I’ve been talking a lot on this blog about the importance of telling your story. But what if your story is painful, and you really don’t want to go into all that?
In 2006, my book How Big Is Your Umbrella was published. In that book, I talk about the things that we yell at God when life stinks, and what God whispers back. And I explore my journey in losing my son.
It wasn’t a fun book to write. I was a mess for several months, and it was hard on my family. It was as if I was reliving Christopher’s death all over again. And then the radio interviews started.
I wasn’t in a strong emotional place simply because of going through the process of writing the book. I really didn’t want to have to take time out of my day, when I was doing well, and do all these interviews where I would have to relive it once again. And when I spoke to different groups, I dreaded having to do it, too.
But then I realized something, and this may sound harsh, so bear with me.
It’s not about me.
At one point I was complaining to a rather in-your-face Christian radio host about my reticence to do these interviews, and he laughed right at me and said, “get over yourself, Princess.” I was downright mad. This was my son we were talking about! But he went on to say, “If you want to have a ministry and if you want to impact people, you talk. If you don’t want to impact people, don’t. But don’t do all this squishy stuff.”
Now obviously the guy had an excess of testosterone, but the more I thought and prayed about it, the more he had a point. And so I have talked about Christopher as much as I can. Everytime I speak, in fact, I tell the story of getting the phone call from the doctor to say that there was something wrong with his heart. I talk about what it was like to realize I was going to have to watch my only son die. I talk about the morning that I handed my son to the anesthetist before surgery, thinking I wouldn’t see him again. And I mention that the last words he ever heard from me on this side of heaven were, “Mommy loves you, sweetheart.”
Is it easy? Nope. But I also cannot begin to tell you all the blessings I get from telling that, over and over again. So let me try to address some issues we have with sharing our hurts, in no particular order.
1. I’m too emotional and I might cry.
Good for you! People like it when you cry. It sounds terrible, but people like authenticity. When they see that you are really touched, that you have really walked the walk, they believe you. You have credibility. They’re willing to listen. And it’s catharctic for them, too!
2. I don’t want to relive it.
I know you don’t. But it gets easier. Sometimes I tell the stories and I cry; sometimes I don’t. But whether or not I do, the audience does. Because the audience needs to hear it. And inevitably there is someone in the audience who has gone through something similar who is really ministered to by us opening up.
3. It helps us minister.
Paul wrote that we are to comfort others with the comfort that we ourselves received. Part of that comfort is telling our story. We don’t tell it to glorify all the ugly stuff that is happened in our lives. We do it to point people to God. We say, “here is what I have been through, and here is what God has done for me.” And it brings something beautiful out of something really ugly in our lives. Without this chance to turn it to good, this terrible thing is just a burden. But when we can turn it around and use it to help others, it becomes a blessing.
I am so humbled to see how my son’s death has led to so many opportunities to talk and pray with people that I would not have had otherwise. Of course it’s hard; but many people’s lives are hard. And I believe that my point in being on this earth is to point people to Jesus, especially in the midst of their hardest pain. To do that, I have to touch their pain, and I can’t touch theirs without touching mine. When I touch mine, they’re willing to open up, too. When I keep mine hidden, they keep theirs clamped up, not only from others, but also from God.
Perhaps you say, but I have so much to talk about; why do I have to mention this? Can’t I leave it out? Yes, you could. But usually it is through our deepest pain that God has touched us most. When we leave that out, we leave out the deepest parts of God’s blessing. And it shows in our testimony. Something sounds hollow.
4. It heals us.
It used to be hard to tell my story. Now I almost relish it. The more I tell it, the more I see what God has done because I have been willing to open up. And each time I do, it’s like He’s smiling at me, and saying, “See? I trusted you with this awful thing, but now it is being used for good.” And it’s as if my identity is no longer as much the grieving mother as it is the comforter. Does that make sense?
5. It points people to God.
And now the final point. Many times people are unwilling to tell their stories because they’re intensely personal. Mine was about grief. Everybody can go through grief. It doesn’t reflect badly on you as a person. No one pictures me in indecent situations. But what if your story is of a different nature? What if it’s about abuse? Or what if it’s about a very lurid lifestyle you used to live?
You need to take that up with God, but let me give you some final thoughts. Everything can be used to point people to God, and when we are willing to be vulnerable, and to say, “me being honest, and telling you how I overcame this big hurt in order to inspire you, is more important to me than my dignity or my reputation”, that is gold. People really respect that, if it is done in the right spirit.
I have heard people give their stories who spend too long telling about all the sin in their lives, or go into too much detail about things that are best left to the imagination. We don’t want to glorify the gross stuff. We just need to tell enough of it that people get the picture, and then point people to the healer. In a secular setting you won’t be able to do that explicitly, but perhaps there it’s even more important, because in a secular setting people lack the path to true healing. So what you can do there is to talk about the things you went through, and then end with something like this: it made me realize I needed to figure out the purpose of my life; it made me realize I couldn’t deal with this on my own; it made me realize I needed spiritual help to forgive.
The funny thing is that the more we’re willing to open up in a secular setting, the more God-stuff we can get away with, because we’ve been honest. It opens doors.
When you do start speaking about your hurts, it will be difficult. You will cry. You will be moody for a time because you have reopened old wounds. But the more you do it, the more those wounds will heal. The more you will see how God can use ugliness for blessing. And the more you can see how far you have already come.
It’s hard to be vulnerable, but remember: it’s not about you. We are on this earth to point people to Jesus. If we can use our deepest pain (in an appropriate way) to do this, it’s an honour. Yes, it hurts. But He has trusted you with it. Now, what will you do with it?
I’ll have another post up soon about what to do when we have a story we haven’t shared with all our loved ones, or how to handle age appropriateness.
I also have a teleseminar coming up in September called How to Craft a Life Changing Talk, which will take you step by step through how to create a talk that tells our story, points people to God, and inspires change. Sign up here to be given more information about that!