I have the privilege of leading a mentor group of late adolescent, college guys. Each guy has committed to meet weekly for spiritual growth and accountability. Recently during one of our group meetings I was struck by something. We had all experienced a particularly difficult week and as each guy shared his story I became impressed with the dynamic of what was happening in that room. Our stories were moving. Each guy was 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. It also became apparent that each story was deeply connected to God’s story. I watched each guy, including myself, slowing become refreshed, renewed and renovated. What struck me was the power of the story.
Youth workers are constantly engaged in story. We realize that each kid is a story and we are constantly listening to their story. But many youth workers fail to experience the dynamic of telling their own story. Of course we tell small bites of our story when we self-disclose for relate-ability or need a great lesson illustration, but that’s not quite the same as sitting down and telling our story. Our story is us. Dean Borgman, in his book, Hear My Story: Understanding the Cries of Troubled Youth reminds us that our stories tell us who we are, were we are going, and the difference it makes. Often we feel like we can’t tell our story because we have to be the givers, the leaders, the helpers. Nobody needs to hear our stories. Slowly but surely Satan starts to isolate us. Slowly but surely we become eroded by discouragement and defeat. He makes our identity insecure, robs us of direction and takes away the joy of life. But God has provided a way of escape. He invites us to tell our stories. He is the author and finisher of our faith-story (Heb. 12:2). He tells us to bear each other’s burdens (Gal. 6:2), which assumes that we are sharing as well. There is power in telling your story.
I encounter many youth workers who are looking to be restored or in need of a soul renovatus. A common denominator that I frequently find is that they have no mentor, confidant, support person or group where their story is known. My advice is to seek out those people. The first step in restoration is, engagement. Connection is critical in the process of storytelling because someone needs to be the listener.
The second step is to take the risk and tell your story. Telling your story will bring about renovation because of the following reasons:
1. Telling your story brings healing: Just about everyone in ministry has experienced the effect of having the Holy Spirit work through them to bring healing into a person’s life. God uses us to bring healing words, bring a healing touch or even provide a healing presence. We understand and preach incarnational ministry – “Christ in and through” us. But when we need God to minister to us we expect that He should do that apart from the vehicle that He has already chosen; His people.
I encounter many youth workers whose competence and self-sufficiency gets in the way of their own personal healing. Somehow they think that God will by-pass His already established plan and provide an alternative for them. They don’t want to tell their story because they have “told it to God” and that’s all they need. After all, He will provide. They feel that if they tell their story to others, they will compromise their leadership or their ability to help. Somehow they think that their weakness will disqualify them. Satan plays his role as accuser here to ultimately immobilize these precious saints.
We need to tell our stories because God ministers to us the same way that he ministers through us. He has chosen to work through His church which is 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 story.
2. Telling your story brings validation and value: As I sat with the guys in my mentor group and listened to their stories I watched each guy engage the other’s story. They asked questions, sought clarification, and responded empathetically. I noticed that there were times when each guy’s story was validated. Their ideas and experiences were understood. Their opinions were affirmed. There was even validation when there was disagreement because each guy was allowed to tell and be heard. It was as if the story was now real because someone heard it. It wasn’t a fabrication of events in an individual’s mind. It wasn’t a series of crazy ideas and misinterpretations in the gap of the surreal. It was valid. The misinterpretations were corrected and the events were spoken. You’ve probably had this experience before where something happens to you and you just can’t wait to tell someone about it. You kind-of think that it’s not real until you share it. That’s validation.
Each guy also felt valued because their story was being heard. Telling our stories gives us significance and value. Dean Borgman describes it best when he says, “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.
3. Telling your story brings perspective and direction: Have you ever had an experience where you have met with a friend who begins to tell you about an ordeal that he or she is going through. The conversation becomes more impassioned and you start to realize that you are not saying a word because your friend is really on a roll. After the conversation (or monologue, to you) your friend thanks you for your help. You didn’t say more than two words the entire time. What your friend gained was perspective.
When we tell our story we actually hear our story too. When your story comes out of your mouth, you get to look at it. That’s right, you look at it. Previous to this, that story was a single perspective that was floating around in your head. Many times our story doesn’t look as bad after we have said it, than when it was in our minds. 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 recesses of our heads.
Telling your story helps you make sense out of 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 don’t fully see that redemptive work until we start talking.
My guys saw God’s direction in their lives become a bit more clear after they told their stories. They saw His goodness, faithfully repeated in their lives even in the middle of pain. They traced His redemptive work through out their experiences. Direction was affirmed as they concluded, from hearing their own stories to trust Him more.
4. Telling your story crafts vision and builds dreams: I was having a conversation with a student who was telling me that he didn’t like to talk about himself. He said that he was afraid that people may not like what they see, 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 skeletons in the closet. He wanted so desperately to be known (to tell his story) but was so fearful of the potential rejection. He commented so profoundly that he wished he could talk about his dreams. That struck me. Dreams and goals are elements of the vulnerable part of our stories. While vulnerability reveals our humanness and can expose our flaws, vulnerability can also free us up.
Dreams, hopes, aspirations, desires, etc. are all woven into the fabric of our stories. When we tell our stories those dreams are shaken free. They begin to come alive. We begin to envision what God can and will do with us. When we share those hopes and dreams God uses His people to affirm His vision on our lives.
God’s word says that were there is no vision people perish. I watched this young man’s fear of telling his story, rob him of the vitality of life. He was shutting down. We sat in my office for about two hours. I let him tell me his story. What a great story! What a great life! What a great God! He left my office renovated.
Let me tell you the rest of the story with my mentor group. After a while there was a lull in the conversation. Each guy had shared his story. We realized that a few hours had passed and we laughed, cried, rested, rekindled, and we saw God, together. We were known. Our hearts were bound as God’s story and our stories became united in a deeper way. It was a profound and impacting experience. We are the story. It’s a story of healing, hope, and redemption. It is a God story interwoven with each other and knit together by a great Creator. It is an eternal story, where a good and gracious God is never out of control. 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. I turned and looked in his direction. He smiled and continued, “. . . tell us a story”.
 Borgman, Dean (2003). Hear My Story: Understanding the Cries of Troubled Youth. Peabody, MA.; Hendrickson Publishers.