Thursday, February 26, 2015

The stories we tell and the secrets we keep

Photo by Nicki Varkevisser

Telling your story--I mean your real, honest-to-God, story--is never easy.

You start just because you need to say it, you need to write it, you need to get it out of your singular self and out into the world. As scary as it is to be real, it's even scarier to be alone. One day, you finally blurt it out--that thing you were ashamed of, that struggle, that thing about yourself you've always hated but are learning to accept, that marriage or that baby or job that should be a joy but has been so hard, that long journey that you're finally seeing in its glorious light of growth, of healing, that darkness that has been heavy on you, and is heavy still.

You start small, maybe, test it out on someone you have a hunch you can trust. Or you bust the wound straight open and blast it to the whole family, the whole community, the whole internet.

And then funny things start to happen.

First, you don't die. Nobody even yells at you, usually.

Second, you start to feel that it's okay to be yourself. You start to see God in the painful journey, maybe, or you find one tiny step that might be healing.

Third (and this is the bumpy part, because you will hurt people, too, and you will sometimes wish you'd said things a little differently, or thought through things more fully) your community grows. You start to correspond with a relative you'd never known very well. Your friends start to tell you that you have made them cry with understanding. You get little notes from people you hadn't talked to in years, thanking you for your words because they are not just your words now, they are words of resonance and similarity and love, and they belong to us all.


I share my story of faith and doubt in a church. People come up afterwards and commiserate with me about the evils of the secular world, the way college can threaten faith, when I truly meant to say the opposite. I meant to say that going down deeper into the questions has made me stronger, firmer. I meant to say that this whole messy earth, I've learned, is bathed in a kind of light and love and that God can't be kept out of any of it.

I wonder if I said it wrong, if I should have kept that sacred tale to myself, lest it be appropriated for uses I didn't mean. Lest it be turned against me. Maybe I have made myself too vulnerable, too prone to attack.

But then one person walks up to me and says simply, "I felt like you were telling my story." I jerk my head up and he is looking far past me into a memory, and he says, "Almost every single word could have been mine," and I remember again, why we share.


This sharing has become a big part of what I see as my calling. I have been changed by people's stories. Listening to people's stories, across lines of race and class and religion and sexuality and nationality, has changed me. It has let me walk for a few minutes in others' shoes. It has shown me how different we are, and how alike. This is reconciliation: the good news that Jesus breaks down walls between insurmountably different creatures--humans and God first, but also men and women, rich and poor, black and white and every shade of brown, gay and straight, young and old.

We are, all of us, wounded. The magic, I think, is that by simply being brave enough to tell it, we have the chance to be a part of the stories of each other's healing. And that is what I hope for, as I practice telling pieces of my story, as I practice listening to yours, as I practice creating spaces where we can all learn to tell each other the truth that is in our hearts.

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