At the end of my last blog post, I invited readers to share stories with me. To my delight, someone took me up on that. A dear, dear friend who had been out of contact for a few years asked if she could share a story with me, and of course I said yes. The story was difficult, but that’s not where I want to go in this post. Those moments were intimate and personal and private, and I am so, so honored to have heard this woman’s journey.
What I want to talk about is the fear that went along with the telling, because it’s so very universal. She feared how I would react. She feared taking too much of my time. Her story was her own, but that fear–I think that was universal. We live in a fractured, distant society where too many of our interactions are couched in great fear, and I’ve spent a lot of time this week pondering that fear and wondering what it means big picture.
A few years ago a big social media trend was articles like “Ten things you should never say to…”. Insert single person, married person, person who lost a son, etc etc etc. The idea was that anyone who doesn’t share my circumstances can’t understand me. Why do we think we can only share with someone who has experienced what we’ve experienced? What brings us together isn’t only circumstances; it’s also emotions. God has given us limited emotions. Almost all of us have experienced fear. Disappointment. Joy. Sadness. Because I haven’t experienced every circumstance does’t mean I haven’t experienced emotions. A friend might struggle with sadness because of a death. I might experience sadness because of a dream that didn’t pan out. We can share our stories, and even if our experiences are different, we can both relate because we’ve experienced sadness. Those emotions bridge the gaps in our experiences and lead us to see and understand each other in our different places.
We’re told to bear each other’s burdens. But how can we do that if we don’t share stories? Life itself is a burden. I know it’s a gift, but it’s also a burden. There is a reason God tells us to gear up for battle. There is a reason He tells us to long for heaven and a new kingdom and a new earth and new bodies. This life can be horrible. And yet we are to share that horribleness. We need to tell the stories. We need to carry each other when we are wounded in battle, and we can’t do that from some distant place of generalities. We have to know the details. We have to know the stories.
Also, I think the only way we can nudge each other back to center is if we know each other’s stories. Otherwise, we simply speak platitudes to one another. Our struggles and even our sins stem from complex situations, complex lives, complex pasts. We’re told to help one another stop sinning. We’re told to bear burdens and be united. But can that happen if we don’t know the stories?
I am the worst offender here, both at sharing my own story and digging into stories of people I love. I have divorced friends, and I know nothing about their marriages or even the names of the spouses who are no longer in their lives. I have working friends, and I don’t know where they work or what they do at those jobs. I don’t ask enough questions. And people know as little about me (except for the stuff I spew here on my blog…). It’s easy to fear judgment, to think someone won’t understand, to be safe and not dig. We fear offending one another to the point where we don’t find out even the simple things about one another. Or we don’t take the time to discover who is behind the masks on the people around us. At least I don’t. Maybe I’m alone in this. I know I’m an extreme introvert, so maybe others do much better at this than I do.
Really, we’re not that different. I think if we shared the stories behind our emotions, we would be better equipped to help one another, to bear burdens. I don’t know how to make that any less scary. Of course we need to be careful and find safe people. We need to be safe people. We need to stop worrying about only finding people with identical frames of reference, because nobody has an identical frame of reference. How I react to some of the issues in my life–chronic illness, sibling loss, miscarriage, whatever–looks very different to how other people react to the exact same events in their lives. Let the similarities and the emotions bring us together instead of letting the variations keep us apart.
I love stories. I need to get better at sharing my own. I need to become a safe haven for other storytellers. Jesus tells us more than once that we are to become one with our fellow believers. Paul says the same, imploring us to unite in a way the world can’t understand. People will want to join us not because of the way we love the outsider but because of the way we love each other, with our flaws and differences. We want to pull that outsider into our circle of love and safety. That love might have something to do with how tenderly we care for each other’s stories.