Updated: Sep 6, 2019
Our lives are made up of so much more than we show. The glimpse we give the outside world is usually the cool stuff. “Look, I’m on vacation!” “Do you see this? I am doing something you aren’t!” “Check it out! I am smiling into my camera that I’m holding at the end of my arm!” Perhaps, if you are aware enough of how all these images come across, you post a sad, reflective picture about how you are not “feeling it today.” People who follow you need to know you are real and that your life has its ups and downs. Right? Life isn’t all roses and vacations, and you want people to relate to you. The truth is, if you look at most social media, you get only a scrapbook of their lives. You only see what people did and maybe when they did it. The picture you see on their feed about the dinner they had with a friend is just that, dinner with a friend. What we infer from that picture or any of the photos is important. In this climate, where you eat matters.
Was it a burger at home? Did it look amazing? Are they a foodie and make incredible dishes? Was the burger at In N Out? Was it a Monster Burger or just a regular? Maybe the picture reminded you of a time you had In N Out. Perhaps it was a gourmet burger at a fancy steakhouse. The photo may leave you feeling jealous and full of envy (which is how I feel EVERY time someone posts a picture of a burger). The image gives us very little data. It doesn’t tell the story around it. Were you feeling ok? Were you fighting with your kids? What kind of day did you have? How is work going? Our brains automatically try to fill in the blanks, and there are many. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but it can’t tell the whole story.
We are so much more than snapshots and pictures. We embody long and involved stories. These are stories of our lives, the lives of those we love, and our relatives close and far away. Our stories are only the latest chapter in a long history of humanity leading up to you, even as you read this, your story is being written.
That is one of the reasons I love tattoos. Don’t get me wrong; I am not covered in
tattoos. As a matter of fact, I don’t even have one, but I think they are fantastic. Why? Because they say something about the person. They are a glimpse into who they are and hopefully, deeply meaningful to the one wearing them.
Recently, while in line at the grocery store, I saw an incredible tattoo. It was a black and white tattoo of an angel carrying someone. It was classical and breath-taking. It looked like it was carved out of marble. At the bottom of the image, there was a date which made me think it was a memorial of sorts. The guy wearing the tattoo looked a bit like you might imagine. This tattoo was only one of many which covered much of his arm. Ink wrapped around his other arm and a large beard protruded from his face. He was a big fellow and may be considered intimidating. Undaunted, I told the guy how amazing I thought his tattoo was. He thanked me and enthusiastically shared with me about the local artist who did it and where they work. It seems that every time I ask about a tattoo, people tell me where the shop is. Maybe you tattoo types can tell me what that is about. Curious. Foreshadowing? Anyway, what happened next was incredible. He told me it was for his son who died nine years ago. His vulnerability took me by surprise. Here we are, standing at the check-out line having a pretty profound moment. He followed it up, sharing how his son died carelessly, by making one, simple mistake. This man didn’t appear to be as old as me, and it was gut-wrenching. My eyes filled with tears as I thought about the pain he must be in and how I would feel if my son were to die so early. He went on to tell me that lately he’s been having trouble with memories of his boy. He knew God had a plan, but the memories come at weird times, wake him up, or disrupt his day. Wasn’t he supposed to be over this by now? His grief was palpable. I expressed my sympathy and told him that grieving is weird like that; we never know when it will show up. “Are you talking about this with anyone?” I asked. He said no. My heart broke. He was carrying this burden alone and obviously needed to share it. I turned to the cashier and asked for a piece of paper and a pen I could write with. I quickly jotted down my phone number, name, and mentioned that I was a priest. I locked eyes with him and told him that coffee, beer, or whatever was on me. If he ever needed to chat, call me. And just like that, two big, bearded men, in a line at a grocery store, connected because of story.
But he wasn’t just a guy at the grocery store. He wasn’t just a snapshot, and neither was his tattoo. He was and is a walking story. It is often quoted but important: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” (Rev. Dr. John Watson DD – Pen name, Ian Maclaren) His battle, in part, is dealing with the death of his son. His journey, his story, isn’t over yet. He is walking it out even as I type and you read.
He may never reach out to me. We may never see one another again, but for a brief and important moment, our stories converged. This crossing of paths is the stuff of life. We don’t converge because of pictures, social media, or any number of images. We connect because our stories connect. I don’t have a tattoo, but I like art. I have a son. We shop at the same store (at least we did that day) and that was sufficient to create convergence in our stories.
Every person you know or come into contact with has a story. They are on a journey, and we have a role to play. Will it be their champion? Will it be their encourager? Will it be the antagonist or their mentor? There is no way to know what role we will play, but one thing IS for sure. The more we share our stories, the more room we make for others to share theirs. When people share their stories, not just their pictures of vacations, selfies or delicious hamburgers, convergence happens. When people converge, if only for a little while, humanity is restored and beauty increases. We may even learn how to be civil toward one another.
How would you share your story with someone? What about the narrative you tell yourself? That particular story is critically important. Are you the hero? Are you the protagonist or the antagonist? You are more than a picture. You are a character on a journey that isn't defined solely by what has happened. You are defined by how you respond and how you will respond. Take some time today to share your story with your child, spouse, or friend. Maybe you could listen to theirs. Who knows what might happen. The thousand words that a picture speaks might lead to a little convergence. And that is a good thing.
P.S. My friend Vicki McDermitt led our weekly devotional time at Music Serving the Word Ministries. Vicki is an incredible singer, but more than that, she is a great person and story teller. She weaves story in with each jazz performance. Further, she helps bring support to Belarus through her leadership and concerts. Her devotional was on story and how important it is, which gave birth to this blog post. Big ups to you Vic.