Each of us, throughout our days, has countless opportunities to tell our story. The question I want you to think about today is how you tell yours.
Over the weekend, I had the invitation to tell my story again as I worked through the application questions for the Clinical Pastoral Education program. It wasn't that far into the narrative that I realized I was telling my story in a way I hadn't before. Which got me thinking about the kinds of words I used to use...
There have been times in my life that I've told my story from a distance, as far away as possible from the heart of the story. I didn't have the energy to lie, but shame kept me from owning my own history. So I would tell you these things that had happened or these moments that I had experienced without ever explicitly telling you that it was me in the story. I inferred, of course, and any halfway intelligent individual could figure it out, but I protected my heart by standing to the side. I was telling a story, and it looked like my story, but I didn't have to feel it like it was my story.
There have been times that I would tell my story in anger. I have wanted others to see the world the way I saw it, and this meant that again, I was not owning my story. Instead of telling you my experiences, life through my eyes, I was actually telling you the stories of other people as they made cameos in my story...without really putting my name to it. I told you about other people, with enough description and detail to get you to think and respond and react the way that I needed you to react, but it wasn't about me at all. My story was about them. Which means I didn't have a story at all.
There comes a point, I think, for just about anyone with any real story (and I don't say that to diminish those of you who have never had to struggle. Good for you...*sarcasm* *denial*) where you're tired of the way your story looks so you start telling something completely different. There have been times for me that I refused to mention any of the things that make my story what it is. Instead, I would tell you all of the incredible things I have done. All of my great achievements. All of my gloried moments. The glory sounds better than the gory, doesn't it? And then you're seeing a part of me that is strong and capable and hardworking and good and oh please tell me I'm good because I can't bear to be in another story any more. There have been those days, but it's not really my story. It's a fable. It's a farce. It's a front. And anybody that ever came to know me through that narrative...I feel like they've never really known me at all. Because I knew better about myself.
There are times I have succomb to my story, given in and surrendered. I have written my story in defeat and resignation, thinking this is all there would ever be to my story and knowing that is all you would ever see in me. Helpless to change the places I've come from, I gave myself over to them and even I couldn't see hope reflected in the mirror. It wasn't a story I was telling; I was being told. That's not cool, either.
This weekend as I sat down to write my story one more time (probably not the last time), I found myself owning it in a way that I never had before. I wrote with this feeling of incredible strength in me even as I detailed my weaknesses, my vulnerabilities, and my aching. I was telling my story as honestly as I could, knowing that story doesn't have the final word. The Author does, and this girl is still being written.
What I found as I wrapped up a "reasonably full account of my life" was that I've reached this place where I don't tell my story from my victories, but from my trials. I tell my story from my troubles because 1) that is a truth in my story but 2) it creates space for victory to shine. Not the feeble, fabricated victories of the glorified version I once told in rebellion but the honest victory of the glorified self as God redeems me. I tell my story in strength, knowing this is not the whole story. I think that's a good way to tell a story. I think the more you speak from your weakest places, the more God's strength is able to shine.
But I think there's another element, too, and I found myself weaving this in without knowing it: You have to include a handful of your strong moments. Not every achievement. Not every mountaintop moment. Just enough to show that you are active and engaged in your own life, that you're making decisions to move yourself forward, that you're choosing for yourself what your story will say, even if that is surrender for Someone Else to tell your story.
I was humbled in telling my story this time, and humbled by the story I shared. It was this beautiful balance of trial and trouble with enough assertiveness and discipline and courage to say that I am taking control of where I am and handing myself over to the One who knows where I am going. I was not shamed. I was not angry. I was not glorified. I was not resigned. I was strong, and I was humbled. A beautiful paradox of my God.
And you know what? For the first time in my life (in such a formal way), I think I finally told my story. That's pretty cool.
So how are you telling your story? What's keeping you from owning it? What if you defined yourself by your weakest moments and your toughest choices? What if you showed your brokenness and also your surrender? How would your story look if you told it and it was your story? Something to think about...