You’ve probably heard me say this line a hundred times or so. It’s a statement I know to be an absolute truth – words that remind me why we’re on this earth.
For me, the fact that everybody has a story shows how God has created each of us with a plan – a plan that contains hope and a future. Every piece of your story happens for a reason. Just as God knows every hair on your head, He knows every stone on your pathway, every pebble that gets caught in your shoe, every boulder that confronts you on your journey.
Our personal stories contain everything… from time we first bought our parents a birthday present using our own money, to the time we sat alone in the cafeteria at school when we were hurt by the words of our best friends, to the time when we looked in the mirror and saw a face we thought was no longer beautiful, no longer worthy or deserving of love, and we wished we could hide from the rest of the world.
None of these experiences happen in vain, although sometimes we wish that we didn’t have to experience them. Sometimes we even wonder if God is there as we face hardships.
With the pain, our eyes often become so marred that we forget to notice all of the joy that surrounds us. It’s easy to just stuff the sad emotions under the rug and try to pretend they never existed. It’s hard to bring up our sufferings to those around us, because who wants to feel weak or vulnerable… right?
But I’m learning that the pain we experience isn’t supposed to be hidden. God didn’t create us to go through life alone. He created us for fellowship with one another. He created us so that we could find support and illustrations of His love through our words and actions with one another.
And then there is the moment when we realize that our stories aren’t just ours … they belong to our Father.
This idea hit me as I was at my first English Camp here in Czech.
Last week I was surrounded by the most amazing group of Czech students. Ranging from 14 to 24 years old, they came to camp eager to learn English, desiring new friendships and the chance to get away from their normal routine to just have fun!
Every day we played ridiculous icebreakers – games like Honey if you love me (where you try to make some smile by doing crazy things… like proposing), Knight, Horse, Princess (where you’re running around and jumping on your partner’s back and into their arms – typical craziness) and Body Part Matching tag (beware – you might end up sticking your nose in someone’s bellybutton). Each day brought copious amounts of laughter as we danced to our camp song, had water balloon fights and stayed up late singing “Call Me Maybe.”
But as much fun as we were having, I realized that in our evening discussions -where we’d dive into the Bible and talk about how God’s message relates to our lives- stories of pain were not an active part of conversations. Not that we always need to talk about pain, but if we deny that we struggle with challenges in our lives, we also deny the opportunity to share with others how God is working in us – how He is gives us strength, how we need to place our trust in Him completely, and how He wants us to use these stories so that we can grow in fellowship with our brothers and sisters.
On Wednesday morning, the half-way point of the camp, the verse we focused on for our devotional was; “And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.” Galatians 4:6 (NLT).
Because I identify with this verse so deeply – that I find comfort, confidence and genuine love in my heavenly Father – I felt an immediate pull at my heartstrings. Then it was announced that the evening talk would be focused on hope. When they asked if anyone would be willing to share their testimony, I knew that God was prompting me to open up to the students about my life.
But sharing painful stories isn’t easy for me. I grew up as a young girl who wasn’t comfortable telling others that I was sad, burdened or in need of help. Following my parents’ deaths, losing my home and eventually struggling with an eating disorder, I found myself desperately trying to hide all of the baggage I was carrying.
I didn’t think that it would benefit others to hear my story. Even when my strongest support group helped me heal as I allowed Jesus to enter into those places of pain and carry me through the chaos, I was still ashamed that I was a person who had lost hope, who struggled with so much and who still struggles with her confidence.
But when I was sitting at camp eating breakfast on Wednesday morning, I realized that succumbing to the fear of sharing my story would be denying a chance to show these students an example of how our Father loves them. Sharing my story wasn’t so much my story; it’s God’s story. God uses our lives to illustrate the power of His love for us. He can carry us through anything! Why wouldn’t I want to share with others about how incredible God is?
So that evening, as I shared my testimony with the students, I didn’t feel embarrassed or ashamed. Yes, I told them about the times I had lost faith, times when I was bitter and when I let lies and doubt control my life, but I was able to tell them about how reaching out to my Abba Father changed my life and my perspective. I was able to say that life isn’t easy, but that He has beautiful plans for us and He never leaves us.
We all experience pain. There’s no escaping it. But God uses this pain to grow our faith even stronger. If we give everything to Him, we are able to truly live and not die in sin or desperation for something the earthly realm can never give us.
In the end, we may never know how sharing our stories impact people, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t share them. God created you with a purpose. He created you to be light in darkness. If we keep that light from shining we keep others from seeing the beauty of God’s light in them. Every part of your story is a moment where God’s love is alive and active. Why would we ever want to deny the joy we find in knowing how He saves?“It’s through suffering unhappiness that God may beckon you into deeper happiness in Him. Do not be afraid.” – Ann Voskamp (author of One Thousand Gifts)