I’m teaching a class for freshman and one of their assignments is to share their testimony with the class. They were nervous, not excited to get up in front of their classmates and share something so vulnerable.
I sat in the back of the classroom and watched as they sat in the chair at the front, wringing their hands, crossing their ankles, looking around the room or straight at me. They shared with shaky voices and open hearts the good, bad, and the ugly. They shared their stories.
Something happened when they started sharing. I had instructed them to be quiet and respectful as they listened to one another, but somehow a silent room became even more silent. They sat enraptured at one another’s stories – the triumphs and the traumas. I do not think it will ever stop surprising me, the amazing and heart wrenching events that shape people.
If you read my blog last week, you’ll know I’ve been feeling a little weary, a little overwhelmed at the load I’m carrying. I’ve felt like I am full and not capable of giving as much to people as I want to. It is kind of like pouring water into a cup that is already filled to the brim.
So it would stand to reason that hearing these stories would overwhelm me more, right? That I would crumble under the empathy required from me. But something else happened. My heart broke – and it broke open. As I heard their stories, I felt a love and compassion that was soul deep. I hoped that I could convey empathy through my eyes, across a classroom. I felt my heart bursting open.
There is a book I read recently where the author talked about the question, “What is saving your life right now?” Today, I would say stories. Stories are saving me.
In my small group we have been doing the same thing – each week someone shares their “story” or testimony. It is funny, it seems like it is a “Christian” thing to do – sharing your story. I am not sure that many other circles do this, but I think it is one of our most beautiful and sacred practices.
So each week we hear from another one of our friends, our dear friends who we feel like we know really well. But every time, we get to journey into a world that we had never been to before. We get the privilege of really knowing them. We get to hear and help carry their hardships, and champion and encourage them in their successes.
Here is the thing about stories: when we hear someone’s story, we start to understand them better. We get a picture of where they came from, a fuller appreciation of what makes them who they are. We hear what has shaped them. It is a whole lot harder to disagree or dislike or dishonor someone once we have heard their story.
And I just think that hearing each other’s stories might be what saves us.
She says, “Maybe the love gets in easier right where the heart’s broke open.” And that is exactly what I have been experiencing. When my heart breaks for someone, it lets the love out easier too. When we hear each other, when we really see and hear and know each other, our hearts break open and we love fully.
Maybe hearing each other’s stories is what will mend our world. Maybe a bunch of broken hearts can heal a broken world. That is ultimately what saved us the first time – and forever – right? Jesus’ broken heart saved our broken world once and for all?
I realized as I sat with the weight of the stories I have heard this week, that maybe the heartbreak heals. As my heart broke open with love and compassion for my students, I felt strangely put back together. I felt capable of loving and holding stories and hearts.
I have been obsessively reading and quoting the story of Jesus and the “woman at the well” in John 4. Jesus knew her story. He offered her everything she needed because He knew exactly what she needed. I bet there were a million times when Jesus, over bread and wine, as nets were cast into the sea, as miracles were performed, said to people, “Tell me your story.” And what was the command that Jesus left us with?
Go, and make disciples…teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you.
He told them to go and tell their story. He tells us the same thing. Tell people how God has changed you. Share with a broken world your broken heart that was mended. Hear their stories and let them shape you, transform you.
Friends, this is it. Story. The story of Jesus is real and that is why it changes us. The stories you hear from others are real – let them break you and put you back together. I just don’t think there is a thing in the world that couldn’t be solved over a cup of tea and the family of Christ saying to the world, “Tell me your story.”