and listen at the same time! Just click here.

John, chapter 1, starting in verse 4.

In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not understand it.

Untitled design.jpg This reminds me of another verse, later on. In chapter 3, a man comes to Jesus asking about eternal life. Jesus answers his questions, but says more… he says,

…the light has come into the world and men loved the darkness instead of the light,because their deeds were evil.  For everyone who does evil hates the light and does not come to the light, so that their deeds will not be exposed. But whoever practices the truth comes to the light, so that it may be made known that his deeds have been accomplished in God.”

He also says,

“God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.”

Jesus came to shine light into dark places, and both fortunately and unfortunately for us, those dark places are within us.

At first this is good news. At first, we see Him as our savior, rescuer, redeemer. He lifts us up and brushes us off and sets us on solid ground.

But after awhile, it’s harder. After awhile, the Word pierces into our hearts and the light exposes things we don’t want exposed. The light shows us things we don’t like about ourselves.

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It seems so simple- when the light exposes our sins, we should repent. But it doesn’t feel simple. Often the light hits us and we run away, or duck, or defend our sins. What I, personally, do is complain and whine. I can’t. I tried, I can’t do any better. It’s too hard. I flop on my bed. What’s wrong with me? You’re asking too much. How could I give up this thing? How could I do better? You’re asking too much.

In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not understood it.

Over, and over again, I hear his gentle voice, calling me to pick up, and come after him. After so many times saying I will reject sin, and so many times failing, what he asks of me is to get up, and come after Him again.

Not, “From now on I’ll do better.” Just, “Right now, I will follow you.”  

He doesn’t condemn us for trying and failing. He saves us.


There are times when we feel the reproach of the Lord- do you know when that is? It’s when we don’t even try. When we give up, shut off the voice, quench the Spirit. When we choose to reject conviction and ignore Him.

But as long as we desire to be after Christ- He never condemns us. He only shines his light, gives us life and hope, and saves us.

The darkness doesn’t understand that.

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The book of John (1)

This post is part of a series going through the book of
John. If you’d like to follow along, you can subscribe or head to the lead page and go at your own pace. Just click here