Last month, I spoke on Research for Creative Writers at the annual One Year Adventure Novel summer workshop. At this writing conference, two talks were also given by Andrew Peterson—my favorite musical artist (who also happens to be a brilliant writer and speaker).
One of the talks Peterson gave described his experience with story. Initially, Peterson described his experience of being enthralled by the wonder of stories—especially fantasy, science fiction, and fairy-tales. As Peterson grew older, he came to more clearly see the greater wonder and beauty of the Gospel—and so, he mostly put aside his love for fiction for years. All that He needed was satisfied through Jesus.
I have followed a similar path in my own life. For many years, stories were what I longed for. I loved Jesus too, but so much of my attention and thought was on the stories I consumed. I was so drawn to the beauty and wonder I saw in my favorite stories—but to the point that I did not fully recognize that their beauty was but a reflection of the beauty of Jesus, of the One Thing I needed to find the true joy that I sought.
Similar to Peterson in his own journey, I mostly set aside my love for stories in the last few years. During this time, especially the last year, I have found true joy in Jesus, and Jesus alone. I have learned to recognize that He is the one and only thing that satisfies; He is, truly, all that I need. This truth impacts all that I do, and it is my reason for waking up every morning with gladness; it is my reason for the work that I do, for the relationships that I build, for everything. My life now centers upon what it was created to center on, and this has brought so much fulfillment. It is the only thing that can.
However—Andrew Peterson’s story did not end there, and neither does mine. After finding and experiencing God in new ways, and re-discovering the beauty and wonder of the Gospel, Peterson’s life was centered on what it was always meant to center on. But this does not mean that God wanted him to give up stories. God made stories. Jesus told stories. Stories have the power to convey truth and beauty in incredibly powerful ways. And, though it is important to understand that the beauty of stories is but a reflection of the true beauty of Jesus, they can teach us more about Him.
A few days ago, I re-read C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle. The Narnia series is one that was a hugely significant part of my childhood—indeed, I cannot think of any books that I have read so many times, or many that have stirred as much emotion in me as they. But reading it this last time, at twenty-four years old, was the most meaningful for me of all. The powerful emotions I still have associated with the name of Aslan surprised me. When Lewis writes that “He’s not a tame lion,” I practically cheered. When Aslan showed up at the story’s climax, at the end of old Narnia and the beginning of new Narnia, I cried—but not simply because of the beauty of the story.
When I was younger, this would have been why I cried. But this time, I cried because the beauty of this story, the beauty that Lewis imbued the Narnia series with, is a reflection of Truth. I cried because through experiencing the story of Narnia and getting to know Aslan, I felt not further away from God but so much closer. What I love about Aslan—His goodness, kindness, mightiness, justice, mercy, and love—are but reflections of the perfect, truly good, nature of Jesus. Reading Narnia now does not distract me from Jesus—it helps me to love Him more.
This is the power of story when read rightly. I needed to go those years without much story in my life, to re-focus on the true beauty of God, and to come to rely solely upon Him for joy and fulfillment. But now, just as God called Andrew Peterson back to story, I feel that He is calling me to dive back into story again. Not for the purpose of escaping, but for the purpose of equipping. For the purpose of learning more about Him through the beauty of Aslan, through the sacrifice of Frodo, through the courage of Harry Potter. I want nothing more than to grow in relationship with God daily—but He has also called me to story, and shown me that I can grow even closer to Him through it.
God created stories, and I fully believe He can and does work through them in powerful ways. When I was a child, I read stories like a child, seeing wonder and beauty but not fully connecting it to its Source. Now that I am a man, I must put away childish things—but that does not include story. Becoming a man means putting away “the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up” (C. S. Lewis). Becoming a man means recognizing the value and power of stories, while also understanding that any beauty I find in them is beautiful only because it reflects God’s own. Because it reflects aspects of the Biblical narrative and Gospel story, which is the most beautiful (true) story of all. And thus, I am called to go further out, and further in—further into Narnia, further into story, and most importantly, further into Jesus through it all.