Each of us has a story, an unraveling history spotted with shame, regret, and disappointment. Even though it can be difficult, when we share our stories, they become an invitation to allow others to know us more intimately, to understand us with more clarity, and to liberate us on levels we never imagined possible.
Why We Should Share Our Stories
When I was first in ministry, I was privileged to serve with a man I respected and admired. We served together for about four years, so I believed I knew him well. On most Sunday evenings, my wife, two small children, and I were gathered around his family’s table, eating hamburgers and waiting, rather impatiently, for a piece of his wife’s red velvet cake.
It surprised me one day when my friend, whose life was lived impeccably, in strict adherence to God’s Word, made the comment, almost in passing, that he didn’t let many people close to him for fear if they really knew him, they wouldn’t like him.
Being in my late twenties/early thirties at the time, it didn’t register why he would say such a thing. He was well-known, served in prominent positions on the state and national level in our church organization, loved by the people with whom he worked and served at the local church. But now, forty years later, I understand more clearly.
The most intense battles of my life are fought in my mind and heart. The shame, regret, fear, and at times, deep despair I face in my walk with the Lord are battles I fight on the barren plains of my mind. Of course, I know intellectually, and even in my spirit, that my battles have all been won on the Cross. But random thoughts, desires, and pride all point to the depravity of the man I used to be and could be again, save the protective presence of God’s Spirit in my life.
What does all of this have to do with our stories? Quite a lot, actually, because as hard as it is to grasp, though we all wrestle with these “demons,” we seem blinded to the fact that there’s another human being who could possibly understand what we’re experiencing. It’s as if I think I’m the only person on the planet who has died a thousand deaths on the battlefields of sin. I’m alone in my guilt and shame because of my failures. I’m alone in dealing with the unrelenting tension between what I want to do and what I too often choose to do.
Then I read a passage like Romans 7:24-25 (NLT), which says: “Oh what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.”
So, by reading that verse, I’m suddenly now all better? Yes and no. Yes, from the standpoint that the Bible, God’s Word to me, points me to Jesus, in whom every promise of God is “yes and amen!” (2 Corinthians 1:20).
What does that mean? To me, it means there’s nothing Satan can throw at me that Jesus and I can’t overcome, BUT (and that’s a very big but) He most often chooses to use others to walk with me into my victory. That’s where our stories come in.
Growing up, my mom was an alcoholic, and both of my parents were unfaithful to one another. Though I felt loved, there was a lot of chaos and instability, which led my two older sisters to marry right after high school, leaving me to fend for myself.
To say my family was dysfunctional is an understatement, but it was all I knew, yet I didn’t realize then how I was being shaped by my environment.
Through God-guided circumstances, I came to the Lord at age fifteen and soon after met my high school sweetheart at church. We dated for four years, but our relationship ended after she met someone at the university she was attending.
My heart was broken, but I understood and couldn’t blame her. Our relationship had been plagued with jealousy, but I didn’t understand why it was so uncontrollable.
As I grew in the Lord, I sensed His call to ministry and attended a Christian college and then seminary. At 21, I married a girl I’d met at college.
As the years passed, we had two children, and ministry opportunities directed our path, but the tentacles of underlying anger, common in adult children of alcoholics, and lust filled my heart and, too often, my mind.
The demands of ministry, family, and other distractions resulted in my lack of attention to my wife. We sought counseling, and I thought it was helping, but ultimately, my wife left me for another man. After more than twenty years of marriage, I was alone and lost.
Sharing My Story
Fast forward to a couple of years ago, I was in a LifeGroup of Chase Oakers with my “new” wife (we just celebrated twenty-five years of marriage). We were going through the Established study and came to the weeks we were to share our stories.
Reluctantly, I began to share some of what I’ve written above, but by God’s leading, I shared in more detail about my sin and shame. Ironically, what had held me back from sharing for almost thirty years was the fear that if someone really knew me, they would reject me. But after I shared my story, I shed tears of relief and joy filled my heart as the men and women in the room affirmed and loved me in spite of what I’d done.
The Power of Our Stories
Over the weeks as we shared our stories, our hearts were opened to one another in healing ways. The members of our LifeGroup are now among my dearest friends. That’s the power of sharing our stories—the reason we share our stories.
In John 10:10 (NLT), Jesus says, “The thief’s (Satan’s) purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My (Jesus’) purpose is to give them (us) a rich and satisfying life.”
When we hide our secrets, hoping no one will discover who we “really are,” we allow Satan to rob us of the healing we so desperately need and we so earnestly desire. My wife and I have since led two Established groups, largely because we believe in the power of stories.
When we pull back the curtain of our hearts and reveal who we really are when we share our stories, it builds unbelievable rapport, opening doors of friendship and deepening relationships that heal and bring wholeness.
When we share our stories, it promotes transparency and reduces defensiveness, inviting others to walk with us in our pain and development as a child of God. But perhaps most importantly, it gives freedom to the Holy Spirit to flow through us into the hearts and souls of those with whom we share our stories.
Finding Freedom in Our Stories
It seems strange to have to admit that I hadn’t been able to grasp the impact my growing-up years actually had on me as an adult. So many of the decisions and life choices we make are a direct result of circumstances we experienced as children. But we can’t lose sight of the fact our stories are still being written and will continue to be revealed as long as we’re on this planet.
Essentially what can happen is God’s story, the Gospel of Jesus, our Savior and Rescuer, changes our story, which when empowered by God’s Spirit, can lead to the changing of someone else’s story.
That’s great news, because regardless of how badly I’ve failed, how fully I’ve allowed the tentacles of sin to envelop me, because of who Jesus is and what He’s done for me through His death on the Cross, by His grace alone—I’M FREE!
Free to be everything God has intended for me to be from the foundation of the world; free to pursue the fulfilled life Jesus died to give me. The shackles of my past have no hold on me. I’m alive in ways I’ve never been before to the fullness of God’s Spirit at work in my life. And I’m finally beginning to understand what love really is and why it was so central in Jesus’ decision to come to earth.
Well, for now, that’s my story, but because of Jesus, my story is continuing to change for the better! May the Lord enable you to trust Him to use your story as you share it with others.
To find encouragement and inspiration from others’ stories, check out People of Chase Oaks. If you would like to share your story, we would love to hear from you! Go to Share Your Story and tell us about your unique journey.