It’s all about our stories. Everyone has them – many of them, in most cases. Your stories, taken all together, explain you.
You can look in the mirror, see that face with wrinkles around your mouth and at the corners of your eyes, look at the color and length of your hair, peer into your own eyes, and you can then wonder: “Who is that? How did that person get here?”
And then, you can remember the stories. They might come in pieces at first. Tough to remember all of them at the snap of a finger or wink of an eye. But they will come back to you, some making you smile and laugh, others making you cry, still others revealing things you hadn’t realized. They will take on a certain meaning to you.
They won’t take on an impactful meaning, though, until you have shared them with someone else.
“If we have no peace,” Mother Teresa said, “it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”
We want someone to listen to our stories. In fact, we owe it to the people around us to tell them our stories. It is then that we become real to one another, that we become part of everyone and everything. It is then that we can begin to comprehend a purpose.
Often, that purpose simply is making the journey with someone else.
Believe me, it hasn’t been easy to be so open with some things about my life during the last five years or so – whether that has been on this website, in my book, in talks I have given or time spent on the radio discussing depression and my sinfulness, my need for Jesus in my life. I may occasionally embarrass my wife and children, as well as others in my family who have been more private with their own stories.
There have been great moments of grace in my sharing, however.
I have learned this over a long period of time, though it gets reinforced to me most powerfully on retreats in the Cursillo tradition. Cursillo is a Catholic retreat program founded in 1944 in Spain that has since been adapted for a variety of different uses. Those include Search (for high school students), Kairos (for older teens), Teens Encounter Christ, retreats for prisoners, people living with a serious illness and retreats for people of other Christian denominations. Similar parish retreats include ACTS and Christ Renews His Parish.
I have experienced several of those retreats. One of the key components involves lay people making witness talks in which they share from their lives in a way that help stress personal spiritual development.
We connect with people in such stories. Perhaps we see elements that mirror our own journey or that shed light anew on that journey. The stories help us understand each other a little better – not to mention ourselves, our relationships with other people in our lives and, indeed, our God.
In those places, we discover inspiration and encouragement. And perhaps hope.
I have been blessed to have spent a great deal of time being able to hear the stories of others and share my own. As I said, I have participated in numerous Cursillo-style retreats: TEC, ACTS and CRHP – probably more than 20 in total. Each time, I have heard men share emotional, powerful, instructive stories about their personal lives, but also their faith journeys. It immediately creates a brotherhood based on trust and admiration.
In those moments you see how God has been at work all through their lives. And almost every time, there is a common element: At some point, each of us encountered Jesus in a way that led to a personal relationship with him.
I have experienced the same thing with the men with whom I share time (when I get out of bed early enough) at our Saturday morning prayer group. When I join Wendy Wiese as a guest on her Relevant Radio show “On Call,” people often call simply wanting to share their personal story of depression in their lives. There is peace and grace in just being heard.
It is one reason I enjoy attending Emotions Anonymous meetings. It is one reason I find great benefit in meeting with my psychological therapist on a regular basis.
It’s why I like to read biographies and other non-fiction books, why I like to keep up with the news, why I like to simply sit with friends and hear about what has been happening in their lives. I learn something new every time – about them, and about myself.
There are so very many people who don’t find this sharing opportunity often enough, if ever. They are isolated, alone, disconnected. Perhaps they are elderly and live in a nursing facility or alone in their home with limited mobility. Perhaps they are ill, impoverished, handcuffed by poor decisions made in the past. All of those people have stories just waiting to be heard.
We need to hear them – for their sake and for ours. The world is poorer because of the silence.
“We owe it to each other,” author Neil Gaiman said, “to tell stories.”
Tell your story, please. And seek out the stories of another person in your life. You owe it to them. And to yourself.