It was, without question, the most uncomfortable church service of my entire life.
Our pastor was out of town and so lay leaders in our small church were running the service and preaching the sermon that day. One of the worship leaders had issued a simple invitation: Would two or three people from the congregation like to come up to the
mic and briefly share what God had been doing in their life recently?
After a few moments of silence, a man I’ll call “Kurt” marched up and took the mic. He’d apparently missed the guidelines “briefly” and “recently,” charging ahead into what turned out to be a 40-minute rendition of his personal testimony. Despite the efforts of church leaders to politely wrap things up, Kurt was on a roll and would not be deterred. His story was full of drama: involvement in the mafia, drunkenness and drugs, sexual escapades, a dramatic suicide attempt, hearing God’s audible voice, and even a few curse words peppered throughout to make it more exciting.
When Kurt’s story finally came to a close, you could almost hear the communal sigh of relief from the congregation. It wasn’t just joy that Kurt had come to know Christ, nor was it just because we were glad the hijacked church service was now out of Kurt’s hands. The discomfort we all felt as Kurt spoke was also because his “testimony”—though comprised of the standard “how I came to know Jesus” plot elements—well . . . it wasn’t really about Jesus. It was about Kurt. And it was about the drama and excitement, shock and awe. While it might have gotten a four-star review if it had been a movie on the big screen, for us real people in the room that day, its focus and tone smacked of grandstanding and inauthenticity.
Now, I must admit that there have been times in my life when I’ve been envious of dramatic life stories like Kurt’s. I grew up in a Christian home and have loved Jesus from my earliest memories. In terms of moving conversion testimonies, mine is about as plain and simple as it comes. It’s a story that starts with a childhood prayer and continues into an ongoing journey of discipleship. Not much drama or excitement, shock or awe.
While we celebrate lives radically changed by God, we can also champion “normal” stories—because, ultimately, sharing our testimony isn’t so much about attention-grabbing, external drama as it is about internal conviction and spiritual change. A testimony—a life story—that honestly grapples with the deep-down struggles of faith, of surrendering pride, of facing our faults, of grappling with temptation, of choosing obedience, of experiencing grace? That rings true. It reverberates in hearers’ lives regardless of if it’s told from a life marked by a dramatic conversion or a steady journey toward Christ.
When it comes right down to it, we’re all hungry for something deeper than simply a dazzling, attention-grabbing “show” of a story. “Superficiality is the curse of our age,” wrote Richard Foster in The Celebration of Discipline. As Christians, one way we push back against such superficiality is by choosing to embrace and to tell our real stories—when we live as people who are authentic and honest about who we are, where we’ve been, where we’re going, and ultimately about how Christ is with us along the way.
new or deepened relationships.
We follow the master storyteller, Nish Weiseth reminds us in “How Storytelling Can Change the World,” and it is in and through Christ’s story of redemption that we begin to understand our own storyline. As we tell our own stories and listen to others’, we find that even our experiences of isolation or loneliness can build bridges of connection and foster
new or deepened relationships.
But getting honest—especially about painful emotions or shame-filled secrets—is no easy matter. In “The Art of Vulnerability,” Carol Kuykendall acknowledges the hard stuff—the social or personal barriers that often prevent us from sharing the real us. These barriers need to be toppled, she argues, because when we choose courageous honesty, we bless others—and we empower them to do the same.
In “Your Messed-up Story,” I explore why a posture of honesty rather than a veneer of perfection is critical not only in our relationships with other believers but also in our evangelism efforts. For me, as a wife and working mom of three, this means sharing a story that’s real about both the joys and challenges of marriage, parenting, and carving out some work-life balance. It means being honest about how much I struggle against self-reliance and how thankful I am that God is ever-helping me learn to trust him more. It means opening up about how tough it can be as a mom to be patient, or as a wife to be forgiving, or simply as a human being to be humble and selfless.
At Today’s Christian Woman, we’re all about sharing authentic stories. I’m excited to be joining the team as TCW’s new editor, and as a TCW team we’re committed to this being a place where courageous steps of honesty and vulnerability are taken. Where there’s space to ask questions or express ongoing struggles. Where we grapple with the tough parts of real life. Where we all receive, learn from, and are blessed by the stories of others. And, ultimately, where we celebrate together our part in God’s big, redemptive story, weaving throughout time and into eternity.
Embrace your story!
Kelli B. Trujillo, Editor