[This post was originally published last April, but we’re pulling a Throwback Thursday and digging it out of the archives after Sunday’s message. If you missed Part I of the Story series, you can listen to it here.]
Can I say that? Is that too much? I’m so nervous. Can we delete that? I’ll spare you the details. How much do you really want to know? This part isn’t for church.
I can’t count how many times I’ve had this conversation with someone who has agreed to share their story. I work with the video and writing teams at Hoboken Grace, and regardless of the format, my job is to help people tell their stories. But the process is always full of fear, hesitation and anxiety.
The other day while I was at the grocery store trying to pick out a pineapple, my phone rang. It was a friend who had just shared part of her story for the blog. There was a frantic edge in her voice: “Do you think I should have said that? I don’t want people to think I’m some kind of crazy party animal. I serve in kids ministry, for crying out loud!”
I reassured her that her story was not uniquely messy and reminded her that it would encourage other people who struggle with similar issues.
But as I trudged home holding my pineapple, the conversation gnawed at me. Every time someone shares their story with me for the blog or a video story, there is this fear — a fear of being judged or treated differently after “the truth” gets out.
It’s like we all have this image in our heads of the perfect Christian who has always followed all the rules. Their story is what our story ought to be, and our uncensored history would make that perfect Christian blush, or maybe pass out.
Sure, that Christian with only G-rated Facebook pictures and nothing but apple juice in her Solo cup does exist. And the careful choices she has made have most likely saved her years of heartache and plenty of sleepless nights. But she’s not perfect either. That “perfect Christian” is just something we’ve made up to try to convince ourselves that we’re not good enough, but someone else is. And when we try to portray ourselves as that perfect Christian by sanitizing our stories, we just feed into someone else’s feelings of insecurity and inadequacy.
The truth is that we don’t help people find their way back to God by being perfect. We help people find their way back to God by being genuine. We are crazy, messy, gorgeous testaments to God’s grace, and that’s what draws people in, not our polished, Sunday morning selves.
Someone with a history of good decisions actually faces challenges of her own when it comes to telling her story. That’s because she often doesn’t think she has a story. There just isn’t that pivotal conflict. She doesn’t have a rock bottom to point to and a moment where God scooped her off the floor and put her on her feet again. She thinks she has no story. But that’s not true. You don’t have to run away from God to be pursued by Him, or hang out in dark places to know what light is.
So if you think your story is too ordinary to share:
You still have a story.
As you’ve followed God, has he kept His promises? Has He been faithful? Even if you have followed “the rules,” it doesn’t mean that you didn’t struggle. What got you through those times when you didn’t feel like waiting on God anymore?
If you think falling down the stairs and surviving makes for a better story than catching hold of the railing before you tumble down, you’re absolutely right. There is much more drama in the first story. But would you rather split your head open or get a splinter on the banister? I’d pick the splinter any day, so I do want to hear how you’ve honed your spiritual reflexes and avoided that emergency room bill and the months of slow healing. Just because you don’t have staples in your head doesn’t mean that your palms aren’t full of splinters. Every splinter has a story.
And if you think your story is a little too real and raw for Sunday morning:
Our church is full of broken, beat-up, battle-scarred people. We’ve all thrown mud on ourselves in different ways, but it’s all just mud. Your mud isn’t any dirtier than anyone else’s. Sin is sin, and it can’t cling to you if you cling to Christ. So don’t keep God’s grace to yourself. Show it off. Share it.
Because in the end, if our church isn’t a place that overflows with grace, we should all just go home. There’s no point. Let’s not waste any more time. I’m sure I’m not the only person whose fingers itch to hit snooze on Sunday morning. If we aren’t showing up to show grace, we should all just sleep in.
Love only feels real and secure when someone actually knows us. When we don’t let people in, don’t let them really know who we are, we never know if they really love us, or just the little pieces of ourselves we’ve allowed them to see. It’s only when we are boldly honest and vulnerable that church community transforms into family, and the things we’ve struggled with no longer isolate us, but bind us together in a shared experience of redemption and grace. That’s God’s story. Will you help tell it?
Joanna is a member of the Writing Team.