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Where the Glory Shines Through the Grit: The Holy Weight of Storytelling

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By Anna Schaeffer

Like many 12-year-old girls, I felt like no one understood me. I felt alone. Too different. But then I discovered books. I met a character in a series who dealt with some of my same struggles. I inhaled those stories then dove in again. Eventually, I lost count of how many times I read them.

That series was special. It made me laugh out loud and cry into my pillow. It showed me I wasn’t alone and that there was a God who was with me in my questions and insecurities. Because of those books, I fell in love with reading and writing.

And I fell in love with Jesus.

From then on, God began watering a seed of a dream in my heart: I wanted to tell stories that showed the next generation of girls they weren’t alone either.

In 2015, I released my first book, All of This. It’s about a 16-year-old girl with a rough past, a father who doesn’t know how to relate to her and a plane ticket to a new beginning.

She spends the summer in a quirky Southern town, surrounded by people who tell her she doesn’t have to be defined by her past and that there is a God who has a purpose for her life.

When I sat down to write the sequel, Just One Thing, I thought about what Sadie’s life would look like now that she believes in a God who loves her and gives her life meaning.

From the start, I knew I wanted to tell the “what now?” part of faith. The part that comes after the happy ending of a book, when the characters inevitably have to keep moving forward.

Sadie is new to the whole Christianity thing and desperately wants to get it all right, but her old life still tugs at her. And like many of us, she’s caught a little bit off guard by how intense struggles get when you give your heart to Jesus.

She can’t have a civil conversation with her dad, her ex-friends hate her and no one believes she’s changed. No one ever told her faith would be easy, but no one told her it would be this hard. She has to wonder if starting over is really worth the cost.

The story has humor and some wacky situations and its share of swoon-worthy moments, but at its heart, Just One Thing is a book about relationships — the kind that come naturally and the kind you fight for. And what it means to have a relationship with the God who never, ever gives up on us.

As storytellers, we’re stewards of imagination.

I’m aware of the holy weight that comes with writing faith-infused fiction for teens—writing characters who lock eyes with the reader and show her she’s not alone, but who also take her by the hand and lead her toward truth.

If we write stories that are only happy and shiny and easy, any sort of hope we wish to share won’t sink into impressionable hearts—it’ll slide off. And if we just write stories that mirror what surrounds us without offering a glimpse into the divine design behind it all, we don’t help pave a way forward.

That’s not to say we moralize or preach at our readers. Not at all. It’s the opposite, really: We take our cue from Jesus.

Jesus came as a servant leader. How did He do it? He kneeled down, got in the dirt and washed feet. To write fiction that inspires faith, we do the same thing: Kneel down, get in the dirt and wash feet. Writers are servant leaders.

As storytellers, we’re stewards of imagination. Through our words, we wrestle with the world as it is to hint at the world as it is intended to be.

Every word can point to eternity, every paragraph break can leave room for contemplation. As we outline a plot, we pave the way for others to know they’re a part of a bigger story—and that they have a purpose in it. As we build a story world, we invite others to experience God’s Kingdom.

When we’re intentional with why we include the realistic ruggedness of life—the honest emotions, the mistakes, the doubts—it serves a bigger purpose.

Of course, all of this is behind-the-scenes work. We’re telling stories, not writing theology textbooks. But that’s where the servant leadership comes in. We sit at our desks or at our kitchen tables or in our local coffee shops and we tell the best, most authentic story we can tell. 

We tell stories with texture our readers can grasp and understand in the context of their own lives. We write stories where glory shines through grit.

In an Instagram post from July 20, 2019, author Robin Jones Gunn says this:

“When you’re a writer, no life experience is trivial. Everything echoes the sacred because human souls are eternal. A storytellers’ job is to find the common threads in this tattered world and hold them out so that a reader will grab and pull until the veil is torn in two and they behold the heart of God.”

Regardless of the tales we tell—contemporary, fantasy, sci-fi, historical, speculative—there’s a holy weight to what we do. We’re telling stories to souls.

In our characters’ struggles, we can share the Savior who bears our burdens. When they stumble and fall, we can point to the One who paid our debt with His own life.

Ultimately, telling God’s glory stories is an act of love. With each scene, we say, “I see you and I love you. But more than that, your Creator sees you and He loves you. Let me show you how much…”

That’s what the book series did for me all those years ago, when I was a 12-year-old girl without a whole lot of hope.

Since then, God led me to major in English Creative Writing in college and Ministry to Women in seminary. Both of which connect to that long-ago seed of a dream. To say I read a lot of books during my time as a student would be an understatement. But to this day, when asked which books have impacted me the most, I picture a red-haired little girl, sitting in her room and experiencing the power of a faith-infused story.

We write stories where glory shines through grit.

A few months ago, I went home to visit my family. While there, I pulled those well-loved paperbacks from my bookshelf and tucked them into my suitcase. Over the next few weeks, I re-read the series. I’m now a 20-something who has been to high school and college and grad school. I’m a long way from where I was when I first encountered those books as an anxious kid. And yet, I still laughed out loud and cried into my pillow as I read. I still connected with the characters.

It took me back to the first time I read about the character who understood my struggles—a character who wasn’t perfect, but pointed me toward a perfect Heavenly Father. And it reminded me of why I do what I do.

If you feel the nudge in your heart to tell stories for the glory of God, don’t wait. You don’t have to have a big platform or a specific college degree or a full-fledged marketing plan. You just need to have a heart that beats for sharing the Good News of Jesus in a breath-by-breath, word-by-word, chapter-by-chapter obedience and a willingness to be a servant leader, kneeling down in the dirt, washing feet. Then believe that the Author of your life’s story will use your words for His glory.

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Anna Schaeffer

Anna Schaeffer is a 6th grade Bible and ELA teacher and an author of teen novels. She is an alumna of SEBTS, where she earned a Masters in Ministry to Women before God called her to teach in her home city in Georgia. She loves writing about God's faithfulness in everyday life and is passionate about helping tweens and teens discover their purpose in God's story.

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