SACRED: regarded with great respect and reverence by a particular religion, group, or individual. (Latin: sacer-holy)
Throughout my entire life, I’ve been a talker. In elementary school, the only thing I was ever reprimanded for was for talking and giggling during class (then subsequently sent to the principal’s office and threatened with a paddling. Ohhh, Alabama.) You can ask my current coworkers–little about my behavior has changed over time. I still talk, I still love to laugh, and I love sharing and discussing with other people. I love expressing myself (…said the girl with a blog…), sharing opinions, views and thoughts while intermingling them with thoughts and opinions from people who understand, as well as with those who don’t. As I grew up, I felt more and more freedom in sharing openly. The idol of my high school years, Gwen Stefani, was once quoted as saying she is an open book and will never be anything but. Her lyrics speak the pain and joy of her real life in an explicit way, and I admired her for that. There’s a rebelliousness in it. And even today, there’s a little bit of that adolescent desire in me that resists being pigeonholed or told how to live/feel/be/act. I wonder if I’ll ever shake it. 🙂
In the Christian culture, there’s something called a testimony. It basically means what you think it does–the same as it does in the legal setting–a formal written or spoken statement, esp. one given in a court of law. AND/OR a public recounting of a religious conversion or experience. The latin root is testis (stop laughing, children) which means to witness. In Christian culture, to witness often means to share your faith by giving your testimony. Ever heard, “Can I get a witness?” Yep. *Here ends your Christianese lesson for today.*
So, I’ve been neck-deep in this Christian culture thing for about 14 years, now. And I’ve given my testimony a LOT of times. The story of how I came to faith is a dark and difficult one, but it’s beautiful. Because in it, God is glorified. His light shines hot and magnificent out of that black darkness and He gets every little bit of glory for the miracle that is my life, my heart, being remade, being saved, and my soul being reborn into a new life, a new chance, a new day. So–I love to share that story. In every little detail, no matter how disturbing, how upsetting, how shameful, how painful–when people hear it, my hope and my heart are that people to turn to God and maybe believe in him. Just maybe. And to me, the risk of sharing and being misunderstood or negatively judged by some, is worth more than not sharing and holding back something incredible and miraculous that God could use for his glory. For the advancement of His kingdom. Keeping it to myself wouldn’t be right. Right?
There’s a lot of talk about story in Christian circles, these days. It’s encouraged that we’re authentic. Transparent. Open books. Small groups and Bible studies are formed and members may feel a bit of pressure to open their darkest parts up to the group in hopes of finding support and freedom in Christ, or with the desire of helping someone else in their journey. Transparency and being vulnerable with your story could even help point someone to Christ. I believe it. But something that has come to my attention lately is that there’s an important clarification that needs to be made in sharing. There’s an art to sharing that needs to be learned. It’s a skill to be honed and developed over time. It does not come naturally. It is not innate. It’s a skill I’m approaching with a measure of caution, care, and honestly? A tiny bit of shame for the oversharing I’ve done. (Hey. I’m working on it.)
See, I’ve shared a lot of deeply personal things over my lifetime. My book has been wide open for any and all. I’ve found freedom in speaking difficult and daring words about taboo topics that others skirted around. I enjoyed pushing boundaries with my words, refusing to be told that I should feel ashamed of anything I felt like sharing. When the reality is…there are certain things that are SACRED. And I shouldn’t feel ashamed for holding them back from the general public–I should feel reverence and respect. For myself and for those topics. I should have more respect and reverence for my heart, my experience, my memories, and the people who walked through it all with me, than my desire to whore those words out to anyone and everyone. This is a brand new concept for me. I like it. I believe in it. And it’s a muscle I’m looking forward to developing.
As I’ve pondered this idea for the last couple of weeks, something I’ve started to discover is that when you share a personal story, you can maintain its sacred nature in the way that you share it. You can respect it without exposing all of it. I’m not talking about running it through the laundry before you air it out–I’m just talking about being discriminate in the aspects and details of the story that you choose to share. The truth can be told, the point can be made, without exposing the sacred parts. Respect and reverence for the event, for your heart, for the people involved, can remain intact.
Dr. Brene Brown’s research on shame and vulnerability has been all the rage in psychology and faith circles over the past couple of years, ever since her wildly successful TED talks. I read her book, “The Gifts of Imperfection,” and listened to the audiobook afterward just to really cement things in. She tweeted a good reminder, last night:
Sharing your story is brave. That’s true. But real courageous sharing and vulnerability employs more than just an unbridled verbal explosion. When I speak my truth and own my story without shame, I also need to set boundaries. Brene Brown says that people who hear your stories need to earn the right to hear them. Historically, I haven’t made it all that difficult to earn that right. I’m realizing that there’s power (and maybe a little bit of cultural rebellion) in asking yourself, “Is this something I can talk about with someone close to me, in my inner-ring of friends and family? Is this a memory best shared with someone who was also there?” or “Is this something that is safe to share with the outer-ring people? To share openly in a new small group or Bible study? Something I can blog about that may benefit others or just help me exercise my writing muscle?” Really…what I’m learning to ask myself is…What’s sacred?
I want to protect the things that are sacred in my life, and in the lives of those I care about. Until this point, really…nothing has been sacred.
While at the same time, I’m being careful not to feel shame and begin to hide things unnecessarily.
Maintaining my open-book status while developing a sense of sacredness is going to be a challenge–but it’s one I’m up for. And I can only believe it will bring greater strength, clarity, and my biggest prayer–more room for God to be glorified through my life and experiences.
My mouth will tell of your righteous acts, of your deeds of salvation all the day, for their number is past my knowledge. With the mighty deeds of the Lord God I will come; I will remind them of your righteousness, yours alone. O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds. So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come. Psalm 71:15-18 (ESV)