I go to school with an amazingly diverse, talented, and interesting group of people. These folks are from places like Russia, India, Brazil, Korea, all over Africa, and from the four corners of the U.S. They are Bible translator, physicians, presidents of seminaries, professors of all kinds, attorneys, and more. Their stories are profoundly interesting – rich with exotic settings and experiences, and oozing with the work of God’s Spirit. They inspire me to no end. And, in truth, they intimidate me more than just a little (see last week’s post to further delve into my insecurities). Our department is fond of eating lunch together weekly and allowing people to share their life’s stories with the group. I have been a huge proponent of this idea – until this week. This week, it was my turn to tell my story. My initial thoughts were something like, “I’m just your basic white guy youth minister who refuses to stop going to school. My story is not that interesting.”
While I’m still not convinced the story of my life would ever make for much of a feature film, I learned a great deal about the value of sharing our stories together. Here are a few of my initial thoughts about the experience of telling my story:
Sharing My Story Makes Me Reflect
After the wave of panic about my boringness passed, I set out to assemble a framework for my story. I started trying to identify the major issues I’ve wrestled with. I thought about the overall flow of the narrative of my life and which events or moments were benchmarks along the way. I did a mental inventory of the great and wonderful people who have left their imprint on my life either through our personal relationships or through their writings, words, or films. I worked through some of the difficult moments and relationships that have forged my personality, crushed my arrogance, and challenged my faith.
Sharing My Story Brings It To Life
The reflection described above took me on a ground-level tour of my life – remembering specific people, events, and issues that were most poignant in their pleasure, pain, difficulty, triumph, etc. As I worked through this process, I moved from a ground-level view of personal reflection to more of an aerial view of the grand narrative of my life (I use grand the “large” sense, not the “awesome” sense). As I replayed the specifics of my life in my mind, I began to latch onto the major themes and story lines – the overall trajectory of my life. I saw movement of my life from a childhood in California and Oregon, to being a student in Oklahoma, to mission work in Japan, to ministry, to where I sit at this very moment. I could sense thematic threads of faith, family, education, and others weaving in and out of the events and relationships. I was able to see God’s hand in shaping me, moving me, and using me even when I least expected it.
Sharing My Story Promotes Community
Having spent a good bit of time (prompted by the fear of presenting to others) working through my story, the time came to finally speak it out loud to my peers. I did not tell it particularly well. I left out some things I meant to include, included some details that probably could have been left out, and certainly did not come across as a master storyteller. Nonetheless, as I laid it out before my friends I was struck by how readily they connected with it – all of them. For some it was perhaps a story of a relationship that drew them in. For others it was the ongoing development of my understanding of the Kingdom. For a few it was the joy that I’ve found in the moments I have been most fully given over to God’s will. For some it was the times I’ve felt disenchanted or even betrayed by the church I love and serve.
I do not believe that this widespread identification was in response to the particulars of my life or the eloquence of my story telling. It was a deep-seated resonance with some of the very things that define humanness. When we share our stories together we see the best, worst, most confusing, most celebrated, most joyful, most painful moments and themes of human experience and we are comforted by the knowledge that others have walked through the same things. We are connected at our very core as creatures emanating from the same master creator and working our way through the same broken and unpredictable world.
Share your story with someone this week. Invite someone else to share theirs with you. It is perhaps the best way to not only learn the facts of someone’s life, but to connect deeply with them as a created child of God.