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South Williamsport, PA
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The Power of Storytelling

Long-term memory is as complicated as it is fascinating. The creation and maintenance of long-term memory involves both physiology and repetition. Some events are remembered due to the sheer force of their impact. When we experience something very significant, neurotransmitters are released into the brain and the event is permanently stored. Do you remember where

Long-term memory is as complicated as it is fascinating. The creation and maintenance of long-term memory involves both physiology and repetition.

Some events are remembered due to the sheer force of their impact. When we experience something very significant, neurotransmitters are released into the brain and the event is permanently stored. Do you remember where you were on the morning of September 11, 2001? Of course, you do. The sheer force of those attacks released neurotransmitters into your brain, permanently imprinting a terrible moment in time.

I can also tell you exactly where I was when Bill Buckner booted an easy ground ball to first base and opened the door for the Mets to win the ‘86 World Series. My fellow Mets fans will understand why that memory became a part of my long-term memory. Being a Met’s fan isn’t easy. Why am I a Met’s fan? The first major league ballgame I ever attended was at Shea Stadium in 1969. I was five years old. It was a significant event planted deep into my long-term memory. That year, the underdog “Miracle Mets” won the World Series, and I became a life-long fan. That’s my story.

Some memories become long-term by way of reinforcement. Muscle memory is based on repetition. When we pick up something we haven’t done in a long time, and we can still do it, we say it’s like riding a bike. In education, curriculum and teaching methods are designed to utilize the power of repetitive reinforcement to establish long-term memory.

Most long-term memories are a combination of both impact and reinforcement. The reason we take pictures and create scrapbooks is because there are certain memories we want to remember. Mementos trigger the storytelling that reinforces our memory. On our anniversary, my sweet wife sets up a shrine to our wedding on our dining room table. She does it every year. It’s her way of triggering storytelling and preserving the memories of our special day in 1985.

Hunters do the same with antlers. We mount deer heads and display them in special places to trigger storytelling. I get to visit High Rock hunting camp once or twice a year with some very special friends. Their family hunting history is preserved in a museum they call a cabin. Every trip to the cabin is an opportunity to retell the stories of legendary hunts, the bucks that got away, and family members who have journeyed on to their happy hunting grounds in the sky. Storytelling is powerful, so powerful that their stories have become a part of my story.

Over the past twenty years, my office at the church has also become a museum. Every time our church experiences something special, I choose a memento and add it to the collection of memories that must be preserved. I use those keepsakes to retell the stories of a faithful congregation who stepped out and took risk to do big things for God. Even for the newer people at our church, those stories have become a part of their story.

As the Israelites were entering the Promised Land after forty years of wandering and four hundred years of slavery, God directed them to set up a memorial of twelve stones. Why? To act as a trigger for storytelling for generations to come. To this day, the celebration of Passover, a memorial in the Jewish faith, imprints the story of the exodus into Jewish children and establishes it as a part of their story.

As Jesus was preparing to suffer and die, he created a memorial we call the Lord’s Supper. He commanded them to eat of the bread and drink of the cup often. Why? So, they would tell the story of His passion again and again. Two thousand years later, we’re still telling the story, and His story has become our story. Hallelujah!

My friend, your life is a precious tapestry, a unique weaving of story containing yarns of trauma and triumph, remorse and redemption. Your story has the ability to declare the faithfulness of God, but to do so, you must tell it in a way that reveals His sovereignty and majesty.

What is coming out of your mouth today? Are you telling angry stories of loss and bitterness? Are you constantly rehearsing the regrets and resentments of life? What is your bitter storytelling doing to you and others? Is it lifting them up and giving them hope? It is not. Bitter storytelling only deepens the ruts of life, leaving us mired down in grief. Ruts develop because of repetitive use. Is your life stuck in the ruts created by bitter storytelling? Are you reinforcing the wrong history?

Life is tough and loss is inevitable, but there are other stories we can tell. For every story of loss, there is also a story of gain. It is for this reason Paul encourages us to give thanks in all circumstances. See 1 Thessalonians 5:18. In Philippians 4, he directs us to think about things that are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, and of good report. Why? Because the things we think about will guide the stories we tell. If you dwell on the false, the dishonest, the unjust, the contaminated, the ugly, and the bad, your stories will reinforce the ruts of bitterness and negativity.

Pandemic anxiety and political division are creating plenty of opportunities for reinforcing the evil stories of our day – and there are plenty of people telling those stories. Believer, you and I have the opportunity to tell the other stories; the redemptive stories of faith and hope and love. Our storytelling can awaken people to the sovereign majesty of our loving and gracious God. Storytelling has the power to do great good. Will you unlock that power today? Will you develop your skills as one of God’s master storytellers? What will come out of your mouth today? The choice is yours to make.

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