The other day I heard a fascinating anecdote on the local Christian radio station. I’m not sure if it’s totally legit, and it certainly didn’t sound scientific, but it still intrigued me. Apparently some pastor camped out on the streets somewhere and posted a sign saying he’d pay 25 cents to anyone who’d sit down and listen to his story. No one took him up on that offer. The next day, he changed things up and posted a sign saying he’d pay 25 cents to anyone who’d sit down and tell him their story. People lined the streets waiting for their chance to pour out their hearts to a total stranger for just a quarter.
While this 30-second on-air filler piece might be exaggerated, it makes sense. People like to tell stories – specifically, their stories. It seems part of our nature as humans to want to communicate the events we experience and the emotions we feel in narrative form, complete with background setup, plots twists, and a cast of characters featuring us as the heroes or heroines.
The marketing industry has recognized this human tendency and is riding the storytelling train all the way down Madison Avenue. A recent Forbes commentary put it like this: “…don’t tell me your story; tell me the story that is relevant to me.”
Of course, all this sounds incredibly self-centered, and it is. We are narcissists who love to hear ourselves talk. We assume people want to view an Instagrammed photo of the Paleo broccoli kale lentil salad we made for dinner, rush to re-pin our design for a salvaged barn door turned four-post bedframe, and subscribe to our My Kid Says The Darndest Things Twitter feed. Mark Zuckerberg should thank us for being so egocentric.
But that’s a negative way of looking at it. Our affinity toward autobiographical discourse isn’t just useful for self-importance building; it conveys critical information about who we are, where we come from, and what we’ve lived through, the experiences that shape (but not necessarily define) our identities. This disclosure enables us to connect with others by discovering commonalities through which we can cultivate relationships.
Telling our stories can also provide encouragement, inspire change, and kindle hope. Better yet, it can illustrate the amazing ways God works in our lives, displaying His power, faithfulness, sovereignty, and grace. The Bible itself is God’s love story addressed to us, describing how He cared for us so much that He sent His Son to die while we were still egocentric.
As a writer, I appreciate the value of a good story. I like to tell stories, and I like to think they’re good, though my husband says I have a tendency to ramble and repeat myself. I like to tell stories, and I especially like to tell the story of how God brought our family together. If you haven’t read the previous posts in my sorely neglected blog, which I wouldn’t recommend unless you’ve got a bottle of wine and a good 2-3 hours to kill, the super-condensed run-on sentence version of the story goes like this: We tried for many years to get pregnant and failed; we became parents overnight when we adopted our son six days after he was born; we then became one of those couples who got pregnant after adopting; we now have two energetic boys who challenge and bless us every day.
This abridged version of the story doesn’t adequately portray the numerous occurrences of weeping (on my part) and gnashing of teeth (on Colin’s part) that we experienced along the way. During those difficult times, I was grateful to be part of a group of women with whom I could share my struggles and doubts and fears and trust that they could understand and empathize with me because they were going through the same struggles. They listened to my complaints and angst-y ramblings without judgment, while reminding me of the truth of God’s promises. They felt what I felt and got it, because they knew it.
And as I poured out my longings to them, I got to hear their stories – stories that would break your heart, of little lives lost, and years of futile tests and treatments, and mothers aching to simply hold their babies who barely got to take a breath in this world. Through sharing these stories, we gained comfort to ease our sorrow and confidence to hold fast to Christ. We cried, laughed, and prayed together, enjoying the strength in numbers and the knowledge that we were not alone.
These stories and the need for a safe space wherein they can be shared motivated me to step out and do something – to form a community where women facing similar challenges can “do life together” like all the cool churches are doing these days. The group is called Graceful Wait, borrowed from the name of the group I mentioned earlier. It is a monthly support group for women struggling with infertility or grieving the loss of a baby due to miscarriage, stillbirth, or early infant death.
I’m thankful to have a partner in this endeavor, a friend from church who experienced multiple miscarriages between having her two living daughters. We don’t have a curriculum or much of an agenda besides wanting to invite women regardless of faith background to come; share your sadness and pain and frustration, and take solace in the fact that the other women in this community understand you and desire to walk with you through this hard season.
I seriously buried the lead in this post, but that was intentional. I wanted to end by announcing the beginning of a new ministry I’m hoping will encourage others with the comfort with which I have been comforted by God (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). I look forward to seeing how God will work through this group, transforming stories of disappointment and despair into stories of redemption and hope through His unfailing compassion and abounding grace.