A week(ish) ago, I went to my second Young Adult small group (For those who don’t know, Young Adult groups are for people too old to attend Youth Group; usually the 18-30 age range). We did this thing called Coffee Talk where a bunch of questions are put in a bowl and you take turns pulling out the question and answering it.
The questions were as silly as “What’s your favorite color?” and as deep as “What has been your biggest challenge in your journey with Jesus?”
I drew the latter. Now, I had a full round (eight turns) to think about how I would answer this question. I could be honest and disclose my biggest struggles to my YA group, several of whom I’m not all that close to. OR I could lie and make something up.
I kept thinking I could do that. I could just make something up. You know, my biggest struggle was moving to a new place. Seems believable, right?
But for some reason, I just couldn’t shake this feeling that I needed to tell my story. Maybe it was Holy Spirit urging me to be transparent. Maybe it was my own desire to be transparent to a group of potential close friends.
I’ve always strived to be the most honest person in the room when it comes to my story. I mean, I have nothing to be ashamed of. And what if my story could help even just one person get through whatever they’re going through? I won’t let my fear or shame prevent another person’s victory.
So my turn came, and I answered honestly. I talked about how I struggled with depression and self-harm and atheism and abandonment and betrayal and being sexually assaulted.
I didn’t make eye-contact with anyone. I couldn’t. I don’t know why. I just stared at the wall and let the words come out. I didn’t give specifics, for my own sake. I didn’t say when these things happened, for my own sake. But I still opened up.
The thing I discovered is that when people – whether they’re other people or even yourself – make you feel weak, you want to do everything you can to feel strong again. My rapist made me feel weak and ashamed and worthless. My ex-mentor and ex-friends made me feel worthless and forgettable and hopeless. My self made me feel broken and worthless and numb. My lack of faith made me feel distant and hopeless and aimless.
All these things made me feel weak. And the lie most people who experience similar struggles believe is that strength is in keeping these things hidden; that strength is building walls around your heart and fortifying the intimate parts of you.
Strength is knowing that you have no reason to be ashamed of your story. You have no reason to feel ashamed or victimized by the actions of evil men. You have no reason to feel weak because you doubted God. You have no reason to feel worthless because you wanted to die. Strength is being willing to open up again even after someone threw your vulnerability and transparency back into your face. Strength is learning to love again. Strength is learning to trust again. Strength is telling your story without fear, without shame, without regret.
Strength is learning to move on and let go of the past and recognize it for what it is: a chapter in the story of your life. Strength is recognizing that your story – every chapter – has the power to change a life.