I once had a young father tell me his story of past drug abuse, failure, and disaster. As he told me of the near misses he had with police and car wrecks, etc., all he could see were failures, shame, and total rejection by God because he had been so reckless with his life. This was not my interpretation at all. I heard his story and was immediately overwhelmed by how dramatically and often God had protected this young man. I heard an amazing story of redemption. I could see where God had protected him routinely in an effort to rescue and heal him. My friend ignored the truth in his story for years, but finally, at a point of brokenness, he surrendered. He could see the hand of God in the dark places of his life.
Your personal story is powerful. Not only if you’ve won an Olympic gold for your floor routine, not only because you’ve rescued hostages from certain death. Your story is powerful because it’s yours. Your story will profoundly affect the next three generations of your family, and your personal story affects hundreds of decisions you make every day. Your story and how you retell it has altered your world view. If you had a warm and secure childhood, you may view the world and most of the people in it as warm and well-meaning. If you grew up amidst fighting, parental drug abuse, and the constant fear of physical harm, you may view the world as a dangerous place, and the only responsible thing to do is to fortress against it as best you can. In a much more nuanced way, two siblings can grow up in the same home under the same conditions and retell the story of their childhood in dramatically different ways. Why? Because a story, any story, is very different from a mathematical equation. A story is not just a sequence of events—every story requires interpretation. When we watch a movie that is disjointed and makes no obvious sense, we become frustrated. “What does that mean?” is the natural response to a story that cannot be easily decoded.
Most of us “know” the sequence of events in our own story, but we have not been able to make sense of it. We typically cannot interpret our own story properly. But understanding our story correctly and interpreting it under the bright lights of truth and reality is imperative.
I have friends whose story include angry parents who have told them they are “good for nothing.” Those few words often become the decoder ring these friends use to interpret anything that has or will occur in their lives. If I were told I was “good for nothing” and accepted this as true, I would no longer live in reality. I would be a character in my own story, tumbling along, bonking into problems and responding to them while living in a fantasy world believing I really am “good for nothing.”
If I accept the interpretation that I am “good for nothing,” I will get all kinds of stuff wrong in this bad fantasy world. If I get overlooked for a promotion at work, clearly it is because I am “good for nothing”. This disappointment was bound to happen. A “good for nothing” person will always get passed over. It makes no sense for a “good for nothing” person to work hard, because it will all fail in the end anyway. In this scenario, I am both the storyteller and the audience. It is a closed loop. I tell it one way, and I hear it one way. I never challenge my own interpretation or ask any leading questions of myself.
The problem is this interpretation “good for nothing” (which is not at all true by the way) clouds our ability to decode life accurately. The decoder ring is broken.
When I believe a lie as truth, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, affecting my hopes, the things I am willing to risk, the kind of people I will choose to spend time with, and even ultimately who I marry. This will also be the worldview I instinctively pass down to my kids and they to their kids. The decoder ring is broken, and everything that happens to me will NOT be correctly understood. My reactions will be wrong and potentially cause problems of their own—all because I do not understand my own story.
So, the question is “How do I come to understand my own story in light of reality and then respond in ways that are healthy and healing? You must tell your story to others.
Do not tell your story to reckless people who do not understand their own story. This is a prescription for disaster. You must find a safe, wise, and mature Christian to tell your story to. A mature believer in your church is needed here. Your throat is likely tightening right now. It is frightening to tell your story to another. We are typically not satisfied with our story. Mostly, we refuse to tell our story until we get that happy ending that will make all this pain and struggle make sense. If you are waiting for that, you’re being robbed. You are missing out on the freedom and healing that’s available to you.
When you tell your story to the right person, a few things happen.
- First, you find out that you are not the only person who has been confused, done stupid things, or caused harm to others.
- You are comforted to find you are not alone. You are not the worst—not by a long shot—and you do not have to find your own way out of the swamp alone.
- There are people who have gone ahead of you. They know the way out. They know how long it will take and dispel the things that you are afraid of. But they can also give you hope that it is possible to crawl out of the swamp, with help, because they have done the same.
- The best thing that can happen when a wise and godly person hears our story is that they will point out things we never were able to see on our own—things that will potentially flip our story upside down and change the way we see the world forever. It happens all the time.
On our own, we can remember major events in our story, but we cannot see obvious milestones and we miss the ultimate meaning.
Looking at the story of that young father, I know he was able to find some peace and healing, but he was plagued by shame, guilt, and fear. I asked if he had told this amazing story to his church. He was shocked at the very question. He told me that he had not even told his wife all that he had just told me. This remarkable story of God’s love and active, even miraculous participation in the life of this man was a closely guarded secret. It broke my heart.
We may feel like our stories need to end in some kind of success, but they do not. The best stories end with redemption in motion—not finished yet and still being revealed. Your kids, the next generation, need wisdom born from experience to help them navigate a very confusing and hostile world.
Your story of surrender to God, healing from God, and repaired relationships with those around you will be like a northern star for the next generation of your family.
If your story is not one of healing, like what I just described—it can be. You don’t have to settle for a story of just living in fear and struggle. You were meant for so much more than that. Your story can enter a new chapter with the help of wise and godly people and, of course, the Holy Spirit. Don’t let your story just stop. Reach out to a pastor, counselor, or a wise and mature believer to begin this process. The next chapter requires both risk and surrender. Are you ready?
Dave Carl is the Family Ministry Pastor at Stonebriar Community Church and is responsible for the ministry focusing on children birth through graduation and the parents who love them. With a ministry philosophy based on Luke 10:27, his primary focus is to give parents the skills to raise kids who truly love Jesus and want to serve others. Dave has a passion for ministering to families in crisis in our community. He has spent several years pouring into fathers and husbands and helping them learn that they need community, were designed to guard and protect, and that they really can be the spiritual leaders of their family.
Dave and his wife of 20 plus years, Cathy, have three children with one married, one in college, and one in high school. Dave is an avid woodworker and loves to write. He sees all stories in the form of pictures in his head, and he would love to connect with you!