Sharing Our Messy Stories

manolo-chretien-252147-unsplashPhoto by Manolo Chrétien on Unsplash

As I began to share the story, I could hear that my voice was shaking.

Taking a deep breath, I tried to calm myself.  It wasn’t a story I wanted to share, but I knew it was a story I needed to share.

I would have loved to stand before these people with a story of success – a testimony of answered prayer that would demonstrate that God was at work, a tale of triumph and miracles… something that would encourage them.

In reality, the story I had to share was one of frustration and bewilderment.  It was a story of a lot of hard work and a great deal of prayer that seemed to achieve nothing – where all the pieces had seemed to be falling into place only to collapse at the last moment into a heap of rubble.

It was a story of disappointment.

And I could see it in their eyes: they were waiting for the twist.  As I shared my tale of woe, they were anticipating the moment when it would all turn around – where defeat would be swallowed up by victory and God would come to the rescue, where the loose ends would all be tied together in a bow and we’d reach the happy ending.

Not in this story…

Not yet anyway…

I couldn’t even point to something God had taught me through it all because if I had to go back and do it all again there’s nothing I would change.  The only lesson I learned is that sometimes you can do everything right and still it all goes wrong.

In the end I had to be honest.  It’s not a neat and tidy story.  I haven’t a clue what God is doing or why it didn’t work out.

The only hope I could offer was: it’s not over yet.

God could still turn it around; he could still work it for good; he could have a purpose in all of this that I can’t yet see.  Maybe one day I will… or maybe I won’t.

So why did I feel the need to share?  Why was I even pleased to be asked to share?

Because several years ago, I sat at a meeting in my former church, and watched as one shiny happy person after another paraded up to the front to share their stories.  Every single one of them had a story of something amazing God had done – of an answered prayer, or a miracle, or a situation where he intervened unexpectedly to turn things around.

They were encouraging stories and I enjoyed hearing them, but as the evening went on and every story had a similar neat happy ending, I began to feel that part of the story was missing.

It seemed that to be allowed to tell your story up front, the problems you spoke of had to be in the past tense.  Difficulties could only be shared once they had been resolved, or when it was clear how God was using them.  There was no room for messy stories, or unfinished stories, or stories that didn’t fit into a neat little box – stories like mine.

I left that night wondering if I belonged.  Was this a church only for those who had it all sorted?  Was I somehow inadequate or lacking in faith because I didn’t have a happy story to share?

I don’t believe that was the intention at all, but I left convinced that, while we needed to hear the encouraging stories of God at work, we also needed to be honest enough to admit that we can’t always see what God is doing.  We needed to hear the stories where it didn’t work out and where we can’t understand, but where we still have hope in the midst of it that God is good.

I was pleased to be asked to share because I want to be part of a community where these kinds of stories are valued, and where they are told, because people can only hear these messy stories if someone is willing to tell them.

After I shared, someone came over and said: “Thank you for sharing that.  I have stories like that too.”

It’s not easy, but if it can make one person feel that they’re not alone, it’s worth it.

Jesus acknowledged that “here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows.”  (John 16:33 NLT)  Not every story will have a happy ending because we live in a broken world.  Yet still we have hope.  Hope in the knowledge that God cares and he is with us, and hope in the ultimate happy ending when death and sorrow and suffering will be gone and everything will be restored.

In the meantime, let’s encourage one another – with our happy stories and our sad stories, with our tidy stories and our messy stories, with our stories of miracles and triumph and with our stories of disappointment and confusion, because God is in them all and God can use them all.

As I was writing this post, I was reflecting on how thankful I am to be part of this blogging community where so many people are willing to share both the good and the bad.  I began to make a list of people to mention, but I quickly abandoned the idea as the list grew so long.  I realised that, without exception, every single blogger I visit regularly is honest about the fact that life can be messy and willing to share the difficult stories as well as the easy ones.  Thank you for your faithfulness in doing this, and for the encouragement and hope you bring to others!


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41 thoughts on “Sharing Our Messy Stories

  1. It’s not over yet. Damn straight.

    The devil bids me kneel, and
    cancer is his weapon.
    But I am gonna stand,
    and kneeling just won’t happen.
    They say that we’re all broken,
    and must crawl to Abba’s lap.
    Well, take my blood-stained token,
    for I ain’t no crawlin’ sap.
    I’ll meet hell with napalm
    coming from the heart.
    and Satan can take no balm,
    for this is just the start.
    Light a fag, lift your beer,
    for the war begins right here.

    (‘fag’ is archaic parlance for cigarette)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love your determination, Andrew, and thank you for always being willing to share your story despite your pain. I know that many of us really appreciate that. (And the word fag is still used for cigarette sometimes here in the UK so I knew what you meant!)

