J. Marshall Jenkins

Author, Therapist, Spiritual Director

How Telling Your Story Helps

Tell your story over a cup of coffee and accept the grace that comes.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted (Matthew 5:4).

From time to time I encounter the begrudging psychotherapy patient who feels defeated for not finding the way out of the dark alone.  The patient says, “I don’t see what good talking about it will do.”   This reticence can stem from rugged individualism, aversion to painful memories, having felt unheard by others, and other reasons.   Telling one’s story can hurt.

Yet, telling one’s story can liberate, enlighten, and heal.  Often everything else we try before telling our stories only delays our inevitable time on the hot seat.  It takes courage to tell our stories if we don’t sugar coat them or tell them just to get attention.  “Talking about it” sounds cheap when we dismiss it.  But it takes strength to speak from the heart, and that kind of talk heals.

In a previous post, I held up recovering alcoholics in AA as teachers of poverty of spirit because they recognize their total dependence on God to heal them and keep them alive.  They also teach good mourning.  Their disease often costs others much, but they lose a lot too.  And every loss of employment, marriage, health, and self-respect shatters their sense of themselves and ruins the plots that gave their lives meaning.  So they weave grief work into the tapestry of recovery.

Recovering alcoholics model good mourning whenever they stand up in a meeting and tell their stories because then every loss, embarrassment, and tragic misdeed gets woven in with gratitude for what remains, with integrity that comes with honesty, and with bridge building that comes with making amends.  Every memory that they would just as soon forget becomes a window letting in morning light.  And when they share their stories with fellow strugglers, they give the gift of hope and receive the gifts of friendship and validation.

There is much laughter when they tell their stories along with the heavy silences and nervous mutterings.  There are blue jokes and tears.  They find comfort with no bottle in sight.

You don’t have to believe in God to appreciate the power of telling stories.  You can just say stories reconstruct broken narratives to restore identity and meaning.  But whatever you call the power at work in the telling and listening in AA meetings, in therapist’s offices, and in kitchen conversations over coffee, you rub up against the Love many of us call, “God,” when you feel it.  I suspect God doesn’t mind what name you choose.  “Higher Power” works.

Some folks find it hard to believe that a broken human being can do any good by telling a story.  But when broken human beings tell their stories from the heart, God does something good.  Tell your story.  Listen to mine.  God is among us, healing and re-creating us in the telling and listening.

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J. Marshall Jenkins

About J. Marshall Jenkins

J. Marshall Jenkins is an author, psychotherapist, teacher, and spiritual director. For several years he has been writing on the Beatitudes for people in emotional pain, publishing biweekly here on his Beatitudes Blog at http://www.jmarshalljenkins.com. His newest book, Blessed at the Broken Places: Reclaiming Faith and Hope with the Beatitudes, is now available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

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16 Replies

  1. Excellent reminder for us regarding the power of talk

    1. Thanks, Marshall. When the truism, “Talk is cheap,” is stated out of context, it can mislead folks into disengaging when talk could be powerful.

  2. Michael Parnell

    When we tell our story it not only helps us, but it helps others. It allows the larger narrative of life to gain more pages.

    I feel sadness for those that cannot tell of their life experience. For that is like a dam before a raging river that needs to come forth. The blocking of the story helps no one, especially the one who will not tell it.

    1. J. Marshall Jenkins

      Beautifully said, Mike. I especially like, “It allows the larger narrative of life to gain more pages.” I think that a culture of safety and care in sharing stories is a mark of a good church, and I’ll bet yours is like that.

  3. Carine Dorce

    Amen to that! Even if we share only a little at a time, each step leads to more openness and; more grace enters to allow more of the story to surface and a choice to be released through sharing. Thank you Marshall!

    1. J. Marshall Jenkins

      Thanks, Carine. I’d say your statement describes the process in our centering prayer meeting!

  4. Another excellent article ❤️

  5. Story is in fact a very powerful thing. It could be said that the power of story is one of the very things that makes us human.

  6. Douglas Maddox

    Marshall,years ago I wrote an essay about what we lost when multi-generational households were no longer,when people ceased to be be born ,live and die in the same township and when the women’s movement discouraged mothers who wanted to stay home with their children. “Telling our story” ,sharing in community was a major loss.In losing that we lost our compassion,empathy and willingness to be a gift to others. How sad to me in all our enlightenment of the last 50 years we have to be reminded now to be real. Not just to tell our own story but to listen to the story of others as they journey whatever their path is at the time.
    Thank you Marshall.

    1. J. Marshall Jenkins

      Thanks, Douglas. That’s a very interesting point. Certainly, the increased mobility and alienation in our society has taken us to this point where we must be very intentional about finding supportive people with whom to share stories.

  7. Rub up against the love…good words from a good heart

  8. ❤️ Thanks for sharing your wisdom. Great truth!

    1. Always good to hear from you, Britney!

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