Tell Your Story
Youth workers are engaged in story. Each young person embodies a story, and we’re constantly listening to that story. But many youth workers fail to experience the dynamic of telling their own stories. Of course, we self-disclose small bits of our story for relate-ability or for a great lesson illustration, but that’s not the same as actually sitting down and telling our story.
I have the privilege of leading a discipleship group of male university students. Recently, we’d all had a particularly difficult week; as each guy shared his story, I was impressed with the dynamic in the room. Our stories were moving. Each guy told a story, a great story that included frustration and resolve; pain and joy; discouragement and victory; growth, trust, hope, excitement, and love. As each story unfolded it became evident that there were parts of the story that we all shared and related to. Our stories were interwoven, and each story was deeply connected to God’s story. I watched each guy, including myself, become refreshed, renewed, and renovated in that storysharing process.
Dean Borgman in his book Hear My Story: Understanding the Cries of Troubled Youth reminds us that our stories tell us who we are, where we’re going, and the difference it makes. Often we feel we can’t tell our story, because we have to be the givers, the leaders, and the helpers. We feel like nobody needs to hear our stories. Slowly but surely this attitude isolates us; we become eroded by discouragement and defeat; we become insecure and robbed of direction and the joy of life.
But God has provided a way of escape. We’re invited to tell our stories. God’s the author and finisher of our faith-story (Heb. 12:2) and tells us to bear each other’s burdens (Gal. 6:2). If we’re to bear other’s burdens, we must share as well. There’s power in telling your story.
I encounter many youth workers who are looking to be restored or in need of renovatus. A common denominator is that they have no mentors, confidants, or support groups who really know their story. The first step in restoration is engagement. Connection is critical in the process of storytelling—without a listener there is no storytelling. The second step is to take a risk and tell your story. It can be an intimidating prospect, but the benefits are great.
Just about all of us in ministry have experienced the Holy Spirit working through us to bring healing into a person’s life. God uses us to bring healing words, bring a healing touch, or provide a healing presence. We understand and preach incarnational ministry——”Christ in and through us.” But when we’re in need ourselves, we expect that healing should be apart from the vehicle God’s already chosen: the church’s people.
chosen: the church’s people. I encounter many youth workers whose competence and self-sufficiency gets in the way of their own healing. Somehow they think they’ll bypass God’s already-established plan and provide an alternative. They don’t want to tell their story because they’ve “told it to God,” and that’s all they need. After all, God will provide. They feel that if they tell their stories to others, they’ll compromise their leadership or ability to help their students. Somehow they think that their weakness will disqualify them, and these precious saints are ultimately immobilized.
We need to tell our stories, because God ministers to us and through us in the same way. God has chosen to work through a church poised to listen to our stories. Many youth workers miss the healing impact of God on their lives simply because they don’t tell their stories.
Each guy in my D-group listened to the stories and engaged with them. They asked questions, sought clarification, and responded empathetically. There were times when each guy’s story was validated. Their ideas and experiences were heard, understood, and valued. There was even validation when there was disagreement. It was as if the story was made real because someone heard it. You’ve probably had this experience when something happens to you and you just can’t wait to tell someone about it. You kind of think it’s not real until you share it. That’s validation.
Telling our stories gives us significance and value. Borgman describes it best when he writes, “every person is a story in progress—but to be a story without significance is unbearable. Ultimately all our stories are begun and are completed in God. We reflect the Creator’s spirit, intelligence, and passion. This Creator has communicated to us in the form of person and story. We are creatures of the great storyteller; deep within us is a sense that our stories strive toward love and significance.” When someone listens to our story we come away with a renewed sense of value.
Have you ever met with a friend who tells you about a personal ordeal? As the conversation becomes more impassioned, you realize you’re not saying a word. After the conversation (or monologue, rather), your friend thanks you for your help. You didn’t say more than two words the entire time, but your friend gained perspective through the telling.
When we tell our stories, we are hearing them at the same time. As soon as my story is out, I get to look at it differently. Previously, that story was a single perspective floating around in my head.
Many times my problems don’t look so bad after I’ve verbalized them. Other times, our stories reveal God’s greater involvement in our lives, when the story is in the middle of the room rather than in our heads.
Telling your story helps make sense of your struggles. It helps you trace God’s involvement in the process. While we know that God started a great work in us and is faithfully completing it (Phil. 1:6), we often don’t recognize that redemptive work until we start sharing.
My D-group guys saw God’s direction in their lives a bit more clearly after they told their stories. They saw heavenly goodness, faithfully repeated in their lives even in the midst of pain. They traced God’s redemptive work throughout their experiences and received affirmation to trust God more.
Telling your story crafts vision and builds dreams. I had a conversation with a student who told me that he didn’t like to talk about himself. He said he was afraid that people might not like what they saw if they really got to know him. As I listened and questioned more intentionally, I realized that he was expressing a fear of vulnerability more than a desire to keep his skeletons hidden. He desperately wanted to be known (to tell his story) but was afraid of the potential rejection. He commented that he wished he could talk about his dreams, which I found particularly fascinating. Dreams and goals are elements of the vulnerable part of our stories. Vulnerability reveals our humanness and flaws, but it can also free us.
Dreams, hopes, aspirations, and desires are woven into the fabric of our stories. When we tell our stories, those dreams are shaken free and come alive, as we begin to envision what God can do with, for, and through us. When we share those hopes and dreams, God uses people to affirm that vision in our lives. Scripture is clear that where there’s no vision, people perish.
Living the Story
After each guy in my D-group had shared his story, there was a lull in the conversation. Perhaps I was more aware of the whole story-telling thing because I was thinking of this article. But it was a profound revelation for me: we are the story. It’s a story of healing, hope, and redemption—a God-story, all of us interwoven with each other and knit together by a great Creator: an eternal story, in which a good and gracious God is never out of control.
And our powerful story goes on. As I sat there a bit awed by what God was doing, one of the guys broke the silence. “Hey Doc,” he said. “…tell us a story.”
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.