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.