Our world loves a good argument. A debate spikes ratings on cable news. A fight sparks interest in a morning show. A whole glut of reality TV shows have raked in cash from producer-orchestrated fights between characters.
But deep down we know that arguments and debates rarely change people’s minds. So why do we do it?
Ruth Tucker asks this question in one of the early sections of her book, Black and White Bible, Black and Blue Wife: My Story of Finding Hope After Domestic Abuse. The book is an incredible story of Ruth’s journey through domestic violence as the wife of a pastor.
What If We Shifted from Debates to Storytelling
Tucker, a well-respected college professor and writer, describes a debate she participated in over gender roles within the church. She debated a well-known theologian and pastor.
In reflecting on the debate, Tucker wondered the following.
“What if the forum for that evening in Wheaton College would have been not a debate but a storytelling forum – a session during which (the pastor) and I simply sat down and interacted with each other about real people and about ourselves. We could have done that. We know each other…instead of debating, he could have related experiences of counseling married couples in his ministry and he might have talked about how he and (his wife) work through issues. I might have told stories about my parents’ marriage and revealed details of my wn marriage breakdown. Imagine the impact we could have had on those students. Some, of course, prefer debates and proof texting. But I would remind them that storytelling is the stuff of the Bible.”
I believe Tucker is on to something. There is great power when we move from arguing with one another to sharing our stories. In fact, I believe the most winsome move we can make is vulnerably, authentically and passionately sharing where we’ve been and what we’ve seen. As a pastor, I’ve witnessed this in my sermons. The stories people remember are most often the ones I’m scared to tell.
In a recent message, I encouraged my church to boldly tell their stories. In fact, I raised the issue of storytelling within the context of stewardship. Stewardship is defined in the dictionary as “the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care.”I believe God has entrusted us with a story – a story He has written in and through our lives.
The truth is what happens to us is bigger than us. It’s not just about us but about others. Our pain can be transformed into something purposeful within someone else.
So, the question is “how well are we stewarding your story?”
Four Steps To Own and Tell Our Stories
As I’ve been thinking about my own story and the stories of some people I love and care about, I’ve identified four key steps we can all take.
1. Practice consistent honesty
It never gets any less scary – we just get more familiar with the fear. Writer Jeff Goins challenges his readers to “learn to do it scared.” Only when we are consistent in honestly sharing our stories will be grow in our confidence to face our fears and courageously steward our insight and experience.
2. Discriminate in what we share and with whom we share
This step may be surprising, but not everyone has earned the right to hear all of our stories. Just because someone is friends with us on Facebook does not mean they deserve to know all our secrets. On social media today, we regularly see people over-share and embody TMI (too much information). Also, there are seasons where it’s too soon to share a story – we need healing and processing before we let others into the space.
3. Prepare to share before you have an opportunity.
Success usually comes as a result of the collision of preparation and opportunity. It may sound awkward, but writing down our stories and experiences along with the insights they’ve brought is massively important. When we get to know our stories and own them, telling it when the opportunity arises gets much easier. We must become experts at our own story if we hope to share and steward them well.
4. Regularly remind our people we want them to call us up
When people know our stories, they have something to call us out of and unto. We all need people who call us to be our best selves. Again, I turn to the words of Jeff Goins here who wrote in his book, The Art of Work, “every story of success is a story of community.” Yes, it’s scary to call someone out – that’s why our response is key to future accountability. If someone risks calling us out, we cannot slap them down and retaliate. Word will get out and no one will risk telling us the hard truth again.
When I shared with my church recently about the importance of telling your story, (at least) one person took me seriously. One of my friends wrote a blog which introduced a series of posts about her experience with abuse and shame.
In the first post, she shared a spoken word poem which she performed several years ago. In the poem, entitled Misfit, she wrote these words.
“…she learned to just bury it
like put the pain underground
don’t let it make a sound
hurry look around
and make sure no one sees
smile and please
hide the insecurities
remember Jesus frees
if you’re saved you shouldn’t still be bothered by these
she tells herself
trying hard to believe
but lying deep inside
she’s just a misfit”
Each of us have been marked and wounded by life. We carry scars and pain. What if the story of our scars was about something bigger than our pain? What if our story could help someone else find healing, community or hope?
Our stories cannot heal or connect or call others to hope if they remain hidden, unwritten or unspoken.
You have a story. Share it. Boldly. And offer it as a prayer to God that He might use it to transform someone else.