Two things about stories

This is a story about how I gave my story to someone who was careless with it. Someone who was offering diet advice that was masquerading as an invitation into a genuine conversation. I mistook concern trolling for a sincere desire for connection; and even though I should have known better — did know better — I made myself vulnerable when I should have protected my story, my Self.

And I knew they weren’t safe, weren’t a trustworthy story-holder. This isn’t the first time this person has put my story into a back pocket and forgotten about it, sent it through the wash with their jeans. Or folded it into a paper airplane and sent it gliding off into goodbye. Or smiled politely and handed it back unread: “Neat.”

This isn’t the first time I’ve said, No, I’m done making myself needlessly vulnerable, done gathering the scraps of myself off the floor and reassembling them with scotch tape in the wake of a person who is careless with my story. And then, sure enough, when they reached out again with the sales pitch for the advice they believed I needed, there I went imagining good intentions where there were none and offering myself up again: grace means giving the benefit of the doubt!

And then, later, again: carefully, gently smoothing the wrinkles and creases out of a story that has been crumpled up and thrown away.

That was not grace; that was poor boundaries, making myself vulnerable to someone who is not safe, who is not capable of holding my story in their hands and seeing the gift, the importance, the weight of it. This was a person who didn’t want to know me; they wanted to change me. They had what they thought would fix me in all the places that seemed, to them, obviously broken; and they weren’t interested in hearing what I had to say about the broken places, or whether I was broken at all.

Grace is saving my story, my me-ness, for when they are ready to listen, to hear. Grace is understanding that even with all the benefit of the doubt and I have stacked around them like sandbags, that person may never be ready to listen at all; may always think I’m broken and damaged. Grace is my knowing I am whole anyway, and resting in the love of the One Who made me so.

Grace is my not giving in to the stab and ache of rejection and throwing my story in a bonfire, but keeping it safe, knowing its worth. Grace is cultivating the relationships with people who will be safe, careful, with the secret, important parts of myself; seeking to know me for who I am, not for who they think I need to be.

——

Diet proselytization is not very different from religious proselytization. (The type of people who are eager to share unsolicited eating and lifestyle advice are often as devoted to their diets as others are to their religions, after all, and see everyone around them as a potential convert.)

At church a woman in my small group was telling us about her new coworker. “I thought she was a Christian, and I was so excited, because there aren’t any other Christians in my office!” But the new coworker soon corrected her, and she was heartbroken at losing a Christian comrade at work; she told us, “I guess we won’t be friends after all; I’ll just have to witness to her instead.”

Another friend, J., was telling us that a friend from college, one he’d lost touch with, has come back into his life. He’s gay, and J. said that he thinks God brought his old friend back into his life so J. could help him turn his life back toward God.

These friends of mine, it’s like they don’t want to deal with the mess and chaos of relationships; they’re not seeing the fact that you don’t just get to dive in and start giving advice on how to fix the other person’s broken places. They don’t understand that you must honor the other person’s story if you want them to hear yours; and that it’s the stories that shape us, not the platitudes and advice. And this is frightening, because the power of stories is that we can be shaped through hearing, and being careful with, another person’s story, when we think we were there to shape them.

Redemption comes from a relationship, not a sales pitch; and sometimes it isn’t the other person’s redemption that happens, but your own.

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6 thoughts on “Two things about stories

  1. Your writing always touches me in ways I don’t expect. (You’d think after all this time, I would start to expect the unexpected.)

  2. This is wonderful. I’m living away from some of my best friends who helped me through some horrific messes. Why are the so dear? Because they were there not to sales pitch me, but to pick me up when I fell – and they let me fall. Not in some mean way, but in that concerned way you watch a child make a bad choice, but let them learn.

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