We all have a story to tell – alas not everybody tells their story. My ‘Grandad’ fought at Gallipoli and suffered terribly as a result: I vividly remember that years afterwards, whenever he combed his hair small pieces of shrapnel would emerge from his scalp. But he never told me his story – and I as a child never thought to ask him to tell me about this experience which scarred him for the rest of his life.
As a result, I decided that I would write my story for my seven grandchildren. For the day may well come when they ask: “Who was my grandfather? What kind of man was he? What did he do? What were the key experiences of his life?” Now the MS is with the publishers, and all being well This is my story will appear before the end of the year.
In telling my story, I do not pretend that I have more of a story to tell than others. We all have a story to tell. In the words of Isak Denesen, a nineteenth century Danish story-teller, “To be a person is to have a story to tell”. One of the privileges of a pastor is visiting people in their homes and hearing their stories. What unexpectedly amazing stories some people have! I remember visiting an old lady, who was living in reduced circumstances in the smallest of homes, and discovering that in her early twenties she had been a governess to the children of an Indian Maharajah and had been accustomed to travelling in style through the jungle on the back of an elephant. Sadly, I fear that that story and many others just disappeared with her death.
It has been said that when we tell our story, we do it in the first instance for ourselves. For as we look back we discover that telling our story gives meaning to our lives. Indeed, according to Daniel Taylor, “This desire for meaning is the originating impulse of story. We tell stories because we hope to find or create significant connections between things. Stories link past, present, and future in a way that tells us where we have been (even before we were born), where we are, and where we should be going”. It is this meaning which gives purpose to our lives. This no doubt is what prompted the Irish philosopher, Richard Kearney, to say that “the untold story is not worth living” – which in turn reminded me of Socrates, who on trial before his fellow Athenians declared: “The unexamined life is not worth living”.
This then raises the question: what is the point of our living? Was the ‘the preacher’ in the Book of Ecclesiastes right when he said: “It is useless, useless, said the Philosopher. Life is useless, all useless” (1.1 GNB)? Is it true that “The best thing anyone can do is to eat and drink and enjoy what one has earned” (2.24)?
In This is my story there is a Christian dimension. Hopefully my grandchildren will see that this is more than a story of my life, but also a story of my faith. For those who are older and have church links, the title will be reminiscent of the chorus of a Gospel hymn, ‘Blessed assurance’ which became associated with the Billy Graham ‘crusades’: “This is my story, this is my song, praising my Saviour, all the day long”. I tell of how I went to Harringay, where I heard Billy Graham preach and his associate Bev Shea sing. I asked my father, “Why does Bev Shea want ‘cheese’ rather than ‘silver or gold’?” Bev Shea’s accent was such that his long-drawn-out ‘Jesus’ sounded to me like ‘cheese’! To return to This is my story, there I tell of what Jesus has meant to me – and of how I have sought to serve him over the years.
It is, of course, a continuing story. God willing, there are still many years left to live, serve and learn. It is also a story in process, in the sense that there is still much of my story which I need to understand, and in turn re-tell.
The day will come when I shall tell my story for the final time – before the throne of God himself. On that day, my story will find ultimate clarity – for “now I know only in part; then I will know full” (1 Cor 13.12). Thank God on that day, the ‘triumphs’ and the ‘failures’ of this life will be forgotten – and with all God’s people I shall be “filled with his goodness, and lost in his love” (the final line of ‘Blessed assurance’).
But to begin where I began: we all have a story to tell. So, let us tell our stories – and in so doing fulfil the injunction of the Psalmist (see Ps 71.15 and Ps 78.4) to tell the next generation of God’s goodness to us. For some it may be through a book; for others it may be through a letter; for yet others it may be through a conversation with a grandchild who has come to visit us in our care home.