Thursday, April 25, 2013

The “secret sauce”

If you’re struggling to keep writing your memoir, 
this is just what you need.

“What is the secret sauce that holds a family together?” asks Bruce Feiler. “What are the ingredients that make some families effective, resilient, happy?”

Feiler spent several years researching those questions and “a surprising theme emerged. The single most important thing you can do for your family may be the simplest of all: develop a strong family narrative.” (“The Stories That Bind Us,” New York Times)

If you’ve followed this blog for a while, you know when I read those words I hollered, “Yessss! That’s why we write memoirs!

Feiler applauds the work of psychologist Marshall Duke, Duke’s wife Sara, a psychologist working with children, colleague Robyn Fivush, and their “Do You Know?” measure. For example:

“Do you know where your grandparents grew up? Do you know where your mom and dad went to high school? Do you know where your parents met? Do you know an illness or something really terrible that happened in your family? Do you know the story of your birth?”

Their research showed that the more children know of their family’s stories, the more they demonstrate emotional health and happiness and the more resilient they are when faced with challenges.

Are you thinking what I’m thinking?

Through their research, these scientists discovered God was on the right track when He told us to tell our kids and grandkids what we’ve seen Him do for us! (Deuteronomy 4:9; 6:5-9; 6:20-25) Their research verifies Jesus knew what he was talking about when he said, “Go tell your family what the Lord has done for you” (Mark 5:19).

Children who know their family’s stories—successes and failures, triumphs and setbacks—know they are part of what Dr. Fivush calls an “intergenerational self,” that is, “they know they belong to something bigger than themselves.”

Belonging to something bigger than themselves. That, too, echoes what we know of God: He created humans with a yearning for fellowship, community, and of belonging to something bigger than ourselves.

First, He wants us to enjoy belonging to Him. God told His children, “I have called you by name; you are Mine!” (Isaiah 43:1 NAS) He promised He would never forget His children: “See, I have written your name on my hand” (Isaiah 49:15-16). His love is an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3). God delights to have us belong to Him as part of His something bigger than ourselves.

Second, like so many other ways in life on this earth, God places us in families—community, something bigger than ourselves—as a foretaste of the ultimate belonging we’ll enjoy with Him for eternity.

Bruce Feiler concludes,

“Bottom line: if you want a happier family, create, refine, and retell the story of your family’s positive moments and the ability to bounce back from the difficult ones. That act alone may increase the odds that your family will thrive for many generations to come.”

Believe it: Your story is important! It’s the “secret sauce.”

The following Bible passage captures my vision—my prayer, my heart’s desire—for the memoir classes I teach and for this blog:

“Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
his greatness no one can fathom.
One generation will commend your works to another;
they will tell of your mighty acts.
They will speak of
the glorious splendor of your majesty,
and I will meditate on your wonderful works.
They will tell of the power of your awesome works,
and I will proclaim your great deeds.
They will celebrate your abundant goodness
and joyfully sing of your righteousness.”

Psalm 145:3-7, NIV 

So stir up that “secret sauce that holds a family together” and write your stories! Help your children, grandchildren, and great-grands find their identity in your family and God’s family.

New York Times bestseller, Bruce Feiler, is one of the country’s most popular spokesmen on family and faith. He writes a column, “This Life,” for the Sunday New York Times. Much of his NY Times article, The Stories That Bind Us, is adapted from his new book, The Secrets of Happy Families.)


  1. Powerful point Linda. Story is what held tribes together through the ages, and probably still does. I'll bet story forms the spear of the Taliban movement, just as it keeps the women in their burkas.

    1. Much of our population has strayed so far from the many generations of storytelling. My Scottish ancestors (and I suppose ancestors from other parts of the world, too) used to gather in their homes each evening to tell stories, sing, read poetry, etc. Now we each go our own ways and play with our electronics alone by ourselves. I am guilty of that!

      Nevertheless it's worth making an effort to keep our stories alive. Not only do we as writers benefit (because of the things we discover along the away) but our families will benefit, too.

      Thanks for leaving your comment, Sharon. It's always so nice to hear from you.


  2. Linda, what a perfect description of the importance of storytelling in holding families, tribes, communities together. When I visit my family this weekend, I already know we'll be rehashing the same stories as well as adding a few new ones to the mix. It provides great fodder for this writer!

    1. Hi, Sweet Kathy, I'm so glad you get to visit your family this weekend. :) Telling our stories aloud in person is so important, and I know you'll have a great time together. Thanks for stopping by, Kathy.