The Value of a Good Story by Colleen Derr

There is nothing quite like a 16-hour car ride to bring people closer together. My husband and I served as house parents for our daughter’s and her six best friends’ senior spring break this past week. The week concluded with a 16-hour car ride home. After a week of constant togetherness you would think these girls would have run out of things to talk about but apparently not. In order to pass the time, they shared stories – personal stories of their own family vacations over the years. The stories were humorous, and we all enjoyed some good laughs together. The stories were also a wonderful distraction during the hours of stopped or nearly stopped traffic.

The stories did something more though than offer laughter and a distraction:
• The stories provided a context, offering a glimpse into how their families function, what they value, and where they came from. The stories provided the context that explained a great deal about why these girls said the things they said, did the things they did, and reacted the ways they reacted. So many things we experienced in the previous week now made sense – because we heard their story.
• The stories also created a connection that a week of sharing close living space, beach towels, and a common table didn’t. In each of the girls’ stories, we saw glimpses of our own and discovered that the commonalities that connect us were much richer than the often louder external differences that separate us. Sitting in the front seat of the car listening in on stories of family vacations of the past forged a bond with these girls that overcame generational, religious, political, and racial divides.
• Their stories compelled us to respond, rethink, and re-write. Before our spring-break beach adventure I had developed opinions about the girls – who they were, what behaviors and attitudes they possessed, how I enjoyed them as my daughter’s friends, and how I didn’t. Through the week they all lived up to my expectations – I saw in their attitudes, behaviors, and words exactly what I expected to see. When I heard their stories though, I was compelled to re-examine my own presuppositions, filters, and expectations and frankly their stories helped me see in many places how wrong I was. Their stories changed my attitudes and my thinking.
The power of a story – to bring laughter and offer a distraction, it can also provide a context and bring clarity, it can create a connection that overcomes apparent differences, and it can compel us to do something and change our thinking.

A seminary student in describing the impact of Scripture on faith formation in the home offered this insight: God could have filled the Bible with facts and figures to answer all of the scientific questions and give us wonderful statements of faith to memorize that would fill our minds but instead He chose to tell a story.

1. A story provides the context
2. A story connects
3. A story compels and
4. The Story through the power of the Holy Spirit brings hope, healing, and transformation.

St. Ignatius in his Spiritual Exercises encourages the exercitant – a “person who sincerely desires to discover how he or she can please and serve God best” – to contemplate the biblical story:
– By the “sight of imagination” in order to see the details of the circumstances
– By hearing to listen to what is being said
– By smelling the fragrances present and tasting the “sweetness and charm”
– By touching what they touched, where they sat and where they walked

St. Ignatius understood that through engaging the biblical story with our imaginations and invoking our five senses we would in part grasp the context of the biblical story, understanding more fully the background and circumstances; we would connect with the biblical story in a personal, relational, experiential way; and the biblical story would compel us to do something – change our attitudes, change our hearts, change our thinking…we would be transformed, and we would discover how to please and serve God best.

You have a story of grace and forgiveness – you need to share it. Those you serve and meet have a story – you need to take the time to hear it. And we are compelled to share the greatest story of redemption, restoration, and love.

“When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things” (Mark 6:34, NIV).

Dr. Colleen Derr serves as Associate Professor of Congregational Spiritual Formation and Christian Ministries, Wesley Seminary at IWU


From: Ganss, G. E. (1992). The spiritual exercises of Saint Ignatius: A translation and commentary. Chicago, IL: Loyola Press, (p. 4).
The Spiritual Exercises by Ignatius, the second week, “The Fifth Contemplation will be an application of the five senses”