I wonder if that’s what we’ll do with God when we are through with all this, if he’ll show us around heaven, all the light coming in through windows a thousand miles away, all the fields sweeping down to a couple of chairs under a tree, in a field outside the city. And we’ll sit and tell him our stories, and he’ll smile and tell us what they mean.
I just hope I have something interesting to say. — Donald Miller
He was livid with me, white faced, jowl-shakingly livid. I had insulted him by making a general statement in a meeting. In fact, my words had hurt him; I wish I had realized that immediately and apologized. I wish I had spoken to him after the meeting and asked his story, asked why he was so upset. Instead, I let him berate me, and I defended my position, going so far as to go home – as he asked me to do – and look up statistics to back up what I’d said and then email them to him. I was right about my facts, but I was so wrong about how I handled them. This man needed me to hear his story.
Later in the afternoon, a fellow writer sent out a newsletter that included a general statement about people who are divorced, a group of people that includes me. I was hurt by what he said, and I wrote to explain to him why. I wanted him to know my story. He heard me and apologized. I was grateful.
So often, we are quick to judge one another based on generalizations and broad swaths of “fact” (just see Facebook), but maybe we would all do better to hear one another’s stories, to really share openly, to really listen. To hold our tongues until we can say something compassionate, to give hugs instead of assumptions.
As storytellers, writers try to shape experience into words on a page because we want to be heard. We want to have someone pull up a chair and listen to our stories. You would think I would be better about this – surely, if I want someone to hear my story, I need to want to hear theirs, too.
I read these lines in Donald Miller’s book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years last night, and I felt my eyes tear, the way they do when I read truth. Isn’t that what I want most, to have someone sit down with me and hear my stories? Isn’t that my biggest fear, that someone will do that and find I’m not that interesting after all? If this scares me, then I imagine it scares other people, too. I would do well to remember that.
A lot more listening, a lot more storytelling – that’s what I’m going for.
What do the stories of the people around you show you about them? What stories do you want people to hear from you?
Many thanks to Jennifer Luitweiler for helping me think through these things.