“So, what’s your story?”
I sat in my office talking with one of our new staff members who was making the rounds and getting to know his partners in ministry a bit better. The question he asked was a question that you couldn’t ask someone who had complete memory loss. You could, but the conversation would be brief and not extraordinarily helpful. The question of “what’s your story?” is a question about where you’ve been, what you’ve been through, and what those particular chapters and sonnets mean to the whole of where you are right now.
Every time I’ve told my story – growing up in West Virginia, transitioning communities, coming to know Jesus in an end-times fundamentalist church, etc. – I’ve learned new things about myself. I have seen the tree rings where God intercepted me, taking me off my feet and showing me things too marvelous for my simple eyes to behold.
I love telling my story because it never fails that I find myself more grateful afterwards.
The Psalms call people to remember – they beg the reader, the worshiper to tell the story of God as if it is their story and to grow more specific as they see themselves with the greater plan. As individuals and as a community, our stories were given to us so that we may be catalysts for transformation. The pain and perseverance, success and stumbling, heroism and heresy are all present to check up to the fact that there is only one God and we are not Him but He is always active in the lives of ordinary scruffy folks like us.
The whole concept of testimony, or witness, is based on this premise. In our act of drawing the past out into the light we come to know this God much better and we also become grand storytellers of the past, present, and future God.
So what’s your story?
This question has a conversational nature – sitting in a coffee shop with a potential new friend – but there is an often-ignored spiritual discipline within this question. The discipline is to write our spiritual autobiography.
A spiritual autobiography, very simply, is an intentional and structured presentation of how our lives have progressed to this point and the role God has played within it. Spiritual autobiographies may contain legendary sin or stupendous sainthood, they may be average and seemingly uninteresting or they may read like a page-turning romance novel. In either case, the sheer act of sitting down and writing out the story of your life through the lens of our spiritual growth (or lack thereof) can bring clarity and insight to the present that we could not grasp any other way.
Spiritual autobiography also addresses a very human hunger that is apparent in contemporary society. The rise of the popularity of memoirs leads us to believe that people are interested in the story of development – either for the good or the ill.
The reality is that all memoir, all story that recounts the memories of a life lived once and the details attached, is an account of spiritual formation.
Dallas Willard famously said that spiritual formation is happening to everyone. The question then is what people are being formed into? From a Christian perspective, the vision for formation is to become like that ruddy revolutionary Jesus Christ in His action and demeanor on behalf of the bursting-forth-Kingdom of God. Writing a spiritual autobiography gives us a chance to reflect on some key spiritual transformation questions:
- Where has God been active in my life?
- Where have I been resistant to that activity?
- What is present in me now that wouldn’t be present without Him?
Set some time in the next few days to write out your story, or simply write a piece at a time, and share it with someone who knows you well. Pray that God will reveal new places where He's been at work the whole time.