What story are you telling yourself? Meghan Larissa Good challenges us to tell ourselves stories of health.
The Story We Tell Ourselves
By Meghan Larissa Good
"You have a lovely voice," the older woman seated in front of me at the wedding turned to say. I smiled and patted her hand while laughing inwardly, "She must have heard that girl to the left and mistook her for me."
A man sitting nearby introduced himself after the Sunday service. "What a pleasure to worship beside such a gifted singer," he said. "What a funny coincidence!" I thought. "Someone else making the same mistake so soon."
A few weeks later a stranger leaned over the pew and whispered, "You sound like an angel." I glanced around in confusion before a thought suddenly occurred: "Wait. Are these people actually meaning to address me?"
I've been learning a lot lately about self-narratives, the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves and use to make sense of our lives. We humans are natural meaning-makers. We have a particularly strong bent toward pattern-recognition. Give us a couple of pieces of data and we'll draw a line between and begin constructing a story: "This is who I am. This is what I can do and what I can't. This is why my life has gone this way. This is how the world works."
I am not a particularly strong singer. I have known this to be fact since my experience with middle school chorus. That fact just seems often to be overlooked by the people I worship beside.
Self-narratives are important, or at least inevitable. They represent an attempt to integrate and learn from experience. They are part of the way we derive meaning from our lives. The trouble is, they can also misfire. Sometimes experience gives us a series of dots and we connect them in the wrong way. Sometimes other people add false dots to our stories and we seamlessly integrate them as if they were part of the true design.
As a pastor, I see this often. People come into my office and lay their stories out before me. But sometimes they've connected dots that were not meant to be together and become trapped between skewed lines. Sometimes their story has been hijacked by another storyteller and they don't realize there's a different way the same events could be narrated.
The biblical David narrated himself as the scrappy youngster who took on a giant. A persecuted warrior forced to flee an unhinged king. The hero. God's anointed. A dispenser of peace and justice. It took the prophet Nathan, the parable of a greedy rich man who steals a poor man's only sheep, and a courageous declaration - "You are the man!" - for David to wake up to the fact that his self-narration had parted ways with his reality (2 Samuel 11-12).
Moses was a killer, a fugitive, and a stumbling speaker to boot. He spent more time with sheep than people. He certainly did not have the things of which great spiritual leaders are made. But an encounter with God at a flaming bush forced him to rethink the story he'd constructed (Exodus 2-4). Was he only a killer or also a man with passion for the oppressed? Was he only a shepherd or a leader with a knack for seeing cranky creatures safely through the wilderness?
To ensure we are living out of accurate narratives, we need people in our lives with whom we can be open about the stories, good and bad, we are telling ourselves. But perhaps even more important is to give those people explicit permission to push back honestly where they suspect we may be misconnecting dots. We also can invite God into redefining and re-aligning our dots. Growing up into maturity means letting the Spirit begin to realign our stories to reflect more fully the picture God sees. May God give us courage to walk toward the truth that always, always sets us free.
Dr. Meghan Larissa Good is Teaching Pastor at Trinity Mennonite Church (Glendale, AZ) and author of The Bible Unwrapped: Making Sense of Scripture Today. She is a graduate of Portland Seminary, Duke Divinity School and Gordon College. Meghan is a frequent preacher and lecturer at churches and universities across the country, speaking on subjects such as biblical hermeneutics and contemporary preaching. She lives in Phoenix, AZ with a prized dinosaur bone and a ridiculously large book collection.