Tell me a story

As a child, I would never have jumped on the bed. I knew what could happen. My brothers and sisters and I all knew.

I might break my collarbone.

Over and over my parents had told us the story of a child they knew who had broken his collarbone while jumping on the bed. Did we want that to happen to us? Clearly the answer was no. We would never dare do anything that foolish.

Years later, I met the former bed-jumper and was shocked to see he was whole and healthy and living a perfectly ordinary life. Somehow, I had pictured him as forever crippled by his poor decision as a youngster. He only vaguely recalled the injury, while the broken collarbone story had been a defining one for our childhood.

Stories are so important. They help convey life lessons. They also help us connect and relate better to those we love.

As a mother, I find myself telling stories to help my children understand their world. Stories help us incorporate memories and traditions into our family. They help us know who we are.

No wonder Jesus liked to tell parables. The Good Samaritan challenges us to be more compassionate. The Prodigal Son compels us to look at forgiveness in a new way. The Parable of the Talents asks us to consider what God has given us and how we can best use it. As Catholics, we have so many stories we can tell. In addition to all the Bible stories, we also have the stories of the saints we can weave into our day.

In our household, I try to use stories to encourage our children not just to be safe and healthy and strong, but also to let them know that it’s all right to be confident and sure, and it’s also all right to be vulnerable.

Mostly, though, I tell stories to entertain. I love taking our boys back a few decades to my parents’ dining room when the table suddenly collapsed leaving everyone scrambling to catch the mashed potatoes and gravy before they hit the floor.

My husband shares marvelous stories. We can never get enough of the time Poppy was mowing his back yard on his tractor and toppled into the stream. We sit on the edge of our seats when he describes the time his grandfather played hooky.

As our older son starts middle school, I find myself telling stories about that time in my life that I didn’t even realize I remembered. I talk about times when my feelings were hurt and how I struggled with algebra.

I also tell stories that are not my own, some about older relatives and others about strangers that I’ve heard or read. Over and over we share the boys’ adoption stories, describing how we felt as we waited for them, how we loved holding each of them for the first time, and how bringing them into our family gave us so much joy.

Autumn brings cooler temperatures, and soon enough we’ll be spending more time indoors and eventually we’ll gather around the table for Thanksgiving dinner. We will all be telling new stories and retelling old ones. Maybe this is a time we can listen closely to those with the longest memories and even share a story of our own. Stories can inspire us to live life a little more fully for God and for our fellow pilgrims on this journey through life.

We can learn – and pass along – so much with a story. As Bishop Robert Barron says, “A story can sing the truth and not just tell it.”

These days, I find myself telling my sons a different story to keep them from jumping on the bed. I describe the night one of their aunts was leaping from bed to bed and cracked her head open. I tell it dramatically, always assuming it will do the trick. After all, it would have worked for me.

A few days later, however, I come into their bedroom and find them leaping from bed to bed themselves.

So maybe that story is more entertaining than effective. It might be time to bring out the broken collarbone story instead.

Rita Buettner

Rita Buettner

Rita Buettner is a wife, working mother and author of the Catholic Review's Open Window blog. She and her husband adopted their two sons from China, and Rita often writes about topics concerning adoption, family and faith.

Rita also writes The Domestic Church, a featured column in the Catholic Review. Her writing has been honored by the Catholic Press Association, the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association and the Associated Church Press.