What's Your Story?
I've been reading through the Book of Acts lately. Something that stuck out to me this time around is the times that whole stories are repeated. Specifically, it happens with Peter, and his vision in Joppa--a turning point in the inclusion of Gentiles in the Church (Acts 10, 11); and it happens with Paul's conversion story--three times we get the whole thing, with very little change in detail (Acts 9:1-19; 22:6-16; 26:12-18, not to mention Galatians 1, and other bits in Paul's letters).
It occurs to me that this sort of thing happens more often than we might expect in Scripture. In both the Old and New Testaments we get stories--personal stories, national stories, Jesus stories--repeated and riffed on. This is a good reminder that when it comes to talking about our faith, life with God, the ways and means of God in this world--creation, salvation, grace, mercy, love, renewal, and on and on--stories matter. Our stories matter. We need to attend to them, and we need to tell them.
One of the difficult things for those of us who have grown up in the Church, or at least been hanging around for a long time, is paying attention to our stories--the particular ways that God has moved and acted and saved, in our own lives. There's a reason that new converts often make good evangelists, are often better at sharing their faith than those of us to who faith has become second nature: their story is fresh, it's clear, it's new and wondrous! The person who has just come to know the love of God, in Christ; the one who has just experienced the freedom of forgiveness, the newness of repentance; the one who has a sudden, unexpected rush of gospel hope; these folks have a story that often seems to overflow from them, like they can't help themselves. They know the difference between life before and life after they started to follow Jesus, and experience his grace and love. For those of us who have been at this a while, our own stories can fade into the background and lose some of their potency.
I have sometimes said that I have "conversion envy." I don't consider my faith story all that exciting. I don't have a Damascus Road moment; the pivotal times in my life haven't been all angels and visions. But the truth is, if I think back, I can point to times--minutes and days and months--where God moved in my life in ways that were utterly unexpected, and shaped my Christian walk in ways that only make sense years later. Eugene Peterson writes, “The Bible makes it clear that every time that there is a story of faith, it is completely original. God's creative genius is endless.” There's no need, or warrant, for conversion envy in the Church. We don't need to be struck down by a blinding, heavenly light, for the story of God's movement in our lives to be a thing of wonder. What we need is attention to the personal ways in which God's love and grace have been active in our lives; we need attention to the ways in which we have been healed, our eyes opened to the glory of God; we need to savour those moments of clarity, that testify in us and through us to the truth of the gospel, the truth of God's redeeming love in the world. And we need to develop an ease in sharing those moments of truth and wonder, so that we're ready to give an account of what gives us hope (I Peter 3:15).
So, what's your story? What are your stories? If, like me, you have a hard time attending to your, pray about that. Ask God to show you some moments, some times in your life, when God's guidance and grace carved out an unexpected path. Ask God to remind you of moments of mercy, or a time when you felt God's presence in a special way. (That might be a moment last week, last year, or decades ago.) Write down whatever pictures, words, or phrases come into your mind--don't worry about editing, you can always pray through stuff after the fact. Give thanks to God for your story, for the sure and certain knowledge, made clear in Jesus, that God cares about you, about all our comings and goings, and that your life, our lives, are the stuff that heaven's kingdom of hope, peace, joy, and love will be built with. And then why not share some of what you see and/or hear in prayer with someone you trust. Practice telling your story. It matters.