What happens when your story hasn’t turned out like you wanted? When you feel there is a part of your story that you wish you could erase or edit out somehow yet no matter how hard you try, it’s there reminding you … accusing you.
I can feel good about where I am in my story and then out of nowhere something reminds me of harmful decisions I made in the past and shame hits me like the turkey buzzard that flew into my car on the interstate this summer. Feathers exploded 50 feet into the air like a giant pillow fight and cost me $2,500.00 in damage, though the bird fared a lot worse. One of the most painful things about looking back is the realization that those decisions reflected on who I was, or the greater fear, who I am. It’s difficult to see ourselves truthfully because it means facing the dark part of our hearts. The reward from it brings us to a place of humility and to feel the need for mercy, which is exactly where you want to be when you are rewriting your story.
Having done everything right does not make your life a success. In fact there are two ways you and I can be alienated from God: one is by being very bad and the other by being extremely good (from The Prodigal God by Tim Keller). Seeking to feel good or be good, both seek independence from God. Instead let the events of your life, whatever they are, bring you to see your absolute dependence on God who has always used people with messy lives to do significant things.
If you (or someone you know) struggle with feeling not good enough because of things you did or things done to you, below are some steps that helped me find freedom and the courage to rewrite my story. I hope they are helpful for you.
- 1. Change can only begin from where I am, not where I pretend to be. Instead of avoiding that part of your life, step into it and write about it. Journal about what you felt, what you did, what you thought, maybe even the “craziness” of it. Explore your actions with honesty, not denial. God can do amazing things with a heart of confession.
2. Find someone safe and exchange being “real.” What we long for more than anything else is to be truly known; yet what terrifies us more than anything else is to be truly known. Shame is healed when we share who we really are (and have been) with each other and find acceptance.
3. “Who is this guy?” Start reading Matthew – John in the New Testament just to get to know who Jesus is. Maybe even begin with Matthew chapter 5 and imagine sitting on a hilltop hearing Jesus begin to talk. Listen for the compassion He has for people with broken stories throughout those books. When I began to see His eyes of compassion I began to trust His grace.
4. Avoid comparing yourself. When I compare myself with others there is always someone bigger or smaller; I’ll feel resentment or arrogance depending on where I look.
5. Pray. This is hard when we feel shame; we often avoid God instead. Literally get on your knees and pray that God will use your story in the lives of other people with messy stories. Your “broken” story may be the only one someone else can hear when they know you understand what they’re going through.
6. Make amends to people you have harmed, if possible, once you have done some of the things above and you can see yourself more clearly. However, don’t do it until you can let go of what you want from the person. Some very good ideas on how to do this can be found in 12 step recovery material.
Albert Schweitzer said, “The tragedy is not that a man dies, the tragedy of life is what dies inside a man while he lives.”