When it comes to being strong, there are few things more important than holding on to a cohesive, integrated life story.
The Bible is a book full of life stories. Its pages recount the narratives of many great (and not so great) men and women. These stories often include episodes of sin, tragedy, trauma, and despair.
Some biblical figures can’t piece their story back together again after it deviates from the plot they had in mind. Look at Judas who chose to end his life when he realized the weight of his sin. Or Jonah whose story ends with him angry at God because he chose to have mercy on Nineveh. Or King Saul who spent the best part of his life in inner torment because he could not accept that his descendants would be stripped of the crown.
Each of these figures could have chosen to repent of their sin, accept the change of events, and integrate it into their story. In so doing, their stories would have become rich tales of redemption. Instead, their narratives splintered into a thousand pieces.
There are other biblical characters who found a way, with God’s grace and guidance, to humble themselves, face up to their failings, and move beyond their shame and sorrow. Their life stories remained coherent, albeit with a few extra chapters that they never expected to be part of the book.
As the cock crowed for the third time, Peter probably thought that he would never be able to hold his head up again. But he repented of his sin and did the emotional processing necessary to be able to rejoin the other disciples and welcome the risen Lord.
David, the great king and psalmist, planned and executed a heinous plot of murder and adultery. He was overcome with guilt and sorrow when Nathan confronted him with his sin. But in his pain, he turned to God and begged for forgiveness. David’s life had taken a different course from the one he had imagined as a young man, and there were lasting consequences for his sin. But David humbled himself and accepted this new direction. He allowed it to turn into a powerful story of grace and redemption:
“Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;Psalm 51:7-8
Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Make me hear joy and gladness,
That the bones You have broken may rejoice.”
In our own lives, many of us start out with a positive, hopeful life story. As young people, we are often filled with confidence that we will be able to shape our lives in the way we want and that nothing will stand in the way of us fulfilling our dreams.
This optimism and confidence can be enough to carry us through quite a lot of adversity, especially if we have supportive friends and family. But, sooner or later, something usually comes along that throws us off course. A redundancy, a bereavement, a serious health issue. The question then is how are we going to piece together the story of our lives to include this new, unexpected, and often unwanted turn of events?
The truth is that some of us remain forever after with a disconnected story. Some of us lose confidence in our own ability to set the course of our lives. We fall into the rut of simply responding to what life throws at us and doing the best we can to make it through the day with little sense of meaning or expectation.
Others try to carry on as though the life changing event we just experienced never even happened. We try to bury and ignore this confusing and frightening chapter of our lives and attempt to continue with the story we were living up until that point.
The problem is that repressed memories have a habit of bursting out and intruding on our present-day lives in confusing and unexpected lives.
While some of us start our lives with a meaningful and integrated story that hits a roadblock somewhere along the way, some never even start with a coherent narrative. Abuse, neglect or traumatic events during our early years can leave our lives feeling chaotic, frightening and out-of-control right from the very beginning. Making sense of our own story later in life and shifting our role in the story from a helpless victim of circumstance to the central figure who has the power to influence events is a complex and difficult process. But it’s not impossible.
Finding and holding on to the coherence of our own narrative requires both insight and courage. But the results are life changing. Knowing and owning our life story strengthens our inner core and gives us a sense of wholeness and connection that we don’t experience all the while our stories are in splinters.