Tedious. This accurately describes my history class experiences. In many classrooms, history is reduced to lists to be memorized and regurgitated for the test. It doesn’t have to be this way. Teachers have an amazing opportunity to put the STORY into history, to give the heart of history.
To the horror of my history friends, most of my knowledge of history comes from fiction books. I’m intelligent enough to understand that they are fiction books not meant to educate. But properly written, historical fiction gives me insight into the struggles and attitudes of a time. It shows me a snapshot of how life was lived in a particular era. The textbook worthy events are the driving forces behind what the characters say, do, and believe. History becomes a story with heart, and I find myself connecting with it in ways I never could with a textbook.
A Most Precious Gift brought the life back into history as I read it. The author, Jacqueline Freeman Wheelock, did a wonderful job opening up the world of pre-civil war Natchez, Mississippi. The story chronicles the experiences of Dinah Devereaux, a house slave to a wealthy family. Struggling to find her own worth and keep alive her dreams for the future, Dinah encounters a man she could love if only she were worthy. As she gets to know him, Dinah learns even those with that rare gift called freedom are not necessarily free.
Though it isn’t the focus of the story, readers are introduced to the ugliness in the hierarchy of slavery. When proof of freedom is lost, the reader feels the fear and pain it brings to the characters. Even the simple act of helping a loved one becomes a struggle when rules must be followed. These things make the tenacity, hope, and love seen in the characters more inspiring. Even the shadows of coming war play their part in transporting the reader into the era by adding a new level of uncertainty to already uncertain lives. Though the characters are fictional, they have the important job of showing the story of the times in a real way.
Connecting people to history in inspiring and challenging ways is important. Throughout the Old Testament, God instructed His people to remember. He didn’t want them to live in the past, but He wanted them connected to their past. It wasn’t about facts. It was about finding out who they were and where they had come from as a people. When God told them His words would be “on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7), it was to understand Him and what He had done for them. He commanded remembrance through scripture, setting up altars, and observing feasts. I believe as the people carried out the yearly Passover, it brought to life the hardships of their ancestors. They glimpsed their fears and pains. God’s people became one with the story of those before them and experienced a taste of God’s past provision. It also gave those willing to believe a glimpse of what God was going to provide through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
Scripture still has the power to change us as we go beyond the facts and find the story. After all, it is God’s true story written for us.
By the Book: Choose a story from scripture to read again. Consider the story beyond the facts. How does your understanding of the heart of the story affect your relationship with God?