“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” – Anton Chekhov
The afternoon was hot. The sun beat down. However, the evening brought a cool breeze.
Waves of heat rose from her cheek, blistered by the merciless afternoon sun hours before. Only the cool evening breeze brushing across it offered brief relief from the unquenchable flame.
Both paragraphs give the same information. The day went from hot to cool as afternoon became evening. The first paragraph is functional. It gives facts. We’ve all experienced a hot afternoon and a cool evening breeze. But reading facts doesn’t draw the experience out of your memory. It doesn’t make you picture it or feel it.
The second paragraph shows you the effects of that hot afternoon. It creates a picture in your mind. You can relate to it because you’ve felt a sunburn. You know how relief feels whether through a cool breeze or aloe. And you know how quickly that relief fades, leaving heat waves to rise off your skin again. You can see and feel the heat of this imaginary day because the paragraph does more than give you facts. It shows you the story.
Showing versus telling. It’s drilled into the minds of writers in every book and conference. It’s a little thing with a huge impact. Do you want people to simply read your story? Or would you rather they get drawn into the story, reacting to each scene through the connections you create?
With a plethora of books, classes, and workshops on the craft of telling versus showing, we should be experts. We’ve listened to and agreed with the teaching. We’ve implemented the lessons. And then, when we think we’ve outgrown it, we find ourselves slipping back into old habits. That last scene lacks the ability to draw in the reader. We’ve reverted to telling instead of showing. And with that change, we’ve lost the interest of the reader.
Showing rather than telling is vitally important for writers but not only for them. It’s a necessary skill for believers as well. We talk a good game. In our efforts to “go into all the world and preach the gospel”, we memorize John 3:16. We can tell the story of how sin separates us from God. We share how helpless we are to correct our current situation. Praise God that we don’t have to, because He sent Jesus to take the punishment of death that we owe. We can use the Roman road of salvation to help someone each step of the way. We can lead them in a heartfelt sinner’s prayer of repentance. We welcome them to the family and rejoice that they are now reconciled with God. We’re good at these things. We’re good at the telling of faith and love. And please believe me, I understand their importance and am not making light of them. But as with writing, we lose can lose impact if all we have is words.
God gave His people in the Old Testament very specific ways to live. He didn’t do it to hinder them. He did it to make them stand out. He wanted the world to see the difference He made in their lives. If the Old Testament serves as a physical example of the spiritual truth of the New Testament, a foreshadowing of the time during and after Jesus’ ministry, then isn’t the lesson of being different one we should take seriously?
God is love. Scripture says so. God’s love is unconditional, unchanging, and does what is best even when it’s hard. God’s love is active. It sent Jesus to the cross in our place. It meets people where they are without letting them excuse or continue sinful behavior. It changes lives. Can we say the same for our love? We can say God is love. But are we limiting ourselves to telling the world this or do we strive to show it in our actions each day?
Faith is “the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen”. It is “by grace you have been saved through faith”. Faith is more than knowing something to be true. It is taking that belief so far into yourself that it changes the way you think and act. Knowledge that a bridge will let you cross a river safely does you no good if you don’t believe it deeply enough to step onto the bridge and cross the water. James 2:17-18 says, “Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. But someone may well say, ‘You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works’.” James was saying without action to back it up, you’re telling faith and not showing it. He goes even further to say that when you do this faith is dead. The faith isn’t rooted deeply enough to cause action, and without action, it loses its power.
As believers, it’s time we learn the lesson of the writer. It’s time to learn how to show our faith and love rather than simply telling the message.
By the Book: Like a writer, do you find yourself slipping into old habits and telling more than showing your faith and love? Consider what causes this in your life. Are there any ways you can safeguard yourself against slipping into telling when those times come up?