Holding Stories Safely

Dashing princes, dragons that breathe fire, heroines feisty and filled with grit—such scenes sparkled across the walls of my mind as I’d drift off to sleep as a child, golden shapes embedding themselves deep within me.

We’re a people of stories, a culture of stories. We love a good flick on the big screen or the latest plot twist in a real-life drama. But are stories safe with us?

Holding Our Own Stories Well

It’s possible that we spend so much time scrolling through news or binge-watching favorite shows because we’re wildly uncomfortable with our own stories. The paths we’ve walked might be littered (or loaded) with regrets, pain, fear, and struggle. Who would want to pay attention to those chapters or that kind of life when we can temporarily enter into manufactured plots that seem much more appealing?

Sara Groves sings a beautiful but haunting song called “This Cup.” Here’s a bit of it:

How many hours have I spent
Watching this shining TV,
Living adventure in proxy
In another person’s dream?
How many miles have I traveled
Looking at faraway lights,
Listening for trains in the distance
In some brilliant other life?

This cup, this cup,
I want to drink it up,
To be right here in the middle of it.
Right here, right here—
This challenging reality
Is better than fear or fantasy.

God has written each of us a story meant to show off an aspect of His goodness in a unique way. Telling our tales and listening to the tales of others knits us together as few things can. In the words of C.S. Lewis, “The typical expression of opening friendship would be something like, ‘What? You too? I thought I was the only one.'” Our stories are designed with purpose. It’s okay if we’re unsettled by certain moments, but to disown our narrative completely is to look pridefully at the Creator and thrust back what He gave as a gift.

Now this doesn’t mean that we are bound to emotional promiscuity, hurling every sordid detail out from street corners whether our hearts can bear it or not. Part of holding our stories safely is discerning when, with whom, and how much to share. If you’ve never owned a particular part of your plot, I’d suggest working through it with a journal and a godly counselor first. (You know you’ve healed when you can tell about a tender chapter of your life without pain or anger.)

Holding Others’ Stories Well

The invitation to hold someone else’s story is a sacred thing. The more difficult a chapter is to tell, the more gentle we should be in receiving it. Feedback, both verbal and nonverbal, is so important. We can easily crush a spirit with silence when words of encouragement are called for; cold, detached eyes can kill a safe environment by communicating disinterest. In responding, it’s crucial to follow the prompting of the Spirit about whether we should share a relevant piece of our own story in solidarity or whether it would come across as unfeelingly one-upping the other person.

Once we’ve been entrusted with a thread of someone’s tale, no matter how big or small it may seem, we should consider ourselves a graveyard. That thread dies with us, never to be resurrected for anyone else’s ears. A major part of safety with stories is not passing them on to others.

In the same way, we need to be willing to murder any gossip that finds its way to us. I know how uncomfortable it can be to confront a friend, but ignoring or enabling sin (including gossip, the sharing of someone else’s story) is not loving. Again, we let compassion and gentleness guide our conversation, but we remember how big a deal unity is to Jesus. Nothing destroys unity like a juicy tidbit, regardless of whether it’s mentioned casually or spitefully.

Stories have power. Let’s inhabit our own fully, share our own wisely, listen to others’ generously, and guard others’ faithfully. When these grace-saturated rhythms of safety characterize our storyholding, we’ll bring great honor to the Author—which is the whole point, after all.

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