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Lesley, this is such an encouraging post to those of us in the middle of our stories – our storms. We may be in the midst of a storm and with Jesus by our side, we do come through the storm. We always have hope and no storm in this life can ever take our hope away as it is founded on Jesus – “who will never leave us nor forsake us”; “who sticks closer than a brother”. I appreciated reading this today! Blessings!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It’ s so true that we need to hear BOTH kinds of stories, and it takes a special courage to share the ones where the pivot never comes and we’re left with more questions than answers at the end. Heaven is not here, it’s THERE, and if we were given everything we ever wanted here, it would slake our longing for the ultimate good that is yet to come.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Lesley, we are all broken, we are all searching for answers. I think it is natural for people to present their best selves to a gathering, maybe especially at a church gathering, but the reality of any situation is that God promises to be with us. He doesn’t promise a life of ease or pleasure, just to be there when the chips are down (and always). Thank you for sharing this powerful truth with us.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This is so good, Lesley. Thank you for being brave and paving the way for others to share “the stories where it didn’t work out and where we can’t understand, but where we still have hope in the midst of it that God is good.” We all need that. There are so many hidden messy stories that people are too afraid to share. Love and blessings to you!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. i love your post lesley. i’m with you. it can often be discouraging to hear every story ending with nice tidy bows. not all of us have those kinds of endings to our stories. most often, we are in the middle of our “endings.”

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because[g] the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. romans 8:26-27 sorry for the messy comment! to know He is interceding for us while we are in the middle of our endings is very hopeful!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thanks, Martha! I hadn’t thought about how those verses come together either. It is encouraging that he intercedes for us and that he knows exactly what we need even when the situation looks like a mess to us.

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  7. Lesley,
    So true…I have stories in which I can look in the rear view mirror and realize what God was teaching me through the experience, but right now I’m in the midst of a messy story and I am completely perplexed. I know I am to lean into Jesus for comfort, but as for faith that everything will work out okay? Sometimes it doesn’t and we have to be on hold until heaven to understand the why’s?? Thank you for sharing honestly that not all stories get wrapped up with a shiny bow at the end.
    Blessings,
    Bev xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Bev! I’m sorry you’re walking through a situation like this just now, but it is amazing that we can have hope in God – not necessarily that everything will work out in our immediate situation, but that he is with us in it and can use it even if we never understand why.

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  8. Awww, Lesley. Yes, you’re right. Not all stories have happy endings. Few of my personal stories turned out the way I hoped. But, God was with me through the ugly, the disappointments, the confusion. And when we keep our eyes and our hearts inclined toward Him, the testimony becomes the truth that He shows up. He follows through on His promise to never leave or forsake us. And He teaches us more about Himself.

    And to have the opportunity to share the Not Yet stories? That’s when we probably encourage others the most, because we all have those kinds of stories.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Jeanne! Yes, I think we all have those kinds of stories where things don’t work out as we hope, but knowing God with us in those times, even when we can’t understand what he is doing, is a powerful testimony in itself.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I know those stories of redemption and they are beautiful. But I also know and appreciate the messy stories that God is still refining. If I am honest, I will always be a work in progress and that’s okay. It is an honor to be part of this online community with you. Your encouragement is a light to all who visit.

    PS I love Bryan and Katie Torwalt’s music!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your encouragement, Mary! I’m glad to be in this community with you too. It’s true- we are all works in progress and will continue to be in this life so it’s good to be honest about that.

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  10. yes and amen to doing life in community with other kindred souls who long for freedom and safety to share who we really are, warts and all.

    disappointments, frustrations, fears, failures. we’re all at level ground at the cross … and with each other.

    beautiful, Lesley …

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I agree wholeheartedly. There are stories in our lives that are messy. They haven’t turned out the way we want. Maybe they’re not finished. Maybe they won’t be in the way we would like. I often hear people say “God is good” because they received an answer to prayer or things turned out the way they hoped. But the truth is God is good all the time whether we get what we want, whether our body is healed, whether our child comes home, whether the diagnosis is good, whether we understand … or not! We can’t see the big picture. We won’t always know what God is up to but it is always for our good (if we’re believers) and His glory!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for visiting, Donna! And I agree. I always feel a bit uncomfortable when people respond to an answered prayer etc. by saying “God is good,” because, as you say, he is good whether the situation turns out as we hope or not.

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  12. Thank you for sharing this. So needed. We often don’t know what to do with each other’s suffering, so we are uncomfortable with it. But the world needs to see that we don’t have it all figured out, but we hope and trust anyway. laurensparks.net

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Lauren! Yes, it’s easy to assume when we look at others that they have it all together when really they don’t. It’s good when we feel we can be honest about that with one another and walk through it together.

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  13. Leslie,
    I love your honesty. I’m sure it’s refreshing for many people who read. I often share my testimony when asked to speak. Usually, you have around 30 minutes to encapsulate your life. I’ve often worried about ending on how God turned something around for fear of misleading people that when God turns your life around it becomes this utopian experience of happiness and you never have any more problems. That surely has not been my experience even though God did so much in turning my life around after divorce and I don’t want to sound ungrateful, but my life is still far from perfect and neatly wrapped in a bow. I think that’s why I’m able to write (and a lot of us bloggers) because we share from those broken places and readers can relate to that.
    Praying God does bring a turn around to your story soon 🙂
    In His Grip,
    Sherry Stahl
    xoxo

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Sherry! Yes, it’s great to tell stories of where we have seen God turn things around but also to be honest about the fact that everything is still not perfect, and will never be completely perfect on earth. I think it definitely ministers to others when we speak or write from those broken places.

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  14. You are right. The usual testimony is the one that has come through the storm and those who seem to experience a continual stream of storms can’t relate. They feel God must not love them. Thanks you for this. I think I too wait to tell my story after it has been neatly tucked in. Now, I will be more intentional about sharing while I’m trusting God when I can’t see his hand.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Calvonia! It is not easy to tell an unfinished story or a story where we don’t understand, but I’m sure it blesses those who relate to it when we do. Praying that God gives you wisdom about how and when to share.

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