I was sitting by a bonfire in California when I first really heard someone else’s story.
It was the summer of 2008 and I was attending a 10-day leadership program in Southern California. I was one of 20 high school seniors who had spent the last several days getting to know each other through service and activities.
It was our final night. We were gathered around the enormous bonfire, sitting close. Our leader stood before us and invited us all to do something that was simultaneously thrilling and uncomfortable: he invited us to stand up and share an experience that had a deep impact on our life.
My stomach instantly filled with butterflies as I thought about standing before this group of people. Would I talk about my first encounter with God? My fears of being unpopular at school? My recent break up from my first boyfriend?
As I sat there anxiously trying to figure out what I would say, one by one the others described moments and experiences with such vulnerability I had never heard before. There were stories of failing to live up to expectations, rape, eating disorders, deep hopes and fears, heartache, joy, and estranged parents. There were tears, stammered words, and sighs of relief as though a great weight was being released.
When it was finally my turn, I was surprised to find the words coming out of my mouth were filled with deep appreciation. To stand before a group of people who were willing to let me see them, truly see them, and who wanted to truly see me too was a gift I hadn’t really encountered before. I thanked them and loved them for giving me the opportunity. And I wanted more of it.
Over the last few years I have now had countless opportunities to share my life story in different settings. And each time I am overwhelmed by the goodness that takes place as a result.
Stories remind us we are not alone.
So often painful experiences are made worse by the belief that everyone else is living a carefree life. When we have the courage to share our struggles and experiences, we allow others a space of peace, and a place where they can breathe. Talking about our deepest pains and most glorious joys allows both the story teller and listener to know that we are not alone in this world.
Stories give encouragement, whether we realize it or not.
Something I continue to be surprised about is how people respond to my writing. One of the most common things I get from people is, “You have no idea how much I needed to hear this.” They’re right, I didn’t! When I write about my personal experiences and perspectives, I never know if anyone will actually resonate with it. But putting those stories into the world gives others a chance to, and it’s always a rush of joy when they do.
Stories help us gain perspective on our own experiences.
Last fall I had the opportunity to share my life story during my internship with Krochet Kids intl. We were encouraged to process what we would say beforehand and create a timeline of our life. As I was remembering influential moments and relationships, I realized there was a common theme among my timeline: community. I did not realize my life thus far has been characterized by an importance of community and how I have grown in such a setting. Preparing to share my story helped me understand this, and gave me insight into how to best experience life.
Stories allow us to be known.
When I stood up in front of that bonfire in California and shared my story, I felt, even briefly, that I was truly known by others. And I have to say, being known and loved because of my experiences (both good and bad) and not in spite of them may be the best feeling in the world. It’s freeing, safe, and intimate. It instantly forms a genuine connection between you and others that somehow beautifully remains precious over time.
Sharing your story is not always an easy thing. But the gift you give others and yourself in doing so is one that has a profound impact.
Photo (Flickr CC) by Very Quiet.