Living out of the false self creates a compulsive desire to present a perfect image to the public so that everyone will admire us and nobody will know us.Brennan Manning
Sunlight glinted off the wave as it swept across my feet, melting the week’s tensions as its ripples receded into the gulf. Toes in the sand with a book in my hand is one of my favorite places in the world to be. If the sand beneath my feet could talk, it would confess my story, shaped by the ebb and flow of living water—if I had the guts to tell it the way God wrote it, that is.
THE STORY IN WHOLE, NOT PART
And that was my dilemma. Asked to share my story in a small group, I was wrestling with what I would reveal. The book I held was an apt reminder to tell it as the author of my story intended. The book in question, Between Noon and Three: Romance, Law, and the Outrage of Grace, was, according to Robert Farrar Capon, his most important writing. I discovered I was reading a reprint. The first publisher broke the manuscript in two and released them as separate titles altering it in ways that caused the book to lose its intended bite.
I was thankful the edition in my hands was more recent, published as the author initially desired—the complete unadulterated telling. The manuscript was never intended to be experienced by a reader in revamped parts and pieces. Modifying it was an act of castration, effectively taking away its life-giving power.
I couldn’t help but think how we do this so often with our story and God’s story. We break it into bits and pieces, curl up with our favorite parts, and throw away the untidy scraps that make us uncomfortable. Whitewashed. Airbrushed. Sterilized. Much like Capon’s book, the life-giving purpose of the story is distorted and destroyed. Like stones washed by turbulent waters, we polish the narratives until they glisten and then only reveal what is comfortable, clean, and filled with charisma.
The stories we bear in our bodies are much like the memorial stones of the Old Testament. In Joshua 4, twelve stones are piled high on the west bank of the River Jordan at Gilgal to serve as a sign and a remembrance to those who pass by. This rocky testament was not some polished display of the accomplished lives of God’s people. Looking upon this well-worn stack was to cause people to recognize and remember God’s goodness and faithfulness.
Collecting and displaying mementos is a human commonality. While we might not pile rocks in remembrance, we often collect trinkets in childhood or tokens of later life accomplishments to shore up our self-confidence when feeling down. My girl scout sash with badges attached, playbills from my thespian days, and a few yellowed polaroids are stashed in a keepsake box in ready reach when I need to reminisce.
I once knew a man who kept reminders more cumbersome than stackable stones or faded polaroids. He held on to a bulky oak desk, out-of-date kitchen cabinets, and a pool table, all tangible reminders of his most significant business failures. He hoped their presence would remind him not to repeat his folly.
Unlike my friend, I can’t think of one token of failure that would necessarily keep me from repeating my folly. I personally prefer pet rocks, that short-lived rock-in-a-box fad of the 1970s, which need no care or training.
PET ROCKS OR LIVING STONES?
While attending a rare disease research conference some years back as part of an autism research team, I heard a woman give a presentation about how she carried and shared the stories of people who participated in her project. When others asked her to explain her research, she reached into her pocket and pulled out a handful of stones, each marked with the name of a patient. She then chose one stone and recounted that person’s rare disease story. It was her way of remembering and honoring her patients and bringing awareness to their plight in a tangible way.
I think sometimes we carry our stories around like a pocketful of rocks but what we bear and share are often more like pet rocks than living, breathing, messy, life-giving stone stories. 1 Peter 2 describes Jesus as a living stone, the cornerstone of God’s church, and us as living stones meant to bear witness to God’s greatness and glory.
I have grappled for years to convey anything resembling a living stone story. I often pull out of my pocket a tamed, neutered, and sanitized pet rock unrecognizable from its authentic form. Why? Because bone-deep raw stories tend to make us uncomfortable. We shift our feet, stare at the floor, and wrestle to know where to place the weight of the story. In my experience, when divulging messy truth, I am met with judgment more often than grace when what I long for is to be heard, known, and loved.
CONTROLLING THE NARRATIVE
We love to open our Bibles and recount stories like those found in Hebrews 11, where Abraham and his wife Sarah are on display as great heroes of faith. Although true, this is where our explorations often end. We fail to look at their story in the context of the larger Biblical story to realize there’s more to it than what you read in Hebrews.
The part we often fail to disclose is the more thorough account of a husband and wife who struggled to believe God could and would keep His promises to them. Quickly twisting the truth to his benefit, Abraham lied twice about Sarah being his wife, attempting to keep himself from harm. Not happy with God’s timetable in providing the couple with an heir, Sarah takes matters into her own hands by giving her servant girl to her husband to conceive an heir for them. We are left with a seeming contradiction when met with the truth of Abraham and Sarah’s struggles while at the same time honoring them as heroes of faith.
TRANSFORMING PET ROCKS INTO LIVING STORIES
We face the same struggle when we examine our own stories. We look back at the narrative of our life and say, “Okay, so Jesus loves me. I’ve found rest and peace in Him, but now let me get about the business of cleaning up my messy life so I can be a great and awesome witness for Him. Instead of a witness to the cross’s redeeming power, we offer others a lifeless retelling that no longer needs Jesus to do anything on its behalf. Like the initial publisher of Capon’s book Between Noon and Three, who ripped the life from his original manuscript through deep revisions, we clean up our tales until Jesus is no longer necessary.
Try as we might, we will never polish God’s purpose from the story of our life. Our living stone stories bear witness to our need for a savior who delivers us from the law of sin and death. The muck of life can sit side by side with its faithful witness to God’s goodness because another thread runs through it all—the relentless love of God.
“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.” (1 John 3:16a)
You don’t need to twist the tale to shine the light of God’s love when offering your story to another because the brilliant light of Jesus in your story testifies to salvation found nowhere else except Jesus alone.
Now that’s a rock I want to carry in my pocket—a living stone story that brings life, light, and love to those in desperate need of hope. This untamable tale is not house-trained, but it is home to weary whitewashers among us.
We live in a world that often views our life stories as evidence that we are ones God could not possibly love. I remember speaking at a women’s gathering not long after I became a Christian and sharing with the women that my husband was not a believer. A woman came up to me after my talk with a look of tortured sympathy on her face and whispered in my ear, “Oh my, how can you even sleep in the same bed with a sinner like that?” I was speechless. Later, after I processed the encounter, I remember asking myself, “Who do we think we are?” Rewriting our stories for a more palatable feast leaves us falsely believing we are better than the sinner sitting next to us—unless that sinner seated next to us is our reflection in the mirror.
BE BRAVE, BE LOVED, BE YOU
As the sun dipped into the horizon at the beach that day, I reached down, picked up a craggy stone exposed by the endless motion of the tide, and put it in my pocket as a reminder not to hide the needy places of my story where Jesus met me and set me free. I hoped this memorial stone would prompt me to resist my tendency to rewrite my life-giving God-glorifying story of grace as I prepared to share the hope I carry in me with the group.
What’s in your pocket? Pet rock or a living stone?
In telling our stories, let’s not be like the original publisher of Robert Farrar Capon’s book, tearing our stories apart to make them more appetizing to the watching world. I encourage you to resist the urge to remove your need for Jesus from your story and instead, in your storied life, be brave, be loved, be you.
A GIFT FOR YOU
Need a daily nudge to share the hard as well as the holy moments of your story? I created this phone wallpaper just for you.