The generosity of storytelling
When stories connect us
Two years ago I was headed into the most arduous work of my life. I was writing a book, not only telling my own story, but hoping to do so in a way that would invite, encourage, and inspire others to face theirs in order to find healing and hope. My book was to be about miscarriage, exploring themes of faith and suffering, doubt and incarnation, grief and healing and hope. Not the lightest of subjects, but the truest for my life at the time.
Although not the arc of my entire life’s story, the last several years of my life have been marked by the hushed heartache of recurrent miscarriages—my introduction to the type of grief that sweeps you off your feet and knocks the wind out of you. In those early days of mourning, writing became my lifeline and my prayer. It’s how I let the pain in and how I let it out. It’s how I prayed. It’s how I reached out for help. It’s how I healed.
The first time I shared my story online I was inundated with “me too” stories. It seemed a groundswell of women around me carried similar stories of heartache and loss. Their tenderness and solidarity helped me to see that although in a season of intense loneliness, I was far from alone.
Stories became my connecting point to a world bigger than myself. They also became my connecting point to a smaller world—the world within.
If you grew up in church like I did you’ve probably heard the verse from Revelation 12:11 (what feels like) one million times: “They overcame with the blood of the lamb and the word of their testimony.” It’s so familiar it feels almost insignificant—an unfortunate casualty of knowledge elbowing out transformative revelation. I used to think of this verse only in terms of “salvation stories” because whenever I heard the term testimony used in church settings it was always about how someone decided to follow Jesus. These “conversion” stories are powerful, yes, but most people only have one of them.
And yet our lives are made up of stories—stories interwoven with stories interwoven with still more stories. And the power of those stories has no end.
Permission to tell our stories
When I began sharing my own stories of heartache and hope amidst miscarriage I saw with stunning volume how much power my stories actually had. It was as if sharing my stories gave people permission to share theirs.
Of course we don’t need permission to share our stories, but it can feel that way, can’t it? We often deny the power of our own stories because we’re measuring them up against someone else’s. Ours aren’t as significant or traumatic or spectacular. Ours aren’t as beautiful or tragic, as polished or as miraculous. Ours are regular—familiar because they’re ours.
But what if you and I began to realize how much power to overcome and heal and birth life rests within the sharing of our stories?
In the early days of writing my book I posted a survey on facebook, hoping to get responses from at least one hundred women and men. I had to take the survey down before the day was over because I had already received 750+ responses and had no idea how I would comb through them all.
To be honest the results of the survey didn’t surprise me. I had been listening to (and reading) stories of peoples’ experiences with miscarriage and loss for several years already and the survey only reinforced the major themes I already knew I needed to write into. So I guess in that way, it didn’t do much to “help” me write the book. But here’s what surprised me: The number of people who thanked me for the survey. Over and over again participants said variations of, “Thank you for this survey—it felt good to remember.” Or “Thank you for helping me to share my story—this was so therapeutic.”
And what I realized was that even when people don’t consciously articulate it, somewhere under the surface they just want to be known. They want their story heard. They want to be given voice and to know their experience matters. Some people need more of a nudge than others to help them to share. Some need a framework to help them know where or how to start. Some tell stories naturally and readily. Some don’t. But we all just want to be known. We want to know our stories matter.
The power of story
Sharing our stories heals us and heals others. Our stories free us and free others. Our stories help give language to the ones yet to be told. Our stories require vulnerability but they also produce vulnerability—they give way for others to let their own stories rise.
And this is my encouragement to you, dear one: Let your story be known. It is neither small nor insignificant. It is not too much or not enough. It is not boring. It is not benign.
Your story holds the power to heal. Your story holds the power to declare God’s goodness if you’ll let it. Your story has the power to help others overcome shame, fear, anxiety, doubt, bias, unforgiveness, self-doubt, and all sorts of personal heartache and struggles.
Take courage, dear heart. Telling your story is always worth it. So go there. Don’t be afraid. Don’t hold back. Speak. Write. Give.
Your story matters. Will you be generous with it?
“Be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God.” —Jesus (from Matthew 5:16, The Message)
Please note: As a gift to those of you impacted by the heartbreak of miscarriage or other types of pregnancy loss, I’ve created an ebook I’d like to offer you at no cost: Journaling Our Scarlett Stories: Prompts to Process Grief after Pregnancy Loss. These prompts are designed to help you journal through your grief as well as to help you tell your story. (Whether you write your story for your eyes only or to share it with others is entirely up to you.)