“Now as [Saul] was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice…” – Acts 9:3-4
You probably have a picture of this biblical moment in your head: Saul lying there on the ground next to horse, an arm flung over his eyes to protect them from the great light in the sky. What’s weird about that, of course, is that there was no horse, at least not as the Bible tells it. And yet, for some reason everybody tells the equine version.
Stories, especially the important ones, have a way of picking up embellishments and details over time. I can think of at least two oft-told stories from my early childhood that I’m pretty certain can’t have actually happened the way my family tells them. But they’ve been told and heard so many times that they’re definitely true even if they didn’t quite happen the way we tell them. At its best, this process can make stories truer even while making them less factual.
We’re not always at our best, though. You want to tell the Paul story with a horse? Fine. It doesn’t really hurt anything, and if it helps you remember what really matters about it, even better. But not all our embellishments are so harmless. Hear your own story told enough times with embellishments like “slut” or “stupid,” and you might start to believe them. Tell your own story enough times with additions like “unworthy” or “failure,” and other people might start to believe them.
What’s been added to your story, by others or by you, that wasn’t there when it started? What embellishments haven’t added truth, but dismay? Is it time to get rid of the horse?
God, here’s my story. Edit it, correct it, rewrite it until everyone, including me, tells it the way you do. Amen.
Quinn G. Caldwell is the Pastor of Plymouth Congregational Church, Syracuse, New York. His most recent book is a series of daily reflections for Advent and Christmas called All I Really Want: Readings for a Modern Christmas. Learn more about it and find him on Facebook at Quinn G. Caldwell.