I started teaching a memoir class in our local library last week. I've never done a class like this before, and the local program coordinator said she hoped for about twenty people from our town of 3,000. Forty-five people showed up, from age ten to eighty-five.
Apparently there are a lot of people with a story to tell. And I believe that each and every one of them has a story worth telling.
I don't know that any of them will go on to publish memoirs and I doubt that any will become best sellers. But even for the ones who never try to get published, writing the story of our lives and of our family is worth it.
Last year I read a fascinating article by Bruce Feiler, himself a memoirist, in which he talks about the significance of family stories for children's well-being. He writes, "The single most important thing you can do for your family may be the simplest of all: develop a strong family narrative."
Feiler presents research demonstrating the relationship between a child knowing her or his family story and having a resilient and positive outlook on life. Even if the family story is a difficult one, when a child knows their story, knows that s/he belongs to a group of people, knows how s/he fits into the narrative, they do better than families in which no such consistent narrative exists.
There is nothing particularly Christian about Feiler's article or the research he presents. There is nothing explicitly Christian about the memoir class I am teaching. And yet it strikes me that knowing our family stories resonates all the more deeply with me because I am a Christian. First of all, as a Christian I believe that God is writing a story through all of creation and all of human history, a story with a distinct beginning, middle, and end, a story that includes my own story as well as the countless other human beings who have and do and will walk this earth.
Second, I believe that the human desire to make meaning out of the events of our lives is a God-given desire. Even the most secular among us sometimes remark upon a sense of fate, serendipity, astonishing coincidence. We want our lives to matter. We want the hard, ugly, terrifying aspects of our life to be redeemed, to be transformed into beauty and hope. For Christians, we can connect the personal desire for meaning with the promise that God is shaping our lives with a purpose.
Third, and finally, as a Christian I believe that God communicates to us through stories. Through the story—spoken into being in the beginning—of creation. Through the story of God's ongoing and transformative work in real human lives told throughout the Bible. And through the story—the logos, the Word—of the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. God's primary form of communication with us is stories, not data points, not graphic designs, not textbooks, not even music or painting. Stories are by their very nature relational. They create an invitation. God's ongoing work in the world is through a story inviting us into the action.
Which brings me back to where I began. It's helpful for your kids—Christianity aside—to know their family stories. If as an adult you don't know your family's story, it's worth trying to uncover it. Every life contains a story worth telling. A story with meaning and purpose and redemptive threads. A story that connects to the greatest story of all time.