“I’m Not Unaffected By This” (Being Human pt. 9)

Recently I was in a conversation with an acquaintance and something happened that caught me off guard. A little background… This person isn’t a long time friend. Our relationship is a relatively new one, so when I talk with him, I am more of an unknown quantity than with y’all who have known me for years, either in person or via blog. And it was a situation where the content of the conversation wasn’t really up to me. It was one of those sort-of-forced-sharing times, where a topic that is deeper than normal small talk comes up.

This particular day, it was safe and it was appropriate, so I decided to go there, to bare something of my soul and share a somewhat complicated story of how God had recently worked in my life. But this time, contrary to my normal modus operandi, I didn’t have all my storytelling ducks in a row. I missed parts and messed up the sequence of events. I talked in sort of a quiet monotone, which is very different from my large group speaking voice. I even looked at some rough notes I had scribbled down and read part of it verbatim. I wasn’t trying to wow him with my story. I wasn’t trying to teach anything. I wasn’t test driving an idea to use in a later teaching time or blog post. I was just taking the opportunity before me to release a little pressure on my soul and communicate from the heart with someone sitting right in front of me, someone who had really asked how I was doing.

After I finished, this acquaintance had a stunned look on his face. Initially, I was very concerned that he was about to reject me or my story. His response landed powerfully on my heart. He said, “Deanna, I’m not unaffected by this.”

As I thought about his meaning, I realized that he had just told me something very important. He was letting me know that my story and my life had power. Its effects were rippling across the table to where he was. It wasn’t that I was trying to do this. It wasn’t that my methods were the most effective. It was that God had inhabited my story and energized it. And when I took a chance to share it, He used it in the life of another.

As a result, I’ve spent some time thinking about the role God plays in our stories. Sometimes we throw our words around as if they aren’t really powerful, as if they were ours to own and control. Yet sometimes God claims what is His – our stories and our words, our personalities and the style in which we talk, and He gives it more power than it has on its own. He applies it to another’s heart. He uses us to affect them.

This is the part of communication that is outside of our control. We can prepare for it. We can pray for it. But we can’t command it to happen. Sometimes God makes our stories more than just OUR stories. Sometimes He reclaims them as HIS stories.

Being human means we have stories. We hear stories. And they affect us. Or not, if we choose to close our hearts down and be unaffected.

Being human means we can choose to enter into this messy part of our humanity with others – by sharing our stories and by opening ourselves up to being affected by their stories. Or not. I am thinking these days about how to allow myself to be affected. And how to be available should God choose to use me to affect others.


Not Tying It Up With A Bow (Heart Stuff pt. 12)

Jer. 20:9 But if I say, “I will not mention him or speak any more in his name,” his word is in my heart like afire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.

I am a communicator and I have a story that I want to tell, that I am compelled to share. Some days, like Jeremiah, I feel it will burst out of me if I don’t speak it out loud (or write it down) and know someone heard it. Valued it. I have to know that the things God has placed in my life have a purpose and are being redeemed for something greater.

Yet, sometimes it is difficult for me to communicate. Because I know in my heart what it is I am trying to say. And I think I know how I want it to come out. Really well. Really polished. Using all the right words, telling the story in the right order. Shading my meanings, illustrating my points, painting the meaning of it all into the lives of those who are listening – so that they get it. So that someone gets me. And if I’m honest, I also want it to make me look like a good communicator in the process. Sigh.

What I’m finding is in that moment, when I come to the parts of my story where things radically change, where events converge, where the narrative takes on a cohesive form and things begin to make sense, where the climax is imminent and I can’t wait to connect with another person from my very heart…sometimes words fail. The gap between what I want to say and how it comes out seems huge! And I am heartbroken. 

A friend reminded me of a great truth recently. We were talking about this very problem of communicating big truths from my heart to another’s and she basically said, “Deanna, you don’t have to tie it all up with a bow.” I’m still reeling from the power of this sentence.

Oh, I should give some thought to how I want to express myself. Good communicators meticulously think through how their message will be received and how to make that reception as easy and clear as possible.  But sometimes, such clinical precision takes away from the raw emotion of one heart opening up to another. Sometimes it is ok for my story to be messy. For me to sound inarticulate, because what I’m trying to say is so big, so meaningful, that sometimes it stretches just a bit beyond my words – and all I’m left with is a, “You know what I mean?” And I can only hope they do.

Part of the compulsion for perfection comes from the fear of that moment when I pour my deepest emotions out, hoping they know what I mean, and I see in their eyes they don’t. Or, they do get what I am trying to say, but they reject it.  And by extension, reject me. Here is the communicator’s dilemma – to share and risk misunderstanding, to risk rejection. Or not to share at all and risk blowing up. Sigh.

What I’m learning is that the art of communication is sometimes as messy as the acquisition of things valuable enough to talk about. (FYI – for you teachers out there, that is a very important concept.)

And that is ok. One of the major things communication is about is connection. About the relationship that undergirds the conversation. It is about one heart reaching out to another, to be heard, to be accepted, to be loved. And the stuff of relationship, of connection is really rather messy.

While I am in no way endorsing sloppy communication (and written communication often falls into a different category) what I am saying is it is ok to share your story without it being perfect. Sometimes the presentation isn’t nearly as important as the content or the connection trying to be made.

And I’m left wondering what might happen if in some of our closest relationships, we dropped the need to tie things up with a bow, to wrap the story up with exact words and just concentrated on the content and relational glue that holds it all together?