Earlier this week I shared my experience with proposing an alternative to “new normal.” I thought my suggestion of “redefined reality” had some merit, but other folks on Facebook disagreed.
To be honest, I still think it has some merit. It’s not perfect, but it begins to name the need I feel during these uncertain times.
When everything began to change four months ago, I don’t think any of us could comprehend what that change might mean. I’m pretty sure none of us can fully comprehend its meaning now.
So how do we live with a level of uncertainty we never could have imagined just four months ago? How do we redefine the reality we now face?
Maybe one way is to write a new story.
I grew up in a family in which stories helped us make sense of the world. One of my earliest memories is saying: “Mama, tell me a story.”
It’s probably no accident that I have continued to tell stories in the work I do—first as a journalist and then as a preacher. I also have studied and taught about the importance of narrative in the lives of individuals, congregations, and other organizations.
Work by Howard Gardner of Harvard’s Graduate School of Education has contributed to my ongoing interest in the power of story. He explains that story is a “more encompassing, realistic, enveloping thing” than a message or vision or slogan. The telling of a new story asks an individual to “put aside or reject the story you have grown up with, believed in, internalized and seen yourself as a character in.”
How is it that stories can help bring about such shifts or changes in our lives?
In their purest form, stories help us create new worlds. Not worlds of escape or denial, but worlds in which the best and truest parts of our lives and the lives of others find a place to take root, grow strong, and blossom. In these new worlds, we can celebrate and draw strength from the positive energy of life. Nurtured by the stories that create these worlds, we can dare to dream, dare to take flight.
Stories also provide us with a context for how we live and interpret our lives. Our Jewish sisters and brothers understand the importance of this aspect of storytelling. With care and intentionality, they tell stories around their religious observances as a powerful way of explaining what they are doing and why.
Stories pass along values. The Bible is filled with such stories. The stories of Abraham and Sarah teach us about faithfulness. The stories of Ruth and Naomi and Boaz help us understand the virtue of loving kindness. The stories of Moses and Aaron and Miriam show us the value of courage and commitment. The stories of Timothy and Lois and Eunice teach us about the importance of family. The stories of Mary and Martha and Lazarus teach us about the value of friendship. And the stories go on and on.
Stories also allow us to connect with other people. Think about the stories your family has shared around the dining room table. In and of themselves, those stories really hold no significance. It’s the connection they provide that makes them so important. What you do and what I do become what we do. The stories stitch us together.
So in this time of uncertainty what new story might we need to write? Perhaps it’s a story that could enrich our lives—or one that could give us new hope. Maybe it’s a story that could provide context for what we’re experiencing—or one that passes along what we value most deeply. Perhaps it’s a story that could connect us with people we love—or people we don’t even know yet. Or maybe it’s a story that could give us both roots and wings at a time when we feel both blown about and weighed down.
Writing a new story might help us imagine new possibilities for ourselves and others. It might help us reframe the changes and challenges we face into opportunities for growth. It might help us redefine today’s uncertainty into an evolving reality filled with promise and hope.