Stories are powerful. They are an essential part of what it means to be human. From the dawn of time, stories allowed humans to connect with each other and give meaning to life. Rather than listening to facts, stories help us put ourselves in the scene and experience the emotions, sights, sounds and stirrings of other people. A story invites us to become participants rather than mere spectators.
Stories evoke emotion and make otherwise abstract principles come to life. Isn’t that what Jesus did all throughout the Gospels? He told stories. Rather than teach forgiveness principles, Jesus told a story about a man with two sons. One took his inheritance before his father died and squandered it on wild living. After he lost everything he had, the son came to his senses and returned home to his father. His dad forgave him, gave him a new set of clothes and hosted a grand celebration. In telling the story, Jesus was essentially saying, “There, that’s what forgiveness looks like.”
Every Christian has a story to tell. Maybe you didn’t have a meth lab in your basement or work the streets as a prostitute. Perhaps you were raised in a Christian home with loving parents who cherished you. Either way, you were blind, but now you see. You were spiritually dead, and Jesus made you alive in Christ. Death to life never gets old. We should not diminish the power of our stories, no matter how dark or disappointing they may be, no matter how boring or uneventful they may seem.
Don’t hide your story in hopes no one will ever see. Tell it. Show it. Celebrate God’s work through it. Let your story be evidence of your strength and bravery that shouts to the world that a new ending is possible. Realize that your disappointments, bad decisions, and darkest struggles can be the most life-changing parts of your story. Your worst chapters can become your greatest victories.
One of the greatest ways God “puts to use what he puts us through” is by creating in us a deeper sense of compassion than we would have ever known without the trauma. The word compassion is derived from the Latin words pati and cum, meaning “to suffer with.”
Compassion for brokenness comes from brokenness. There’s really no other way. We hold the hands of weary friends, not as people who can fix their problems, but as people who understand their pain and “suffer with” them. I’ll walk through this with you. I get it. I may not understand the particulars of your struggle, but I do understand disappointment and heart-wrenching pain. Only when we have experienced our own disappointment can we sympathize with the disappointment of others.
One of my greatest gifts from the loss of our child was a deeper compassion for women who struggle with infertility and loss. No one in my family had ever died before in my lifetime except my grandma, but her death was expected because she was old. However, when my baby died, that was not expected. When she died, something else in me was born — a deep-seated compassion for those who have prayed for years but not received the hoped-for reply, for the women whose dreams became nightmares, and for women who wanted answers but got none.
Paul wrote, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3–4, emphasis added). Another translation puts it this way: “[God] who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (v. 4 esv).
But suppose there is someone who understands. Suppose you are that someone, and you need to tell your story. When you share the comfort that you have experienced in your struggles, when you’re honest and vulnerable with the facts, it lets the hearer believe there is hope for a better story.
God doesn’t comfort us just to make us comfortable. He comforts us in order to make us comfortable — able to comfort others. When we keep our stories to ourselves, we deny others the comfort that is ours to give.
When someone hears your story, it may be painful and comforting at the same time. They might not have had the same experience that you had, but they do know what pain or shame feels like. It’s not that the hearer is glad that you’ve experienced the abuse or the aftermath of a poor decision, but she does feel comfort in knowing she is not the only one who has messed up or been messed with.
God will bring people across your path who need someone who understands. When a divine appointment meets a deliverance, story healing happens. You may never know the why of your story, but you can experience the how of redemption when you share how God got you through.
Telling your story has the potential to set someone else free. Telling your story also has the ability to set you free — and to affect generations to come. That’s why your story matters.