Using a Storytelling Lens in Discerning

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In discerning where God is calling us, it can be helpful to see our lives within this context of God’s Story of Love. In this blog/book, I’d like to continue using the storytelling lens to help us to explore discernment. What are the various elements common to every story?

  • Premise—Our story’s beginning or set up, which includes a story promise that will be fulfilled. In this case, the story promise is made by, and will be fulfilled by, God!
  • Setting—The world and circumstances in which the story takes place
  • Worldview—the perspective from which the story is told. We looked at this earlier, calling it God’s Storyview.
  • Plot—What happens in our story and why (the series of events that take place in the story; the plot could also be called the story)
  • Story Structure — How a story is organized. Whatever the structure, every story always has a beginning, middle, and end.
  • Theme—What our story is really about
  • Characters—Who is in the story
  • Protagonist—The main character of our story; often this is the character who changes the most
  • Antagonist—The character or force that prevents the protagonist from reaching his or her goal
  • Supporting characters: Friend, Rival, Sidekick, Mentor, Trickster, etc.
    (Each character has:

    • Character goal—What the character wants
    • Character need—What the character needs in order to be truly happy or fulfilled. This is often very different from what the character wants
    • Character arc—How the character grows or changes (often interiorly) through the the story

I think there are a lot of parallels between various story elements and certain aspects of discernment. For example, we can look at the concept of “supporting characters” in light of discernment. No discernment happens in a vacuum, and in bigger discernments—such as a vocational discernment—we surely need the support of others. But sometimes we forget this, and we can try to discern all alone. Reflecting on the support we have and the support we need in our discernment can really help us on our discernment journeys.

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To Journal About:

Revisit our “Story Premise”—the truth upon which we base our discernment: Our all-good God loves us and always wants what is good and best for us. How would you re-phrase this for the story of your life?

Our Lives–Part of God’s Story

03B 1 choice (GS) stylizedJesus often told stories. Stories are how we make sense of the world, and they are also how God gives us a sense of his presence in the world.

There are many ways of listening to God. One of the most important is praying with the Scriptures. (Read this easy guide to begin praying with the Scriptures through Lectio Divina.)  Yet many of the saints prayed with a text that was not a book—they prayed with the “book of their life”—all the circumstances that made up their lives. If God truly is everywhere, then wouldn’t he most especially be found in the lives of his beloved ones?

What is your story? How has God been at work in your life? In his book on discernment, Marko Ivan Rupnik says:

“Discernment is the art of the spiritual life in which I understand how God communicates himself to me, how God saves me—and this is the same thing—how God brings about redemption through the life, death, and resurrection of his Son, and how the Holy Spirit communicates to me the salvation won for me by Jesus Christ.  Discernment is an art, therefore, in which the realities in creation, the realities in the persons around me, the realities within me, and the realities in my personal history and history itself cease being mute in order to begin to communicate to me God’s love” (Discernment: Acquiring the Heart of God, p. 17).

The Story of God’s Saving Love

Young Preschooler Reading A BookI love stories. I can’t remember how old I was when I finally started to read “real books” on my own (readers with big type weren’t “real” books), but once I started, I couldn’t stop. One summer, my mom got so tired of telling me to stop reading and go play with my brothers and sisters, that she made a rule: I could read only one book a day. I was devastated until I decided that I would live according to the spirit (not the letter) of the rule: I would read only two books a day. I’m sure some bibliophiles will understand that this compromise was still a big sacrifice for me.

But my love for stories is not the only reason I chose to look at discernment through the lens of storytelling. Storytelling is a helpful framework for exploring discernment because we often see patterns in our lives as stories. We seek to give meaning to the events in our lives by looking at them as part of a larger story. While it’s possible to see our days and weeks as if they are made up of discrete, disconnected events, when we step back to look over our lives, we group different events together, giving them a context or a framework that connects them to a larger purpose or meaning: the story of our lives.

When I first started studying theology, I was impressed that my teachers would repeatedly talk about the centuries of biblical times as salvation history. With eyes of faith, the history of the world—the World’s Story—must also be salvation history, and I think we will recognize in heaven that all of earth’s history is one big revelation of God’s saving love for all humanity. And all of our unique and individual stories will fit within the overarching Story of God’s saving love.

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To Journal:

Do I intuitively look at my life as a story?

How do I see events in my daily life? As random, fragmented, disconnected events? Or as a series of events that are leading towards something? Why?