Welcome to the third part of my series on Story. My husband and I recently attended True/False Film Festival, which is a documentary festival focused on films which tell true stories of people’s lives, experiences, situations. While I was there, I watched films from Africa, New York, Iran, America—it was fascinating to see so many stories of people whose lives are different from mine.
Seeing these films at a festival was especially awesome, because the people who created the films are there, and after the screenings you’re able to participate in a question and answer time with them.
The question and answer times were so fascinating to me, because people talked about the creation of the films. Documentaries are around an hour and a half long, but the filmmakers have anywhere from 24 to over 200 hours of film which they have to sort through, edit and combine to create a film which is cohesive.
I was really impacted by one filmmaker who had made a film about her and her brother’s story. When they were young, their father had disappeared, and was later murdered. He had moved to an Asian country, where they found out he had fathered two more children, also a boy and a girl, and had named them exactly the same names as his first two children. So, he had four children, two boys with one name, two girls with another name. Very odd. So the film was about the older two siblings flying to Asia to meet the younger two siblings, trying to learn more about their father and his death. It was just fascinating.
During the question and answer time, someone asked them how--with all the time planning, traveling, interviewing people, learning about who their father was and how he was murdered—how did they decide what to use in making the film?
And the woman said it had been very difficult, with so many hours of film, to decide what to use. There was so much more to the story, she said, than what they had included.
“We even have a fifth brother,” she said. “But we didn’t include him in the story, at all. He wasn’t a part of the story we ended up telling, and we wanted to preserve his privacy. We learned so much more, about our father, that didn’t fit into the story we were telling. It would’ve prevented us from having a smooth, cohesive film, so we just edited it out and didn’t include it.”
As a writer, I’m working on telling my life story, and also writing a fantasy novel, so I was really fascinated by what she said, about the choices we make every time we tell a story. It’s impossible to include every part of any story we tell. For example, if I’m going to tell you the story of my experiences with my youngest sister, who is now 24, with two kids of her own, is it possible for me to tell you everything about our interactions from the first day I met her as a baby until today? Absolutely not! If I did, it would be a very meandering, boring story.
The same is true of my relationship with God. Can I ever tell anyone every bit of my relationship with God? No. I have to edit, choose what to tell, leave some out.
I’ve been thinking about this concept, in relation to other people’s stories. I think often when we meet people, they tell us about themselves and we think that’s all there is to them, but we don’t’ realize that they often keep quiet about many things. They don’t tell us what is deep within them. Maybe they feel like we won’t like what they have to share; they may fear rejection, or they may just prefer to keep certain things private for their own reasons.
The thing is, we never know the entirety of anyone’s story. We don’t really know what’s going on inside, what their experiences have been, their struggles or their joys. So it’s important that we realize that what someone chooses to tell us is just part of their story. Maybe we can learn more about them in time, but what we see initially is just the surface, and it’s important not to judge it.
I’ve also been thinking about this, in relation to God. I’ve been thinking about the Bible itself. It’s such a big book, but is it possible that it contains the entire story of God, even during the time period that it tells about? It’s just not possible. The Bible itself says, “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” (John 21:25) The story is too big.
So, that means Jesus came to earth, and he did a LOT, but only a portion of it was written down. It’s just like in a the documentary, where they film for months and months and only end up showing a tiny bit of the whole story. It makes me wonder: what else might Jesus have done? We don’t know, really. It wasn’t written down.
I’ve also been thinking about how each church tends to choose the part of the Bible that they like the most, the part that suits them best, and focus on that part as their primary doctrine. We sometimes think that the church presents every bit of everything there is to say about God, and then we begin to believe that God is limited to what we learn in church. But each church looks over the Bible, and choose the parts they are going present and teach.
We may then think “What my church teaches is all there is to God, so that church over there is wrong! They are in conflict with my church!” But that’s not necessarily true. One church may emphasize part of God, and another church may emphasize another part of God, but when we’re willing to look at several churches teachings together, then we end up with something closer to a complete picture of God. But the story we tell about God is always edited to fit the message we’re trying to teach.
So, I encourage you to think about what the whole story might be. Be open to the idea that you don’t know the whole story, about anything. People’s story, God’s story—you might be surprised if you were to ask. “God, what’s your story? What do you want from me? How do you want me to love?” God might be bigger, and even more awesome than you expected!
Also, if you’re curious about this idea, I encourage you to contact a spiritual director, because they are very good at asking you about your OWN story. We are trained to ask questions which will help you to uncover where God is in your story. Where you have grown and changed and where you can grow more. You never know! Your story might be even bigger than YOU think!