The most dangerous stories we make up are the narratives that diminish our inherent worthiness. We must reclaim the truth about our lovability, divinity and creativity. (Brown, 2015, p. 82)
As a pastor I have learned the power that stories have in peoples’ lives. We all look to different sources to make sense of our lives, whether in popular culture, in religion, in politics, in science and work or in many other sources we are searching for frames and stories that help make meaning of our lives and experiences. We all tell ourselves stories to make sense of our experience of the world and some of those stories are true, others are conspiracies and some become confabulations. As the quote above from Brené Brown indicates frequently those initial stories may be told at our own expense or at the expense of someone else.
A recent, light-hearted example of this story telling at work happened this past weekend for myself and my wife. On Friday morning, during my day off, I was working on the lawn while I had the laundry going. My washing machine was replaced in the past year but my dryer is getting older and I knew from the noises it was making that it was having some issues (and most likely a belt). So on Friday I came in from working outside, change a load of laundry and start the dryer and while I walk away I hear a loud ‘Thunk’ and the drum is no longer spinning. I decided to finish the lawn while I think about what to do next and I imagine several stories (calling someone to repair the dryer, purchasing a new dryer, trying to fix it myself) and so when I finished the lawn I searched on the internet for instructions on how to fix a belt on a dryer. The good news was that there were lots of instructions but there were none for my dryer specifically. I started trying to figure it out, initially with a set of directions that took me in the wrong direction. I invested a couple hours into opening up the dryer until I reached a point where I was stuck. I knew I needed to take a shield off so that I could get to where the belt was but I couldn’t figure out how to do it and I was telling myself several stories. The first story was that I had just made things worse and that who was I to think I could tackle a project like this where I didn’t have any expertise. Surely a technician could have had this project done within an hour. I also told myself that even if I could get this fixed that the dryer would surely not work right afterwards and that I really should just go out and purchase a new one (an expense I really didn’t want to have at the moment). My concerns about finances started to surface at that point (I had an $800 car repair just the week previous even though financially I am OK, it is just one of the things that triggers anxiety for me). I finally resolved that the worst case scenario was that the dryer was broken and that me continuing to take it apart wasn’t going to make it run any worse so I went back, found some instructions that were more helpful and within the hour I had the machine disassembled (with pieces strewn throughout the hallway) and ready to change the belt, if only I had one. The nearest place I could find that carried the part (after driving to a appliance repair parts store that was now closed in the local area) was around 45 minutes away and because I had to pick up my son from school I didn’t have the time to make the trip until after he would be picked up. I had moved through the initial stories, but now came another set of stories for someone else.
So my wife was working that day and around 3:30 I text her, “What time do you get off work?” Now this is unusual text from me without any additional information but she replies back, “4” but I later learned she was beginning to wonder what is going on? So my next text was, “How close are you to Garland?” and she was working from a different location than normally so she asks her co-workers and they told her about 15-20 minutes but she is wondering what is going on and trying to make sense of these two texts. She shared, later, that she wondered if I had found someplace that I wanted to meet for supper and that maybe I was thinking of a nice date night for the two of us (a good story, unfortunately at that moment not a true one). So when she texted back that she was 15-20 minutes away, my next text gave her all the information she needed for a true story, “Can you go by the Sears parts and repair center at 1617 Kings Rd in Garland. I will order the dryer belt I need but that is the closest place to pick it up.” Fortunately she was a good sport, picked up the part (knowing now that it had nothing to do with a date night and that the dryer had broken) and within an hour of her being home I had the dryer fixed and it was running beautifully and we could later laugh about the miscommunication and the stories that were made up.
Frequently the stories we tell ourselves are not as light-hearted as the one above. I know there are many times where I have taken the limited facts I knew and created a story centered upon my own fears of failure or perceived weaknesses. There are times where I have interpreted the actions of another person in a way that may have nothing to do with their intentions or desires but instead are the remnants or scars from when other people have treated me in the past. Sometimes the stories I tell are simply not true, or not the whole truth, and I’ve had to learn to challenge the stories, to get curious to see if they are true, to try not to get trapped in a story that sounds an awful lot like my fears and insecurities coming to the front.