Of course, after that exercise comes the big question: Story is powerful—so what? What is the big deal about the way we remember stories?
Let me pose the question a different way: Why is it a big deal what we eat? What difference does it make if we drink eight glasses of water a day? Or six cans of pop? Or a cup of arsenic?
In the same way, stories are a part of our mental and emotional diet. The type we feed ourselves, while not fatal like arsenic to the body, helps determine the health of our hearts, which in turn results in our lifestyle. As Jesus put it, “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.” (Matthew 15:17-19 NIV)
So what we read and watch does matter. A lot. Both fiction and nonfiction—although as I talked about in “Story Power,” fiction often has a longer lasting impact.
Some stories promote healthy living and energize our walk with Christ. Other stories, like pop, are treats and should be enjoyed sparingly—a constant diet will make us sluggish or even ill. Then there are arsenic stories that poison. And of course there’s everything in-between.
But reading stories about deception or adultery or magic doesn’t make us deceivers, adulterers, witches and wizards, does it?
No, it doesn’t. But neither will eating five of hamburgers daily kill you instantly—or even make you obese overnight. Just because a story doesn’t show immediate effects doesn’t mean it won’t have any effect, either.
Like the human body, which is able to filter out some poison or other unhealthy things, the human heart can do the same. An occasional hamburger won’t hurt you, and neither will the occasional “unhealthy” story.
It’s the constant diet that becomes dangerous. Many of the deadliest diseases and poisons store up in the body over time before killing. Stories likewise can build up, lying dormant in the mind, slowly infiltrating our hearts until they poison our actions. Remember, to commit adultery or murder you need only look at someone with lust or hatred (Matthew 5:21-22, 27-28 NIV).
So what difference does story make? It can alter your whole attitude or outlook on life—and therefore your lifestyle. Let us choose what is good for our heart’s health.