A Community of Stories
By Anthony Casperson
This past October, I went to a convention called Nerdcon: Stories. Obviously, it’s a convention celebrating stories. While I went there to possibly get some information to help me in writing the epic fantasy series that I’ve been very slowly writing for a couple of years (and see one author whose books I enjoy reading), it was another thought that has stuck with me ever since.
One of the key premises of the convention was “Why stories matter.” Over and over again the idea of why our individual stories are important came to the fore. And this didn’t mean the stories that we individually had been creating in our own heads, though the land of Aretsa is important to me. They referred to the stories of our lives.
Throughout the weekend, the featured guests told stories of their own personal struggles. One mentioned that the day on which he was speaking was Mental Health Awareness Day as he shared the difficulty of living with OCD. Having just been professionally diagnosed with MDD and GAD with panic attacks myself, his story really struck home for me.
And the featured guests weren’t the only people to share stories. At one point, a story circle formed. People were asked to share stories of a first in their lives. While some of the people shared funny stories, the first person in the circle to share went in a very different direction. She shared an incredibly intimate story chronicling her opening up about her eating disorder.
While this community of people joined around the shared interest of stories, what we came to witness was growing closer as a story-loving community because of the stories we shared of our own lives. When we share a story of our own lives, we are sharing a piece of ourselves, a precious part of our own heart, with those whom we believe worthy of our trust. A story is one of the most priceless gifts one can give to another. Intimate details about our desires, fears, hopes and dreams allow others to break through the masks and walls we throw up. But it can also allow them to know exactly how to hurt us, what our weaknesses are.
This last point is why I believe that it took attending a convention with all strangers to learn the lesson that while a community is built upon a unifying story, it is grown outward through sharing stories. People at Nercon: Stories were told that a key piece of the convention was that it was a safe place where people could open up about their lives without fear of being made fun of or having to feel hurt because of another person’s words.
We who are followers of Jesus are supposed to be people with whom others can share their burdens. Just after Paul wrote about the Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5, he writes that we are to bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2). We are to be people who share our weaknesses and bear the weaknesses of others, but we are to do this with all love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. If we are to share our burdens, how much more are we to share the stories of our triumphs? Paul tells us that we are to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep in Romans 12:15.
How do we best communicate our triumphs and our burdens with one another? We tell each other the stories. We share that piece of our heart with our brothers and sisters in Christ while we tenderly receive the pieces of their hearts that they share with us. A definition of the word translated as “fellowship” in the New Testament is “sharing with others.” Sharing our stories is a part of fellowship. It’s intimately communing with our brothers and sisters that far outweighs just hanging out in the midst of a common activity.
But I believe that the fear of being judged and hurt looms over our heads as we think about opening up to others. I’ll admit that I’ve been hurt when I’ve shared stories of my own life. One person told me that as a leader in a ministry and preacher of the Word of God that I shouldn’t tell others about the depths of depression with which I struggle. It hurt because he was telling me that the pieces of my heart that I shared with him weren’t worth sharing and should remain far away from him. They were too dirty to be let out for others to see.
Yet here I am sharing those very same pieces of my heart to anyone who comes across this website. Why? Because I believe that if I want this place to be a safe location to share our stories with one another, someone has to be that first person to open up and be willing to be hurt so that others can be helped and healed as they share their burdens.
So, let’s share the stories of our lives with one another. Without judging or hurting others as they share pieces of their hearts with us, let’s be people who share burdens with one another. Let’s be a community that not only has the story of Jesus unite us, but also the stories of his working in our lives grow us further.