I recently got back from a women's retreat at my church where 100 women gathered in a cabin with four bedrooms and plenty of floor space to be slept on and be...well, women together. We made button rings, talked, laughed, colored with crayons on the tablecloth, and stayed up incredibly late, ultimately falling asleep closer than we really needed to be. The weekend's theme: story.
Now, if you know me you understand the deep obsession I have for stories, both for telling them and hearing them. And recently I've been trying to figure out why I am so in love with stories, why they mean so much to me, and give me that little-kid-imagination high. I think I've got it, you see, stories relate two of my greatest passions in life: words and people. Stories are sharing a significant part of our lives with significant people in our lives; they take the everyday situations that we relay and they envelop them entirely in word-wrapping paper of beauty, suave, adventure, excitement, completeness, and fantasy. A story requires two components to exist: a writer (one who experienced the situation and is sharing it out loud or on paper) and the one sitting at the feet, listening. A story means being intentional and letting others see into your life, ergo the essential role in community within our Spiritual Story. We are called to not just experience our stories and keep them inside, but to validate them by speaking them out loud to the listener, sitting at our feet experiencing our story with us.
A good listener, the one that doesn't merely sit through your story, but runs through it with you, climbs in it, and breathes along you throughout it, is like a good back to lean on. Seriously, have you ever been sitting on the floor for an extended period of time with nothing to rest your back against? You basically get the option between criss-cross-applesauce or the lean-back on the hands. Either one is ridiculously harder now then it was when we were five and sitting Indian-Style was the hot commodity of rug-time. Well, there weren't enough chairs for all of us women at this retreat so we popped a squat on the floor. It had been a long grueling two hours of sitting (it really wasn't all that grueling, but for the sake of the story....ya know. =]) and I leaned agaisnt my friend Jessica, her back against mine, and discovered this amazing and immediate relief! We both got something out of this wall that we offered up, we both put in just as much strength as we pulled out, but the best part about it was that we were connected. When she was talking to her friends on the opposite side of me I didn't just hear her words, I FELT them. I could sense them as they traveled and vibrated throughout her body. And when she swayed, my body swayed with hers, when she leaned over to readjust I fell backwards unsuspectingly.
Community when rooted in the Lord is like that. Not just listening, but feeling, not just watching, but moving with, not just one-sided, but completely trusting on both ends. When we tell our Stories in Community, that's how it should be received, and that's how we should be receiving: intentionally, lovingly, caringly, and legitimately interested, not judging, and definitely not comparing their stories with our own. God gave each one of us a Great Story and we each get to experience Him in it in a beautifully unique way.
Maybe your story calls you to be vulnerable and trust others with your heart, maybe your story calls you to show others that you're not perfect, or that you haven't grown in your relationship with the Lord in years, or maybe that you never really started one with Him at all. God calls us to take this step, He calls us to risk our hearts, our "identities", and our masks. He calls us to give up our false stories, the ones we paint, so that we can take up the one He painted for us. We cannot hold onto our images of ourselves with one hand and reach out for His Image of us with the other. He calls us to extend both hands, dropping everything in the process to receive the Monet of our Image from His Gracious Hands. This is what it means to tell our stories, the real ones, in the fashion that He practiced Story telling. And if you just need someone to sit at your feet to hear yours, be in prayer that the Lord will send you your listener, your fellow-back to lean on. "You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart." Jeremiah 29:13
So, what's your story? Not just the story of being chased by a squirrel across campus and feeling like you were never going to escape its beady little eyes (although if you have stories like that please share because I am ALWAYS down for a good laugh *cough* I mean solid sympathizing), but What's your story in Christ? Seek the answer to this one, and in your journey for the answer, have regular Story-time with your Community, be real, be authentic, and share your life with those who walk alongside you.