Recently, as I was blissfully consumed in serene slumber, God woke me. In a very peaceful, yet strong tone, He said, “Tina, you are a storyteller.” In the fog of my early morning stupor, I fumbled to reach for my phone. With eyes barely opened, I navigated the chaotic sea of apps to find my notes. My room, still dark because of the hour, was silent and still. Breaking through the hush, I heard again, “Tina, you are a storyteller.” Upon hearing this, the thought didn’t seem to carry any profound weightiness, and while at that moment, my mind was still in the process of entering full consciousness, I had a nagging suspicion that God was trying to impart something to me. In truth, I was not aware of the full magnitude of what God was trying to say in that single but very pithy declaration, nor was I prepared for the flood of revelation God was gifting me. So, with one eye closed and the other barely opened to keep the brightness of my phone from blinding me, I began to type.
As I typed, I was immediately blitzed with a simple, but insightful question. If your life is a story, are you willing to let God write a different narrative out of a difficult situation that has all the signs of a tragic one? Upon hearing this, I was left with more questions than answers. As I tried to traverse the murky waters of my confusion, I realized that God was trying to say two things. First, He wanted to let me know, in case I hadn’t already discovered, I am a storyteller by nature. Second, I am a teller of stories in how I live my life.
With every frantic keystroke, I grew more and more anxious. A trying thought kept surfacing, one I was not prepared for and couldn't evade. I could not escape the echo of this thought: there is a narrative that is being lost. This troublesome phrase wouldn’t leave me; words few want to hear in correlation with their lives. I couldn’t shake it. So, mustering the courage, and wincing from the possible pain the answer might bring and from the still too-bright glare of my phone, I asked, “What narrative is being lost?” True to His nature, God replied in only a way God could without breaking my still small, fragile human heart. “The shame you carry about the freedom I have brought you keeps you from telling our story. There is a narrative being lost.” In that moment, clarity struck. I knew immediately what He meant.
For many of us, it is common practice to wear masks. We put up facades that hide who we truly are. We smile when we want to cry, and we push people away when we want to be held. Because at the core of it, we have been so hurt by people and events that we are crippled by fear of vulnerability. We don’t know how to be vulnerable. We keep our brokenness hidden so that others can only see the person we think we ought to be and not the person we are. We are ashamed of our needs, our hopes, our dreams, our pains, and our brokenness. Some of us are even ashamed of the healing that we have walked through because it shows how fragmented we were and still are.
Because becoming whole isn’t instantaneous. It is a process, and if we were honest, the process can be ugly. While every step is a movement in the journey, the journey isn’t finished. So we hide because of the indignity, and hope that the reality of the way we are will go unnoticed. Fighting to stay under the radar, we surreptitiously interact with the world, ever concealing ourselves. And while every part of us is screaming to be known, we don’t think people will accept us “as is”, so we remain veiled and disguised.
For many, we don’t know how to share the beautiful things because somewhere along the way we’ve learned that the things we think aren’t all that great. So we hide aspirations and desires because of brokenness, but even broken things can be made into something beautiful. And the admirable thoughts we had were never meant to be destroyed and tucked away in shame. The mosaic handiwork of the Father is always creating new things. Among the many questions I heard that morning was: “Will you have eyes to see the good thing God is creating?”
Not too long ago, I decided that I would no longer tell people about my broken past because all people saw from me was a broken person; they couldn’t see how God had worked through my pain. Not only was a narrative being lost by my inability to expose my own story in my interactions with people, but also others had made me feel that sharing my history painted a picture of me as “damaged-goods.” While we can no longer hide who we are, we can also no longer afford to be a people and a culture that does not have eyes to see what God is doing in others and what God has already done.
Where you see a story of brokenness, I see a story of redemption, a triumphant narrative. We, as listeners, must hear the triumph in others' stories. We, as listeners, must shift our paradigms to see God working in the heaviest of trials. If we only know how to see pain, we make God’s work meaningless, and we miss the narrative all together. We allow a narrative to be lost, we misrepresent both God and the individual. The reality is, if we never share our story, we never allow the fullness of God’s narrative to be known. We only tell the story in part, skewing the portrait God has spent so much time creating.
Shame muddies the scope of God’s creative work in us. For this reason, a shame-free culture is necessary, if God’s good works are to be properly displayed. We must not only allow ourselves to be known, but we must allow others to be known as well. We have to be ready to receive people without prejudice. We have to accept that there are going to be moments when we are really stretched because we weren’t ready for someone else's reality. We must not waver in the fight to see the world from someone else’s vantage point, to see it from God’s perspective. We have to step outside of our own norms and release ourselves of our own presuppositions about how the world works and learn how to receive people’s wounds without enmity.
To build a culture that allows ourselves to be known and allow others to be known, we have to make a space for tension. We must no longer see brokenness, but we must see stretching and malleability. If we are malleable, then we can never be broken and are always being re-made.
Tension is not the enemy; it is a sign of something good. Without tension, we would never be able to soak in the delicate sounds of a harp, with its strings pulled tight. The melodic sounds released from the strumming of a guitar would never stir us to move. Canvases pulled across wooden frames would never house masterpieces. The rhythm of a drum that emulates our own heart beats would never be experienced if drum skins were not stretched and made taut.
Stretching alters the existence of things. Stretching is always a sign of increase. In the tension and stretching, you become a new expression, a new creation. Will you, however, have eyes to see the good thing God is creating, not only in yourself but in others? Are you bold enough to seek and find out what splendid thing God is trying to create in you?
I can honestly say, without question, I’ve never been less certain and I’ve never been more confident about who God is making me. This is part of the process for us all. What you gain out of tension is either authority or brokenness — it is always our decision how we let that process play out. Are you willing to let God write a different narrative out of your difficult situations, and will you have eyes to see the good thing God is creating? And are you prepared to let your hidden narratives be known and to allow others to share theirs, no matter how harsh it may be?