Everyone has a story to tell. Namely, everyone has a story to tell themselves. Lately I have come to the realization that THIS is the underlying theme of my ministry, to assist people to name, tell and live their story. I don’t know when this evolution began or when it took its full form but I know that transition has been coming for many years. Early on in my ministry I was assisted by my mother’s story, the story I was raised with and the story I knew so well. And that story went like this; everyone needs to know s/he is loved, affirmation is essential, you enter every room looking for that person who is lonely and you do everything you can to include her/him. Along the way there is a sense of loyalty, that those who become known to you and are part of your circle deserve and require your support more than others. And of course family comes first!
I remember taking things that were given to me because I was family or a friend and giving them away. That was strike one! But when it was discovered I was giving these items to people who were not my friends or family that was even worse. Sure, we should help everyone, but those in our circle come first. I remember, slowly at first, moving out of this story and into another story. I didn’t like the tribal way of looking at the world as “us” and “them”. I never liked doing for others out of loyalty or reciprocity, I wanted to treat everyone the same. Even my enemies felt connected to me, I would frequently feel compelled to assist even those who wished me ill.
But what I really wanted to do with my ministry was assist people to know their story, tell their story and live their story. Why? One thing I have noticed about people living through challenges is that affirmation, affection and attention were deeply appreciated but these offerings seemed very short lived and somewhat unsustainable, where did it end? I came to feel it was a bottomless pit, no matter what I did or said to someone with insecurity or low self-esteem it was never enough and even when it was all was forgotten the next day. Having gone down the “you are wonderful” pathway it was impossible to avoid being criticized if you dared to forget to tell the other “you are great” the next day. I grew weary of this remedy.
What I now believe is that if people can learn their story, the narrative of who they are and what they offer the world and how they live that out, then they will create for themselves a kind of bulwark that mitigates against those low moments of self-doubt. I came to believe it was healthier and more sustainable to work with others to help them know their story so that story would give them life and life that would sustain in moments of trouble.
So now I find myself working with people who have almost nothing in common with me, helping them articulate a story that is nothing like my story, all because that is how healing works. It confuses people to see and hear me aiding people who don’t like me and whose story has nothing to do with my story. But if that story gives them life, makes them a more compassionate human and a more active member of the community, then it is all worthwhile. Helping people tell their story my job one. And when I participate in community with others who know their story and live their story I feel I am doing the work of ministry, sustainable work that heals and gives meaning.