Sometimes I wonder what message I have for the hurting, the chronically ill, the wandering soul. How can I convey hope to my readers when I haven’t gone through their struggles? Have not walked a mile in their shoes? I may not fully understand their perspective, but I can learn how to better walk beside them. All writers would do well to remember the words of Jesus, ‘in this world you will have trouble.” That’s all of us. We’re better when we figuratively lock arms and face hard times together, and while I may not have personally gone through certain struggles, I often know friends and family in my community who have. Often, they agree to walk alongside my readers by allowing me to share their story. I’m thankful for the ones who willingly lift up their painful struggles to God and say, “Use it.”
The Stories Of Others
Writing about the stories of others of course means getting their permission. The women I minister to at church, or other friends and family, are the people I live with in real-life community. My first priority is to encourage them along the way when times are hard. Sometimes, for some of these people, times stay hard for years. If I’m not actively helping them face life’s challenges, I haven’t earned the right to ask if I can share their story.
Yet I’ve found there’s a great ministry to be offered in exploring how to walk beside those who are struggling. Time and again, real people in my life have been gracious enough to allow me to tell their story to my readers, with a certain amount of anonymity:
The couple whose one biological child has numerous health concerns, yet they continue to have a heart for fostering and adoption, and I’m left wondering how on earth to help them.
The loved one who struggled with addiction and we had to intervene.
The precious friend whose husband was diagnosed with bipolar disorder after they exchanged their marriage vows and I have watched them honor their vows amidst times of great turmoil.
The husband and wife who came dangerously close to getting a divorce but in desperation asked God to somehow put their family back together, and their story is now a lesson for all of us about redemption.
The woman whose husband left her for a family friend and I’ve watched her put her life, and her faith, back together in a beautiful way.
The single mom who decided to get married again and we hosted the wedding at our place.
Why We Share Our Stories
It’s an age-old question for writers: where do you draw the line when a circumstance you play an auxiliary part in is someone else’s deeply meaningful story?
These stories I share are tender. They are about the wrongs, the hardships, that come from living in a fallen world. I hold these words ever so gingerly cupped in my hand and offer them up as an offering to the one who redeems. He makes all things new.
As a faith writer, when you share these stories it’s not about getting a certain number of views. It’s about changing the point of view. Perhaps your piece can help the individual who recognizes herself in the article and realizes she is not alone. It can also benefit the readers who take in all the ways we can help, and all the ways we can’t, and are encouraged to see their own neighbors differently.
When I write someone’s story, I hope we all–myself, the subject of the story, and the readers of the story– will see more of God’s grace at work in in our stories. Together, we can remember he is our Redeemer and Sustainer.
The Risks of Sharing Others’ Stories
Of course, we don’t know all the places our words will travel. That loved one who struggled with an addiction? I texted him after driving back home, across four states, from checking him into a detox facility. We were in the middle of this struggle. We still have not emerged completely. When I asked him if I could share the story, which was mostly his, he immediately responded in the affirmative.
A few days later, he sent a text asking me to not write anymore stories about his addiction. The story wasn’t veiled enough, loved ones had figured out it was him and were checking in by the dozens.
To a certain degree, when we release our words into the world, we surrender control. We have intelligent readers. Curious minds who want to know if they know the individual we’re writing about this time. While I had received correspondence from strangers who needed to read the hope in my words, he received a bunch of inquiries he didn’t know how to handle.
My Own Stories
“If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” –Anne Lamott
There’s another type of story that should give us pause; those stories that do impact us personally. How much of our own story are we expected to share? I come across this quote from Ms. Lamott a lot and I don’t know if I buy into it.
My dad was a complex man and I could write volumes on our family dynamics. It’s not all good and I’m left wondering if sharing these stories dishonors him, a man who is no longer alive?
I’ve had a few rough patches in the church, although I love her with all my heart. Can I write about these experiences with enough grace that we can learn together from my experiences, or do I only wound the body of Christ?
As a writer, my aim is always to glorify God. I’ll share my story, and the story of others with permission, if it points to a God who works all things together for good. A God who’s making all things new.
We need to write in such a way that our real-life relationships stay healthy. Oh, the temptation is there to write in such a way as to promote self, or to attract new followers. But such writing does not honor God. If I do a little mud-smearing, the post is more likely to go viral. We all know it. There’s something in us that wants the juicy details, every last one, that come from troubles. Simply put, that’s not the way of grace. May we serve him well with our words and may we show love to our neighbors in the way that we share our words. Whether it’s your story, or one you’re sharing, may God be glorified.
Traci writes for her blog at her kitchen table in rural Michigan. She and her husband are modern homesteaders; parenting a daughter, growing a garden, and raising a variety of farm animals. Traci has been called a gatherer; forming a community who figuratively gathers around wooden church pews in a big, glorious cathedral in the country. Together, they tell church stories to remind us there is more of Jesus to be found when we learn from one another. Her work has been published online at Patheos, Christians for Biblical Equality, The Mudroom Blog, Fathom Magazine and Her View From Home.