Own the Story!
I have just finished almost 3 months as a hospital chaplain, and I have heard lots of stories.
Stories from people who are facing a major health scare, like a heart attack, people who are dying, or have had a major accident. They have been young and old, Australian born and migrants who came here as children, from all over the world. They have been indigenous, Indian, Croatian, and white Australian, all with incredible stories to tell.
Sometimes the stories are about an escape from another country, fleeing a dangerous political and government regime, full of terror and bravery and hope, and when they arrived in Australia, the conflict and pain of adjusting to a whole new culture and set of ways, while never thinking they would see their families again. And how they had adjusted to life, raised families, lost loved ones, and find themselves in hospital.
Sometimes the stories are about our Northwest, the difficulties of being aboriginal in remote communities, but the love of the land and of the sea and the creatures found there. About their pride in children, the pain of loss, the coldness of Perth, and of the past terrible history of this land where children were taken and not returned.
Sometimes the stories are made up, delusional, and scary, for while a person is cared for medically they may also still be struggling with their mental health.
Sometimes stories are about how people cope with life when it seems so, so hard, dealing with parents with dementia, children who are drug addicts, loved ones who are dying, divorces, deaths and drugs, the big 3, but also amazing stories of resilience, love and commitment.
I listened to these stories, brought out because in a hospital bed, apart from not having much to do, our masks are removed, and we are almost at our most vulnerable. When we are laying there, our normal life with its timetable and possessions is on hold, and often we are stripped down to what makes us who we are.
We want and need someone to listen and affirm our story, to acknowledge our pain, to cheer our survival and our strength, and to share our grief and loneliness.
So it has been a privilege to share these stories. It’s been harrowing but a joy. And sometimes in those stories we can hear our own. I can hear my own.
Because I also believe when we really listen, the truth of a person’s story gives us a deep connection to ourselves. Their stories were full of light and dark, joy and sorrow, laughter and challenge, guilt and grace, mistakes and wins along the way. And so are ours.
So listening deeply to another, standing beside them, gives us gifts we would never expect.
It helps us to acknowledge our own humanity, our connectedness to each other on the journey and paradox of life. Suddenly we are not alone. It is a profound truth that it is not a binary world, not this or that, but this and that, and all our experiences contribute to who we are as people.
Yet it’s more than this, not just that we can see in other’s stories our own, but that we can see that this is life. Life is not straight forward. Each one of our lives is a mixture of depth, richness, complexity and mystery, and if we are truly present to our own life we will see it for what it is, a marvellous creation, in all its shades. By listening to others, we hear our own story, embracing all the “ands”, embracing ourselves.
But there is still another gift.
A gift given to us when we are struggling.
Maybe by hearing another’s story, we see a way forward in our own lives, when things are hard. Sometimes they help us more than we help them.
When we can’t find hope, let’s find a story of someone who lives in hope, and use it to find hope in our lives.
When we can’t find the strength to continue, let’s lean on others who are strong, or who have been strong and who show persistence even when it seems crazy to do so.
When we can’t find answers to our questions about life, maybe rest on someone whose story shows the exploring, the searching, and the acceptance of uncertainty which is part of being human.
When we can’t find the light of life, let us find a story of someone who has found their way through the darkness of despair or grief or loneliness, and rest in it for a while.
And when we can’t find love, let’s find an example of someone who lives in love, who discovers love in everyday moments, and follow that path.
I think stories are what makes us human. We live and breathe by stories. Which is why I think the story of Jesus is so powerful. And the stories Jesus tells.