We Are the Stories We Tell Ourselves 

Charles Kiser —  May 25, 2016 — 4 Comments

It’s true.

Fred Liggin calls them “authorizing narratives.” James Bryan Smith calls them “false/true narratives.” We might also call them “defining stories.”

We are storied creatures. We live out of interpreted experiences and memories. These stories impact our behavior and our growth.

If we want to change or grow — in any aspect of our lives — we must address our defining stories. Because all stories are not created equal. Some are false and distorted, either causing us to see ourselves as less than we are or more than we are. Humility is simply living out of accurate stories about ourselves.

Some would say we need to address our beliefs, and that beliefs influence our behavior. This is true, but it doesn’t go deep enough. Stories are deeper than beliefs. They emerge out of life experiences that mark us indelibly. We don’t think and act out of propositions (beliefs), but fundamentally out of defining stories. 

Ever watch the Biggest Loser reality show? Notice how much time they spend digging for such defining stories? Most of the time the participants are not consciously aware of them; but they are there, influencing their decisions to overeat and remain sedentary. And when they are finally realized, it is often with many tears and deep impact.

I’m on a physical health journey myself and have attempted to explore my defining stories in this area. As I paid attention I was amazed at how many stories I tell myself – mostly when I make bad decisions. Stories like “This is just genetic. I’ll always be overweight.” As with the most powerful false narratives, there is always an element of truth in them. That’s what makes them so deceiving. But it is a false narrative nonetheless. The true narrative is that God is making all things new, including my physical body. If God can raise Jesus from the dead then surely he can empower me to arrive at a healthier place physically.

One of the Holy Spirit’s gifts to us is to bring these stories into our awareness. That is 90% of the work, and God will do the heavy lifting if we’ll let him. “The human spirit is the lamp of the Lord that sheds light on one’s inmost being ” (Proverbs 20:27).

What area of your life are you working on right now? What defining stories are you telling yourself that hinder/help your progress? 

Charles Kiser


I’m a pastor, missionary, and contextual theologian in Dallas, Texas. I’m committed to equipping and coaching Christians to start fresh expressions of Christian community in Dallas County — communities of hospitality, inclusion, justice, and healing.

4 responses to We Are the Stories We Tell Ourselves 



    You made many good points in this post. Unlike the others I am not sure how to reply. Partly it is because I am not sure what I need to deal with in terms of my story. Also I sent an email today to Paul about Kenny and part of that was to discern his story.

    Pray for God to grant me His wisdom about my story and insights about the story that Kenny tells himself.

    Shalom John

    On Wed, May 25, 2016 at 9:27 AM, In the Storyline wrote:

    > Charles Kiser posted: “It’s true. Fred Liggin calls them “authorizing > narratives.” James Bryan Smith calls them “false/true narratives.” We might > also call them “defining stories.” We are storied creatures. We live out > of interpreted experiences and past memories.” >


      One thing that’s helped me identify defining stories is thinking about areas of my life where I feel stuck, and then asking God to show me what stories I’m telling myself in the midst of them. Reflect and then share with good friends to get their perspective to be able to discern where I might be deceived by false narratives. This reflects the moves of the learning circle from Mike Breen’s building a discipling culture: observe; reflect; discuss; next step; account; act. The first three help to identify what God is saying; the latter three how I am going to put into practice what I hear.


    People have to be taught how to think logically. No one has to be taught how to think narratively because it is second nature. Life takes the shape of a plot (or do narratives take the shape of life?). I believe that is why the Bible is primarily narrative in structure.

    The Hasidic rabbis taught that telling the stories of tzaddiks (holy ones) were a divine mitzvah and that when the hasidim gathered and told stories God himself would listen. Elie Weisel says that God made mankind because he loved stories.


    And it is true. We are the stories we tell ourselves.

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