Our stories are part of us. They’ve been part of the human project for all of our shared memory.

A man and a woman, a tree and an apple, at the beginning of human history. Or an earth-diving bird who plunges from the great beyond to the depths of the sea, disturbing the mud and sediment of the abyss until terra is formed. Or the battle between two deities, with the loser being unfortunately dismembered, scattered; and from the parts of the destroyed god’s life force something new springs into existence.

The stars, the ancient remnants of heavenly battles. The seas, fed by the holes shot through the earth’s crust. Such things are the realm of mythos and legend and imaginative explanation. The realm of stories.

Aren’t stories, by nature, untrue? Aren’t stories those things which are made up?

Perhaps.

Our Stories = Truth + Lies

But what do we do with what are often called “real-life stories”? What about stories in biographies? Didn’t those stories really happen? Can a narrative that is “real” in some sense truly be a story?

Maybe the divide between what is real and what is made up gets too much attention. Maybe the notion of “story” is bigger than all that.

Stories are the lies through which we experience the truth. The false through which we know the real.

Stories are the lies through which we experience the truth. The false through which we know the real.

Such an idea brings great liberty and freedom with it. It liberates us from defining “story” too narrowly. And it frees us to engage our imaginations more creatively.

But then again, there is the danger of reimagining our personal stories in ways that are unhelpful. We’re good at nostalgia. We’re good at sanitizing our history. We’re good at romanticizing previous seasons of our lives.

And this leads to that persistent and silly notion of “If I could just go back.”

Changing the Future, Not the Past

I mean, I hate that question that so often gets asked in interviews, or team-building sessions, or by therapists: “What’s one thing you would change if you could go back?”

That’s a bullcrap question.

To be at home with our own stories, we need to get to the point where we can honestly answer that feckless question this way: “Nothing. Absolutely nothing.”

And we wouldn’t change nothing because it was all perfect. No! It’s exactly because our past is so messy, so full of joy and brokenness, so full of the stuff that is shaping who we are.

It’s because of the imperfection that we wouldn’t change a thing.

So let our stories be lies, yet true. Let them be full of reality and fiction that dance in playfully imaginative ways. But let us not strip away what is real just because it’s messy.

Reimagining our stories is not about turning the real into the fantastical. It’s about rethinking and reinterpreting the truths and the lies of our stories so that they yield new meaning, new perspective.

This enables us to stop thinking about changing the past and instead living toward changing the future.

When embraced this way, our stories lead to change and growth.

And that is the essential human project.

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