Great Stories, Jack, But Are They True?

Recently I was the keynote speaker at a church mission conference where, during my three speeches I brought out my points by telling 25 personal stories. All of these stories were true, having happened in my life. All, except one.

The last meeting was an international dinner featuring a buffet with foods from every continent. Many of the guests were dressed in costumes native to countries where they had been born or had worked. The person introducing me jokingly asked why Jo and I had not dressed in the native costume of the Canela people of Brazil among whom we had worked for decades.

Jack Being Dressed in Canela Native Costume

“When we returned to Canada from Brazil,” I told the audience, “we were invited to dress in native Canela costume to attend an international dinner much like this one. Using plenty of body paint we got ourselves ready, and drove to the banquet. Fortunately it was a nice warm day. We had to park some distance from the church and were walking along the sidewalk when a passing RCMP patrol car suddenly pulled up alongside of us, two policemen jumped out, covered us with blankets, and arrested us for indecent exposure.”

This story was a lie from beginning to end and, after my audience had stopped laughing, I confessed. But what about the other 24 stories I told during that conference? Were they lies too? Or did I tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?

No, they weren’t lies. But they weren’t the whole truth either. To tell the whole truth is nearly impossible and would totally spoil the story.

Just think about it. What if a dozen microphones and cameras were to record every sound and angle of a two-minute memorable event in my life from start to finish? When you viewed all that footage, surely you would know the 100% truth about that event. No, you would not!

Cameras and microphones might show the date and the time, but they don’t record what I smelled, or tasted, or how warm I was, or how I was feeling physically. Nor would there be any record of what I was thinking, how I was feeling emotionally, what I remembered of similar incidents in the past, or what I resolved to do from now on. Yet aren’t these mental and emotional aspects often the most important part of a story? What was the final impact of the event on my life? No video can show that.

Yet, I can tell you the story of that same two-minute event in such a way that you will end up feeling the same emotions I was feeling, come to the same conclusion as I came to, and may even allow the lesson to impact you in the same way it impacted me.

I would not have described every possible second of the two-minute event, nor quoted every single word accurately. I would have left out many, many facts. Had I left them in they would have diluted the story and left you bored with all the true, but irrelevant detail.

Jesus did the same thing when He told His stories. Mark 4:3-8 records a 35-second story of the farmer who scattered seed on four different types of soil. Jesus did not tell the whole truth. He left out scores of facts: The farmer’s name, his age, his experience, what he was wearing, his marital and family status, the size of the field, the time of day, the amount of seed, the exact kind of seed, the species of birds that ate the seed, where the path led to, etc. All facts, all true, but He left them all out because they were irrelevant to the point of His story.

I want to be a good storyteller. That’s why, like Jesus, I never let the facts stand in the way of a good story.