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Thursday, September 12, 2013

Someone to Share Your Story With

Everybody has a Story!
   But Not Everybody has 
Somebody to Tell...

I wonder, are you a safe person?  Oh, I know there is kind of a joke around among women about dating “bad boys” vs. the “safe” guy…but that isn't what I mean.  Let me illustrate what I mean, rather than explain it.  Some of you will know that I was at the Kansas State Book Festival up in Topeka recently.  A lot of different people wandered around, doing a variety of things, and among them were the ones who chose to stop at our little booth.  Among these people were some who saw my books and stopped to chat.  As we would visit, topics would arise, sometimes, related to divorce.  Specifically, related to divorces in their past or in their family. 

One individual told me the story of a divorce that so shattered him he feels like it spun his life into a downward spiral ever since, resulting in some troubled relationships and financial hardships.  He struggled with the definition of justice in the court processes of divorce, when those decisions often lead the litigants into bankruptcy.

Another person made a comment, and I responded with a statement about how hard divorce can be.  She responded with a big, “You don’t have to tell ME how hard it is…I’m dealing with it right now!”  While another examined the books (as his wife did later), and told me stories about when he had gotten divorced many years ago, and how good his current marriage is.  Still, he was troubled because one of his children was facing a difficult divorce that was carrying with it all the questioning of God and wrestling with purpose, meaning and loss that so often accompanies divorce.  These people were all strangers.  But the events I describe have repeated themselves with other people I have met over and over again.  Stranger after stranger has a story about how divorce has impacted their lives in some way, but tend to not share that part of themselves.  At least, not until they have an opportunity to share it with somebody who understands, and might respond with some degree of compassion.

This phenomenon is not merely related to my books.  The books certainly create an opening for discussion, but the same kind of thing has happened with my wife, too.  She told me a story recently about a woman she had met (also a stranger) and spent some time with in some various meetings.  According to my wife, it was after several days hearing my wife visit in groups, and I guess hearing my wife’s story about her divorce that this woman finally decided to tell my wife about her divorce.  It was as if she was watching, waiting to see if it would be okay, if it was safe.  I don’t know much else about it, but somehow, that woman felt able to make a connection that had meaning for her when she was able to discuss her experience of divorce with my wife.

I know another couple of women who have chosen to no longer discuss their divorces.  They got tired of feeling like they had to explain, that people were judging them and of feeling inadequate as they watched the look in the eyes of their friends. 

So what difference does it make?  

Well, I think the main difference is whether one carries the pain alone, or is able instead to experience a sense of community and encouragement through connecting with someone who understands and cares.  

But to be available for that kind of connection means that you have to be willing to not treat somebody as less than you just because they have been divorced.  You have to not have quick answers, such as telling somebody they need to just “move on” or “get over it.”  You have to be able to share enough of your story to be open, but not so much that the focus is about YOU.  And, most of all, you have to be the kind of person who isn't going to take the information you have heard and share intimate details in ways that can cause more hurt (note that the stories above have been greatly abbreviated and made generic enough to avoid inappropriate disclosure…even though none were shared in confidence).  

Perhaps the core notion is, you have to be trustworthy.

I know people who are trustworthy, and some who are not, don’t you?  I once had some individuals kind of challenge me for not sharing some of my struggles with them.  Why didn't I?  Because I had seen and heard what happened when individuals confided their struggles with them:  everybody else heard about them, and the information could be used to judge rather than to minister.  I knew these were not the ones I wanted to entrust with any confidences.  But I have also known others with whom I could bare my very soul, knowing it would be a precious experience of healing and hope.

Which kind of person are you?  Down through the years of pastoring, I have learned that most everybody has a story of some kind.  Often the stories have nothing to do with divorce, they just are the stories and struggles of individual lives.  Some of the stories are horrendous.  Some are heartbreaking.  Some are disappointing.  Some are filled with desperation.  But they are the stories of these people’s lives. 

And many of them are desperately wanting to find healing, but are searching for that safe environment to share and seek it.  

Jesus was a master at creating that kind of environment…look how much “sinners” and “tax collectors” loved to be around him;  his caring was genuine.  One of the greatest compliments I ever received was after one of my parishioners told me about a family struggle that produced great pain in her life, and then as I was getting ready to leave, that individual said to me, “You know, I don’t know why, but I've gone to church all my life, and you’re the first pastor I've ever felt I could tell about that.”  Somehow, in that moment, I think I was most like Christ for that person, because isn't that what God wants to be for us, the one we can tell about every and any thing?  People are out there, longing to share their stories.  

We just need more people out there, willing to listen, to truly listen and care.

TL:dr  Many people need to share their struggles, but are lacking someone they can trust with their hearts.

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