relationships, Spiritual Encouragement, Uncategorized, Writing
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When Your Story is a Dumb, Sob-Story {How to Handle Harsh}

When Words Hurt

He called my story a sob story. That would make me the “sob-ber” –not really attractive.

He then proceeded to call my story and how I told it –dumb. Three times dumb, said he.

And it cut a little, like a strip of stray wood cuts the soft flesh of a palm, digging into the cutaneous layers, unwelcome.

And my first response was to flush pink in a rush of hurt and anger. After all, I am my story and my story is I. And yours is you, is it not?

I cannot extricate my story any more than I can extricate my inner organs from my body and expect to live. It is ongoing, like the inspiration-expiration of living; my story began with a wailing cry I don’t remember and will end when my brain ceases to pulse electric – but everything in between is purposed, as it is painful or glorious or mundane. And the motive of my heart, of my clacking keys and pressing send and posting and praying for hearts receptive to the message is to encourageto give courage.

To be honest, I have done my fair share of sobbing (and laughing and worrying and shouting and eating and cleaning and travelling) but a “sob-story” is connotative of seeking pity or undue attention.

Undue attention. The very goal of a storyteller’s existence is to draw attention to the story and not the teller. We try to get behind, in the shadows, out of the way. We mine through the memory to find our voice, the slant and personality of the way we tell the story, but we want to throw it like a ventriloquist, cast the attentive eye to a place beyond the voice.

I stared at the unkind, pulsing words he sent me like a splinter with my flesh swelling red and round, a little shocked and offended. But I have to get the tweezers and the blade and lance it out. It doesn’t belong there.

I take a moment to breathe and remember that my story could have ended with the shutting of my heart’s doors long ago, back when my first “love” broke my heart or when the paycheck bounced leaving us with a load of non-sufficient funds fees, or with the pregnancies that ended joylessly and lifeless, or when friends walked away or the church leaders blacklisted us or the accident that changed everything. It could have ended.

I could have stopped the bleeding and turned the key and stayed inside myself.

Then I wouldn’t be called dumb and my story wouldn’t be mistaken for a cry for pity.

I’d be safe.

And alone.

Sometimes these stories come forth eloquently, sometimes badly, as I bumble about the words and memories near-mute and strangled by blooming vulnerability; sometimes I share my stories in silence, embracing someone else’s shoulders, absorbing their sobs, their stories; and sometimes, when fear takes over or when I’m not sure whom I’m dealing with, my lips clamp tightly and the stories bash against my teeth and I swallow them whole.

Only then am I alone. Only then am I piteous.

So I extricate the sliver, the criticism as it came, and I examine it. At first, I want to toss it aside, pay no mind, consider the source or all the self-soothing ideals of a creative who just got sucker-punched.

But I learned (and watch out, here comes a story!) several years ago when a woman pulled out a notebook revealing a list of reasons why she hadn’t talked to me for months, a list of characteristics most unsavory and unattractive, a list of accusations from an individual who had, in her words, “written me off” long before this:

when I receive criticism that jabs and wounds and stings,

I can take a deep breath and examine it and let it grow me.

I can deal with the pain, because, after all, I know my stories. I know that I’ve been hurt and knocked down and helped up again. My bruises have faded and my scars, though fully seamed across soul gashes as well as surgical incisions, have not calloused, only healed pink-white. Why, I ask, can I look fully into criticism, feel it’s pain and keep writing even as I breathe?

– Because I am responding to a call.

– Because I am reaching out to others who’s sob stories need to be honored.

– Because I serve a savior whose sob-story changed my life.

– Because I follow after redemption’s beauty.

– Because judgment teaches me to long for grace.

– Because telling my story and receiving criticism for it, makes me tenderer towards others: my children, you, the woman behind me in church, the guy at the grocery.

– Because harsh judgment compels me to force back the impetuous judge within me that wants to mutter “dumb” in another’s direction and instead invite the real, uncomfortable truth into the room of our relationship.

– Because criticism makes me real and remember and reach further still toward the author of my story,my salvation story, to find wisdom and help in my neediness, to keep telling the beautiful, sobbing, story.

And sure, I’ll fail to get the point across. I’ll be met with accusation or misunderstanding, berating or betraying. I’ll be written off.

But as long as I learn to extricate the judgment, gaze at it’s edges under the strong light of truth, remember it doesn’t belong in me and allow myself to learn and heal, then I won’t be alone.

I’ll be softened and singing along with you, as we share our stories, wherever we can tell them, inviting others to share their sobs upon our shoulders. We can take it. We’ve been there. And we won’t leave them alone.

**

God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day—our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love. {1 John 4:18}

So many say we need to be thick-skinned or let things roll like water.

I say don’t. Don’t let the hurt fester into sepsis in your spirit, but don’t develop a hide impenetrable.

Instead, practice facing the hurt, the caustic remark or the betrayal with a heart soft and a confidence unshaken (maybe a little, for a while) remaining in the truth that your story has value and your vulnerability serves the purpose of not only achieving you freedom from judgment but also lends others a little strength, a hand in friendship and words woven into stories that bring healing.

Have you undergone criticism or anger or judgment? How do you respond? Any words of wisdom you can share?

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10 Comments

  1. Hmmm…it just struck me so clearly while reading this…our testimonies are so important in God’s kingdom, that Satan does everything he can to discourage us from telling our stories! “And they overcame him (Satan) because of the blood of the Lamb & because of the word of their testimony…” Rev.12:11. Stay strong sweet sister & keep telling your story! Love & prayers, in jesus, Cynthia

    • Cynthia, so true. We have no idea what God can do with the simplest, ugliest, saddest stories… he makes them all part of the bigger, redemption story.

  2. To be dismissed with those words – ouch. But you’re right, to turn away from the harsh without holding it under the spotlight of truth and thus releasing any power it has over us in spite of the pain of that process, is necessary.

    • There’s a proverb about the wounds of a friend cutting deeply, hurting worse? That is so true because the criticism wounds your character, that part of you that is really deeply you — when I learned how to receive criticism and really look at it, I learned I could find ways that God could use that hurt to refine me, help me. It was ugly, I won’t lie, but his grace made it useful and productive in my life.

  3. Deborah Seaver says

    Well said, Alyssa. All of us have our stories. They are woven into our hearts. They aren’t anyone else’s. Maybe some are sob stories that we can learn from, heal from and not let fester within. God can use them to teach us all compassion
    In my nursing profession, I have heard many stories and probably been in a few. They have never ceased to teach me something-compassion, humility, kindness and the strength of the human spirit when buoyed by God’s love and faithfulness. Blessings and thank you for sharing your stories which are neither dumb nor sob stories.

    • Thank you Deb, I am sure you’ve seen so much that’s built compassion into your spirit. And, I’ve been a recipient of that active compassion and have been truly blessed.

  4. I love a good sob story… trust me, you have an audience.

    This week, I’ve read 2 posts and completed a Bible study lesson on the subject of receiving harsh criticism with grace. Obviously, God must be preparing me for something ahead… I am bookmarking this post to revisit when it hits.

    I am thankful for the healing I have found through sharing my story and reading the stories of others. Your blog is a healing place, Alyssa. I am so thankful that you linked up with Thought-Provoking Thursday. 🙂

  5. dukeslee says

    Keep telling your story. You may never know, until you get to heaven, what an enormous impact you’ve had.

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