As a starter activity for a recent session on parables, I asked the young people in my seventh-grade group to think about some of their favorite stories. A few people asked for clarification: what kind of stories? Wanting to keep the activity broad in scope, I told them, “Any kind. Personal stories, family stories, or a favorite story you read.” The kids turned their heads to their papers, and some of them jotted some notes. But a good number gave me blank stares. I was saddened that they were having such trouble thinking of a story.
One girl volunteered the story of the Three Little Pigs as a childhood favorite. Good. Fairy tales and other stories learned in childhood would be a great starting point for discussion. I asked the kids to think about stories heard around the table at family celebrations, such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, or birthdays where other relatives might visit and recall the family history. Most of the young people claimed that their families didn’t share stories at holidays. Surprised, I prodded, “What about a grandparent who starts a story, ‘When I was little . . . ’ or an aunt or uncle who likes to tease about Mom or Dad as a kid?” The young people, at least the vocal ones, insisted that sharing like that didn’t happen at family meals. Discouraged, I told the kids that their homework this holiday season was to demand some stories of their family history: ask Grandma or Grandpa what they remember about growing up, or ask parents to share stories of the children from their earliest years.
Still, I wasn’t done trying. Wondering if kids thought of stories only as tales that had been written down or handed on from one generation to another, I offered a more relevant example. “What about stories you tell at the lunch table? When you share with a friend what happened in social studies or on the way to school, that’s story-telling.” Stories are an important way of connecting with other people, and if young people are having difficulty with stories, we have a problem.
“The Kingdom of God is much more than we can ever grasp. Jesus spoke in parables or stories in order that his listeners, including us today, might better understand.” (“Stories Speak to Us” 3-Minute Retreat) But if young people get blocked by the very idea of what a story is, can they understand the stories Jesus used to teach? We continued with our session exploring the parables, but the question stays with me. Even if kids leave the session knowing a story or two about Jesus, do they understand what a story is? Can stories still speak to people who aren’t sure they know any stories? We lose something culturally important when we can’t identify stories or value them.
The next session, one of the boys raised his hand and said he had a comment. I had a hunch it wasn’t relevant to the discussion at hand, so I asked if the comment was about our topic or about something else. He said it was a story about something else, and I asked him to hold his thought until the end of class. The girl next to him piped up, “But it’s a story!” Maybe there’s hope for stories yet.