The Meaning of Stories

Last time I promised to share how my love affair with stories began.

I have loved stories since I was child, but as a psychoanalytically oriented psychologist, I learned to listen very closely to the stories patients told in my consulting room. It is not an exact science, but Freud and his followers discovered certain principles of the unconscious mind –- that the things we are conscious of, and give voice to, are clues to the things that remain in the dark, the greater struggles of our hearts. I did not think my patients were telling “stories” at the time, for we called them narratives or derivatives . . . but they were.

Early in my career as a psychologist, I came under the tutelage of a well-known psychoanalyst, Robert Langs, MD. I learned many things from Dr. Langs, but especially an intimate knowledge of dreams. Freud discovered dreams are a “window” to the unconscious, but difficult to decipher because they’re deeply symbolic. Dr. Langs discovered something more — a wisdom in our unconscious minds that speaks to us in our dreams, trying to help us. But in symbols and code it remains.

Freud believed shame and guilt were to blame for all the mystery, why so many of our thoughts and feelings are more comfortable in the shadows. He was not wrong, but he could not see there was a larger story because he did not believe in God. Freud did not believe our greatest struggles were moral struggles, nor Dr. Langs, nor me at the time.

And then one night I prayed for God to give me a dream.

It was in April of 2000, I was 45 years old. Much had happened in my life since my early days as a psychologist. I was divorced from my first wife and the mother of my three sons, and largely responsible for the break-up of our family, the greatest shame of my life. For several years I’d been reading the Bible and came to believe in the God of the Old Testament, for real. With great trepidation I was investigating the New Testament and the words of this strange, Jewish carpenter, Jesus of Nazareth. Much of what He said made a great deal of sense, but I still had significant questions about His claim to be the Son of God. This was why I asked for a dream, in hope God would answer these questions.

But I asked God for a dream because I finally realized if our unconscious minds speak to us as Dr. Langs thought, something I’d seen great evidence of, this wasn’t because we’re so smart, or by chance, or evolution — but because God made our unconscious minds this way. Our hearts and minds have been contaminated by the Fall, but their essence remains. The deepest part of us still bears God’s spiritual imprint and always will. Or maybe at times God Himself might choose to speak to us in our dreams. That’s okay too!

And answer that night He did, in spades. God gave me a dream just before I woke the next morning, the richest dream I have ever known. I became a Christian two weeks later and my life has never been the same. God used the narratives in this dream to bring me to faith. Stories saved my life. They saved me from myself.

In this way I learned firsthand just how monumental stories can be. Jesus told many of His most important lessons in parables, or stories. He must have had His reasons.

And so, I am sensitive to the symbolism in stories because I listened to my patients’ stories for over thirty years, to their dreams, and to my own. It became very natural for me to listen to narratives in this way, not getting distracted by the details on the surface, but always listening for a greater message below.

As my spiritual journey continued, God began to use other stories to reveal greater things to me. In the beginning, stories from the Bible, but then in Christian fiction, such as Hinds Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard, and The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. But eventually, the Spirit began to speak to me from almost any story at all, in print, but especially film.

In this way, I realized a most incredible truth – that God’s story, the story He has always told in the Bible, but also the story He speaks directly to our hearts — has somehow found its way into a great many other stories. And most surprising of all, the great majority of these authors, do not believe in this God . . . at all. In fact, they would give other reasons altogether why they wrote the story they did. But there it is, nevertheless.

And God’s story, which takes the whole Bible to tell, in essence is very simple. Today many see it as a four-chapter story: Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration. So, not difficult to recognize.

God has been speaking to us through stories and storytellers from the beginning of time, telling His Story over and over again. He wants to help us. There is only way to return to Him more fully, through confession and repentance. Will we listen? Will we respond to His loving overtures?

Enough for now. Let’s find another story to dive into next time.


Welcome, I'm Sam!

A fellow traveler on this journey we call life and this path we call the Christian faith, wanting to speak to anyone who will listen about the incredible things that God (only because of His incredible grace) chose to reveal to me. Stories have always been a mirror in which we can see ourselves, if we only look more closely. We are all like the children of Israel in the wilderness, wanting and needing to establish ourselves in the promised land. Stories can help us to get there, and to flourish there.

I can't wait to get to know you!


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