Reflections by Jerry Webber

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Stories That May or May Not Be True

For quite awhile I've noticed the re-emergence of the language of "story" and "narrative" into mainstream conversation. People say, "I want to hear your story" or "the only way we can know each other is to share our stories."

Honestly, I'm not often drawn to that language and to social or group settings where there is a lot of personal story-telling. I've thought that it was probably the strong introvert in me that shied away from those kinds of settings.

I have considered my own "story" recently -- which I suppose, is one way of saying that I've considered my personal interpretation of my life. And it has occurred to me that the narrative I tell about my life -- either in relating "who I am" to someone else, or just the endless commentaries that loop through my brain -- are all quite incomplete.

Not only are they incomplete, they also are subject to a high degree of my own internal editing. Any time I say something to someone else about the stories, events or life-situations that have shaped me, by definition I am being selective in what I tell and what I do not tell. This self-editing leads to a highly interpretive "story" about who I am and what is important to me. So in a sense, another can never really know me by virtue of what I choose to share.

And I'm beginning to see another rub . . . that I may even miss seeing myself by telling certain life-stories and events . . . attributing to some life-experiences an influence that is beyond what other, equally telling, life-events might suggest.

For instance, if you asked me about my "story," I'd probably tell you stories about difficulties in the local church and my sense of not fitting in a congregation. Around that might be stories of spite and betrayal. I can tell that "story" in such a way that it sounds like all of my experience in the local church has been tainted and stained by some "mean people out there;" the reality, however, is that the great majority of my time in the local congregation has been spent with wonderful people who truly wanted to live in a way that brought change and healing to the world. I tell that part of the story so seldom, though, that even I forget about it myself. So I begin to live into the tainted story that I tell myself.

I do the same thing with betrayals in relationships . . . or the lymphoma that lives in my body . . . I selectively tell my "story" as if certain realities shape the extent of my existence. It's not completely accurate, but it's what happens when I tell my story.

You do it, too.

I'm in a season right now where I'm trying to let go of some of the commentaries I tell about myself . . . mostly the ones I tell to myself. I'm trying to let them go, to notice what those inner voices say about me and about who I am, then to let them go in order to be fully present to the "I am-ness" of the moment.

In fact, I'm beginning to see that one of the ways we are most like God, Who was revealed to Moses in the burning bush as I-am-who-I-am, is in our being. Or to say it in another way, as God is who God is, so I am who I am.

My selective referencing of past experiences does not enhance who I am . . . it does not give me cause for pity at what I have or have not experienced . . . it need not give me a "handle" so that either I or others can grasp hold of my "true identity."

I simply am who I am.

The stories I tell about my past are a part of me, but they are not everything. Whatever I would tell you about my "story," there is always more that I have not told you. Maybe it's best not to be narrowly defined by a few life-events, difficulties, or even joyful experiences. I can notice what has happened and even notice the impact they have had on me, but without holding them and defining myself by them. I sense -- at least for me -- that the invitation of God may be to let them go, to release them, so that I can live fully in this moment.

I may change my mind about all this . . . but it's where I am for this season of life. That's my story . . . and for this moment, I'm sticking to it!

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