“Friendship is born at that moment when one man says to another: “What! You too? I thought that no one but myself . . .” C.S. Lewis
I bought a t-shirt at the Storyline Conference. It’s a great t-shirt: a calming shade of blue, a very soft cotton. I love it already. I also love what is says: “Your story matters.”
I spent days at the conference plotting out the major turning points in my life, examining my roles and relationships, learning how to craft a better story. All of this was inspiring, but there was a big question below the surface, pressing in on me at every moment: what next? I’ve spent several months living with that question. Having lost my minister’s license, how do I proceed in ministry? God called me, the body that has been given the authority to affirm that call has said “No”- so what now?
I still don’t know the answer, which is fine. Really, it’s fine. I mean, you can’t expect a three day conference to sort out your entire life, can you? Maybe I wanted God to split the heavens and show up with a five point plan for me, but deep down I knew that wasn’t realistic.
Nevertheless, I did get a revelation of sorts. It came when I put on that t-shirt. “You story matters,” my t-shirt said. But why, specifically? How? If I’ve been called to the care of souls (which I still believe, license or not), how does my story aid me in that endeavor?
So standing there in front of the mirror in my new shirt, reading it backwards, I suddenly thought, “My story matters not because it’s unique, but because it’s not unique.”
I mean, I understand that in its sum total my story is probably fairly unusual. I don’t know a lot of other homeschooling feminist film critic defrocked pastor-moms. But the pieces of my story? Not a one is unique to me. And here’s the good part: that’s what makes them useful. That’s what makes them meaningful, in the most literal sense. All language is a social phenomenon, and certainly that includes our stories. In the play Shadowlands, playwright William Nicholson has C.S. Lewis say, “We read to know that we are not alone.” We write, I think, for the same reason: for connection.
“Tell me your deep, dark secret; and I will tell you mine. Is that your deep dark secret? Oh, well, never mind.” – Vigilantes of Love
I don’t know if I’ve discovered some profound insight, or something that everyone else already knows. Either way, it feels new to me. If I was the only mother who had ever failed spectacularly, why bother admitting to it? If I was the only one who had ever strained against gendered theology, if every other woman was content with submission and domesticity, why bring it up? I tell the truth about my life because experience has taught me that there is always someone out there who needs to know that they are not alone. Do you want to know that someone understands something of your anxiety and depression, your crises of faith, body image problems, sexual shame, ADD, general rage against the machine attitude? I’m your gal.
But that list of “issues” is not all of me, I realize. And maybe I don’t talk about the rest often enough because I’m allergic to sounding like Pollyanna. It’s not simply my pain that I have to share, but hope that’s come out of pain – because (to be a bit cliché) I’m not who I want to be, but thank God I’m not who I used to be. My story includes significant growth as a parent, finding my voice as a woman in the church, relief from grief and shame, channeling my anger into advocacy, and….well, I still live with the ADD, as anyone who knows me well can affirm. My story is an ongoing mixture of challenges and change, and I want to offer it not because it’s special but because it’s universal. Because your story, too, is one of challenges and change.
Maybe, reader-friend, if we could meet for coffee this afternoon we would find the places were our stories intersect. And I could say, “Me too! You’re not alone. This can get better. Let’s do this thing together.”
“One thing I do know: I was blind, but now I see.” – John 9:25
For now, aside from any credentials I may or may not receive, this is what I know about my ministry. I am useful insofar as I am willing to share my life with others so that they won’t feel alone; so that they will feel less ashamed; so that they won’t give up. My story contains a lot of crap. Also a lot of grace, more love than I will ever deserve, some really funny stuff, and increasing amounts of hope.
I’m not suggesting that everyone needs to go around being emotionally naked, or that we should all be constantly spilling our guts. That can be a shtick, and Lord save me from that shtick! Even vulnerability can be faked. But I don’t know…it seems to me that all that’s been stripped away in recent years has brought me to this place: not much reputation to protect, not much to lose, with a hunger to connect over true stories. Yours. Mine. Flawed central characters. Crazy plot twists. The occasional villain. Stories leading some place good, stories that haven’t yet reached their ends. And always, always stories that allow us to say to each other, “What? You, too?”