Telling Your Story

“A person or community that remembers its story as a story of grace is delivered from the bondage of anxious self aggrandizement.” – Sally Brown (professor of preaching at Princeton Theological Seminary)

When I came across that quote of Sally Brown’s this week I was immediately struck by its wisdom. I’ve been applying it to various scenarios ever since. For example it helped me understand why the Air Canada commercial that ran throughout the Olympics bothered me. Do you remember it? A camera zooms in on a cradle containing a beautiful baby girl. We are treated to a series of images in which she conquers the world – distributing aid to grateful people overseas, giving lectures in wealthy halls of power. When I read Sally’s quote I recognized the commercial for what it was, anxious self aggrandizement.

One of the things that troubled me in the commercial was that the child seemed so self sufficient, so independent. Parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles never figured in the story. And the story only took her to the ripe old age of 25. Why didn’t we get to see her at 50, 70, or 90? These absences made it lack a certain grace that made it impossible for me to swell with the patriotic pride the advertiser presumably desired. It felt instead to be anxious, a denial of the challenges faced by Canadian youth and which will not be helped by jet setting around the world.

Then I thought about all the people I visit as a minister. Most of the time our conversations consist of them telling me their story. It is always an honour to hear their story. Some tell it through photographs as they patiently share with me the name and accomplishment of each child and grandchild. Some tell it through their history of employment, some through the lens of their own childhood, some through the various places they’ve lived. It is always an honour to hear the story told but once in a while it transcends even that and becomes something sacred. Once in a while the person tells their story as a story of grace.

It is hard to describe such a telling but it often includes talking about a time of woundedness or pain – the death of a child or spouse and it almost always includes a sense of gratitude for those who rose up and helped the person through the pain. And once in a while the conversation even extends to a reflection on how God has been woven into the person’s life. When this occurs the overwhelming emotion that is conveyed is one of gratitude. The person is thankful for all of life; the struggles and the joys.

“A person or community that remembers its story as a story of grace is delivered from the bondage of anxious self aggrandizement.” There is such wisdom in that line that I’ve written in onto a piece of paper in my office. It has me practicing and reflecting on how I tell my own story. Thanks Sally Brown!