The Staying Power of Stories - Part 2

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Hi Storyformed Friends! It is my pleasure to introduce to you, Jason Pederson, a Storyformed guest contributor. Jason believes good stories change lives. Though he has only recently begun work on his first children’s novel, he has been storytelling for 10 years through his residential design business where his home designs help fund adoptions (www.jpdesignhomes.com). Jason is married to his best friend, Jennifer, and together they adopted their now two-year-old son, Jackson, who is eagerly anticipating the arrival of their newest addition; due this Christmas. They live in a Colorado cottage filled with good books and a funny little dog named Belle.


By Jason Pederson

There are stories that stay with us long after we first encounter them. Words that awoke longings in us as children still hold sway over our adult imaginations. They gather somewhere deep within us to form reservoirs that tend to well up into surprising surges of joy when we least expect it.

What is it that makes a story stick? Are there related threads that weave through the stories that we love most?

Over the years, my wife and I have been compiling a family library that we hope will encourage, challenge, captivate, and launch our children into a full life. Some of the books are well-worn and have traveled all the way from my childhood bookshelf and now find their place in my son’s bookcase. I often find myself wondering why, after all these years, I kept those particular stories? Hundreds of books that once rested in my palms were eventually passed over, given away, or replaced. Is there something inherently more enchanting or resonant in the stories that “made the shelf”?

This article is not meant to be a tour of my personal bookshelf, but an invitation to listen for the refrains that resonate through the beloved stories that are unique to each shelf. At my own invitation, reflection has led me to discover four streams that consistently run through the stories I cherish most. I described my experience with the first stream – wonder – in part one of this article. You can find it here. I observed that after a story has led me to a place of wonder, I return to reality with renewed clarity. After experiencing wonder on a page, my senses are more keenly aware of the beauty and mystery in the present. Wonder that merely impresses our mind with originality or stirs our heart with beautiful prose can still leave us stranded if it lacks resonance with the present. True wonder offers a glimpse of glory and then supplies us with the enduring strength to chase that vision long after we turn the page.

For me, the stream of wonder inevitably feeds into the stream of gratitude. If wonder helps us to see and savor the Good, True, and Beautiful, then gratitude helps us sing about them. Something stirring may leave us in silent wonder, but gratitude will eventually break the silence. Whether it comes in the form of personal reflection or outward declaration, our joy leads to thanksgiving.

GRATITUDE completes joy.

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C.S. Lewis says it best in his Reflections on the Psalms: “I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise does not merely express but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation…Fully to enjoy is to glorify.” When a story leads us to discover a deeper joy, a truer beauty, or a more enduring good, we respond most naturally with gratitude and praise. When you have walked with Ents through the forests of Middle Earth the local neighborhood hike can come alive with mystery and whimsy. The gratitude I feel for being given that perspective keeps me rooted in the adventure of the moment. Every walk in the woods should be a practice in gratitude.

Gratitude completes joy by giving it a name. There is a scene near the end of the Disney movie Secretariat that contains only two words, but when they are spoken, they summarize the thrust of the story in its essence. Secretariat is the name of an American Thoroughbred racehorse who was contending for the first Triple Crown in 25 years. After rounding the last turn in the final, and longest of the three races, Secretariat, who was known to underperform over long distances, is shown pushing a record-breaking pace. Instead of tiring, he continues the fast pace and opens up a larger and larger margin on the field. He races to a stunning victory 1/16th of a mile ahead of the rest of the field. In the scene, his longtime caretaker observes this majestic feat, and erupts with the words “oh glory!” The scene makes you want to leap off the couch, throw your fists in the air, and shout for joy along with the crowd. Gratitude rightly ascribes the name glory to the joy that comes from witnessing something truly magnificent. When a story leaves us feeling grateful for the experience, it is gratitude itself that helps us to name what we found most moving. In naming our joys we are offered a glimpse into the authenticity of our character.

Gratitude first helps us to name what we most enjoy, but then it gives us a way to measure the strength and value of those joys. With the right application, gratitude can become a kind of gauge that displays the magnitude of our wonder. Like the wind that precedes an approaching storm, gratitude is a great indicator of the breadth and intensity of that which we find inspiring. I think of the passage in C.S. Lewis’s The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe when the Pevensie children first hear the name Aslan. “At the name of Aslan each one of the children felt something jump in its inside.” Apart from Edmund who felt a sensation of mysterious horror, the other three children experience feelings associated with gratitude in varying degrees. What they each feel in that moment reveals the essence of their character and the level of value that they unknowingly assign to Aslan before encountering him. Follow the strength of your gratitude and you will eventually come face to face with your deepest longings.

Gratitude completes our joy, names our longings, and measures our wonder. The strongest thanks and the highest praise are reserved for the truest and deepest joys. My intention in linking gratitude and joy was to show that being grateful for something is really an invitation into enjoying it more fully. Gratitude is not a character-defining duty but a soul-satisfying delight. Stories that invite us to work in the garden of gratitude will yield contentment and satisfaction for years to come.