stories

In getting to know someone, we’re bound to hear bits and pieces of what made them who they are, and we start to piece it together to understand them. This is how relationships are formed. But it’s rare that we actually sit down and listen to someone’s life story as a whole. And it’s rare that we tell it, too. For one thing, we feel awkward telling people about ourselves without an invitation. For another, we’re not sure how it will be received. It’s deeply personal, and it makes us feel vulnerable, putting our entire lives out on the table for someone to scrutinize.

But I think sharing our stories with one another is a very healthy thing to do. Then we realize that none of us really has it together. We can better understand where the other is coming from. We can help each other recognize our own biases. We can learn from each other’s mistakes. And most importantly, we can accept one another for who we are. Not just the polished parts of our life, and not just what we’ve had control over. All of it. All of US.

I heard, like, 2 testimonies growing up. And it was more about the terrible lives they lived before they found Christ, and it seemed to be a way to admonish the younger folks not to make the same mistakes. Hence I developed a bit of “conversion envy” — feeling like I had nothing to share because I’ve always been the “good kid.” And because of that, it sort of blinded me to the incredible things that God has done in my life. So when I was asked to share my testimony during training week at Deer Run, I kind of panicked: “But…I don’t have a story!” As I put my notes together, though, thinking about the places and people that have influenced me, I came to realize that I did have a story. It may not be full of fireworks and awesomeness, but it’s a story that no one else has. It makes me uniquely me.

I’ve shared my story three times now. Not a super long and detailed version, never over 20 or 30 minutes’ worth. But each time, I think it provided a very healthy framework for establishing a relationship with other people. The first time I shared it was to a room full of 30 people, who became the most supportive team I have ever worked with.

The second time was on the concrete steps outside the bath house at Deer Run at 11:00 at night.  I was sitting outside journaling when one of the junior staffers came up and asked, “Um, now may not be the best time to ask you this, but…what is your story?”  I was kind of taken aback at the simplicity and sincerity with which he asked.  He was asking me to talk about…me!  So we shared our stories with each other, and we ended up developing a close friendship.  When he junior staffed with me a couple weeks after that, we worked well together because there wasn’t anything we couldn’t be super open and honest about.  Weeks later, when we parted ways, I may or may not have cried my eyes out.  Granted, a good deal of that was camp emotion; but it was more than that, too.  I wrote in my journal later that day that he had gotten through my defense mechanisms in a way that nobody else ever had, and now I see why.  It was that simple question: “What is your story?”  He didn’t want to know what I hoped to do with my life, or what I’m good at or what I could do for him.  He wanted to know me.

The third time was actually quite recently.  I walked into Starbucks to meet a classmate, wearing tacky thrift store jeans, a hoodie, no makeup, glasses, and my hair thrown up in a messy bun.  For a few minutes we worked on a class assignment together, and then I was like, “Hey, uh, can I hear your life story?”  So he shared it with me.  I’d heard snapshots of it that made me want to hear the whole thing, and hearing it gave me a renewed appreciation for where he has come from and how to understand him.  Then he asked me about mine, and we just spent time talking and asking questions and being real with each other about our lives.  He later told me that I had a beautiful story and that it was a privilege to hear it.  My story?  A privilege?  There was powerful affirmation in those words.  It seemed to convey that he wasn’t evaluating my looks or intelligence or potential — that maybe he saw something of value, not in any of those things, but in who I am.

I say all this to say that nothing builds community like openness, and nothing generates openness like a simple invitation to tell one’s story. If we as Christians are to be a community of people that live and love and work together, we need to dig a little deeper than surface-level talk. If we know each other on the story level, I think there would be a lot less judgment and a lot more understanding. That “annoying person” would become an understandable person. It would be a lot easier to cry with someone if we knew why they were crying. It would be easier to correct someone if you knew why they acted the way they did, and it would be a lot easier to accept correction if you knew you were understood.

So let’s get coffee sometime. I’d love to hear your story.

P.S. Paragraphs 5 & 6 were edited by my mother, the English major. This is why there are two spaces between each sentence and more commas than I usually use. “Being real about your lives? What does that even mean? That must be an extrovert thing.” Haha I love her.

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Published in: on November 20, 2012 at 6:54 pm  Leave a Comment  
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