S haring our stories has a powerful impact. Barriers of fear can be broken down, inviting trust between the sharer and the listeners. That vulnerability turns into strength for someone else, giving them the courage to share their story, too. Sharing stories can also squash taboos, erasing the assumed and filling that place with truth. And, among these benefits and more, sharing stories opens up a gateway to healing, not just for a single person, but perhaps for a generation. There is power, too, in simply owning your story. Author and professor Brené Brown says, “Owning your story is the bravest thing you’ll ever do.”
Experiencing the transformational power of stories
In the Reformed Church in America, we have developed story-sharing events and workshops. We call this process Honoring Our Stories. Attendees gather for a weekend retreat, learn how to share their stories, and then actually spend time sharing with each other. The testimonies are amazing, and many participants have said how encouraging it is to hear others’ stories and see God at work in the lives of those around them.
This past spring, at one of these events in Oklahoma, I witnessed a transformational breakthrough among the Native American church members in attendance. The audience ranged from age eight to seventy-plus, a truly intergenerational mix, all coming together to hear and tell each other’s stories.
Leading by telling our stories
The event began with an invitation, a call to dive deep. So, in leading by example, I shared first. In vulnerability, I told my story of growing up and growing out, resurfacing every doubt and moment of hopelessness. I concluded with this: “I believe that God uses broken people with the intention of raising them up to glorify his name. I believe in the overcoming power of telling our stories, and I believe that God is calling you to tell yours.”
The air of vulnerability and openness continued as Delvon, a worship leader and co-youth pastor, shared. His story included fatherlessness, alcoholism, addiction, abuse, and the fear of speaking up. Even in that fear, he bravely stood and shared his life story with us.
Delvon’s story and mine were nothing alike, containing ups and downs unique to us as individuals. And yet, our stories were very similar because God stayed true to his character. Both stories were odes to a wonderful Savior—and a masterful storyteller—who stops at nothing to find the ones he loves.
The next day, each attendee began the work of honoring their story. Delvon and I had demonstrated storytelling; now, we were diving into how to do just that.
A framework for story-sharing
Honoring our stories starts by acknowledging the significance of where we come from and the associated feelings. It is then that we are able to properly assess our experience and better understand how we are evolving.
As the attendees at the Honoring Our Stories event began to think about their own stories, we asked these questions: Who are you? Who is God? Where are you going? These questions provided a framework for the stories we sought to share, a jumping off point for the work ahead.
To help participants in the Honoring Our Stories process explore their past, we entered into a brainstorming session. This began with fairly surface-level questions. For example, think of family dynamics, sibling rivalries, childhood nicknames, and favorite memories. Who have you been? Who did you used to be? What changed? What didn’t change?
Then, we went deeper: With those things in mind, what do you remember about faith and your feelings about God and the church? Were there any nagging questions you had that never seemed to be answered? Perhaps they were answered, but maybe they didn’t make sense. What did struggle look like for you?
After the group had done this, each individual began developing their personal story. They were encouraged to use their creativity and implement their passions into this portrayal of their life. Eventually, the group paired off and began the storytelling process.
Listening is just as important as telling
Another key element to the Honoring Our Stories process is listening. Storytelling is not one-sided; rather, it is a two-way street. There must be ears to hear and eyes to see. The listener has response-ability.
Think about body language and how it communicates a person’s thoughts and feelings about what others are saying. It is essential that the listener is fully present and completely willing to step into humility through empathy. When we do this, we invite the Holy Spirit to take control of the space and time.
What we learned from sharing stories
“It became clear that God was truly doing a new thing among us through our story sharing,” says Regina Brannock, who attended the Honoring Our Stories event. (She currently serves as a commissioned pastor at an Apache church in Oklahoma.) “We learned—and I’m sure we will continue to learn—that ministry is better together when all generations of leaders are joined together to witness the work of God’s way in the world.”
At the end of our time together, we reflected on the impact of story sharing. How does it feel to know your story? Proud, awakened, emboldened, confident, blessed, encouraged. How did it feel to be heard? Worthy, affirmed, relieved, reinforced, rejuvenated, important, respected. Like I have a purpose.
Host your own story-sharing event
Sharing your stories connects you more deeply to God and each other. Contact Lesley Mazzotta (firstname.lastname@example.org) to learn more about the Honoring Our Stories process and explore hosting an event in your community.