“So, what’s your story?”
When you thought the best thing about your lunch break was going to be your turkey wrap with hummus and feta, and a nearly-stranger hits you with this question instead.
My husband and I have recently noticed how much conversation around us begins with “matters of doing.” “So, what do you do?” “What’s going on at work?” “What do you have planned for tomorrow?” “How are you doing? (Where a single-word-answer of “good” or busy” will suffice).”
But, “What’s your story?” That is a whole different ball game.
Questions about doing are easily answered and don’t require much investment. “Work’s okay. Busy.” “I have meetings all day.” “I’m good.” If the person inquiring doesn’t have the intention of listening or asking on, the conversation is over. There’s no story.
Asking for a story requires active listening, curiosity about the person in front of you, sacrifice of productivity, and intentional presence.
Sharing your story requires thoughtfulness, self-knowledge, and vulnerability, at times.
We might not feel comfortable sharing our most personal story with a nearly-stranger over a turkey wrap at lunch, but sharing some part of our story still flexes a different muscle. Lights a different part of the brain and heart. I am married to my loving, joke-making husband; I have children whom I adore; I have lived here and there; I am a minister; I am joyful about this and get frustrated with this in my workday; and did I mention that I like turkey wraps?
When we tell our stories, we begin to see narratives that weave their way through our lives.
Some of the narratives are ubiquitously false, and yet we retell them. They often begin with, “I will be happy when…” I will be happy when I make more money (only proven to be true up to 75k, folks). I will be happy after I am done with the Keto diet and lose 10 pounds. What is your “I will be happy when?”
Some of the narratives are so sly that we don’t immediately recognize them: I need to have control over my life to be happy. If I kick ass and take names at work everyone at work will think I’m amazing. If I get these grades, my parents will love me more. If my spouse knew this about me, he/she wouldn’t love me as much as he/she does. If I let God into this, God wouldn’t love me.
The most powerful narrative is the truth, which we are gifted at avoiding or twisting. When we do tell the truth, it’s liberation fills us with hope and knowledge that we have touched on something good, full of beauty. It’s a sweet song.
What have been the veins of my story today?
I met with 300 high school juniors over the course of six hours and tried to engage them in thinking about their Christian service. And as we talked about what kind of lives have value (hint: all lives, at every stage), I began to question my value as a minister. “Are these students engaged? Do they care at all about this? What do they think about me?” I’ve gotten pretty good at deflecting the “I don’t care stares” of 16-year-olds, but sometimes I just want people to hear the gospel and love it as much as I do. Because, you know, it’s all about me 😉
At home, after letting this distract me from my beautiful family for far too long, I was reminded by a quiet voice that insecurity and discouragement are not of God.
Where was the truth in my story?
It is true that some of the students I saw today cared more about their lunchtime sandwich, a new snap, or their Insta story than service and the dignity of all people. We are talking about 16-year-olds.
It is also true that my colleague and I have formed relationships through service with students on the “outside” this year. Students that you hope are okay because the social dynamics of high school can be brutal. And three of these young men, each sitting alone amid the classes of 50, participated in three separate classes today.
One of these young men reflected to the class his admiration for those with special needs, and how we are called to use every gift we have to the best of our ability. His own developmental disability did not seem to phase him.
Another of these young men told me several months ago of his health challenges and lack of confidence in God. Today, he advocated for the value of all people, including those who face disability and health challenges. And he spoke about their value to God.
When asked what God desires for us, the final young man, quirky, quiet, and sweet in demeanor, described how we can grow closer to God through prayer, reading Scripture, and service to others. I’ve hardly seen a teenager so courageous.
When I speak my story to God, the falsehoods begin to fall away; if I will loosen my grip on them. And God begins to reveal the truth of how he is working. In ways more beautiful than I often recognize or could even imagine.
As Flannery O’Connor said, “You tell a story because a statement would be inadequate.”
God speaks to us as individuals and as communities through the stories of grace that we tell. Let our stories be courageous with truth and goodness, even amidst the challenges of life. We can begin a little at a time.
So, what’s your story?