Once upon a time (almost 4 years ago) in a land far away (Northampton), in a strange mystical coffee shop (surrounded by Nannas) I had my first meeting with my uni tutor, and learnt something huge about myself. During that first fateful meeting I got feedback on my fledgling, very wobbly, misguided attempt at a reflective journal…
[For those of you unaware of the mysterious world of CYM (you lucky devils), the first two years of study are assessed by a portfolio of “Professional Practice”. This portfolio will feature between 12 and 18 journals; pieces of work that should be about 800-1000 words long and evidence the practical youth work you are doing at your placement and show how its being influenced by what you’re learning in lectures.]
But back to our story… Far from being the accomplished piece of reflective work I’d hoped that first journal would be, I was told that what I’d done was treat my tutor to a story of my first piece of youth work with Bridgebuilder. It was entertaining, had a few laughs, told the story of what was a very eventful evening in (exceptional) detail but nonetheless, completely missed the mark of what it was supposed to be doing. Rather than being discouraged by that process of writing an epic saga (seriously the doomsday book was shorter!) and realising it was useless though, I chose to learn from it.
You see on that day I realised that I am a story teller.
I guess I kinda knew that I was a story teller from a young age, far from being one of those kids that would grumble when told to do some creative writing at school, I was the one grumbling that there wasn’t enough time to write these fantastic tales I had in my head. I was the kid who would start every summer holiday by announcing that I would write a book (I know, pretentious right?). I loved telling people, in exuberant, exaggerated detail, all of the things that happened to me, my family and my friends… it didn’t even need to be interesting, and often wasn’t!
I honestly don’t think there will ever be a time in my life where I am not bursting with a story or anecdote ready to share with someone, in the hope of entertaining, empathising or connecting. And do you know what? I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I have had the privilege to work and minister with some exceptional storytellers. The guy who introduced (read: dragged kicking and screaming) me to youth work was the best storyteller I have ever known, and this idea that I could tell stories as a job was probably what pulled me towards pursuing youth work. And why is story telling such an important and central part of my youth work? Well at the end of the day what is story telling? Whether to children or adults, friends or strangers, we tell stories to connect with people. And connecting with people is surely what youth work, nay living, is all about.
When we tell someone a story, even if it isn’t necessarily true or about ourselves, we are giving people small pieces of us. If we are accomplished story tellers then that little bit of us might be packaged in beautiful and exciting narrative wrapping paper, but it is the same as if we are only able to chuck the story hastily in to a plastic bag barely holding the words together; we offer something of us to someone else. And there is risk involved. They might not like the piece of us we offer. They may get bored, they may reject it, they may disagree, they may mock, they might not even listen. But what if they do listen? They might see a side to us that they have never seen before, they may find healing, encouragement or comfort in our words, they may look at life in a whole new way. And in that moment, through offering someone a little piece of you wrapped up in a story, you have connected with someone in a way that you may not have done otherwise. Telling stories is sharing a piece of your humanity with other people, people who could turn around and offer a piece of themselves back to you.
I have a good friend who I used to work with and have done some kids’ camps with, and on a few of those camps we would tell the girls in our dorms bedtime stories. And on one night we would do a dramatic retelling of the story of how me and this friend met and became friends. When we retold this story we were telling the girls about building solid, encouraging, Christian friendships; but were connecting with them in a way like no other because we were offering it to them in a very human story.
What is life if it its not a series of stories waiting to be passed on to someone else?
So let me come to the end of this particular story and try to make a point. You (yes you) are a wonderful creation, a creature capable of exceptional, wonderful things. You are a constant story. A story that, even now, is being written. And you know your story better than anyone. I implore you to go and tell your story to people, to take the risk and connect with people in a way only you can. It might not be through spoken word; write, sing, paint, rap, draw, dance, photograph your story, but please tell it. Too many people’s precious stories go untold. The wonderful and gorgeous Emeli Sandé sums it up better here than I ever could (Will there ever be a time you don’t quote Emeli Sandé in a blog? I hear you ask. No. I hear myself answer), the chorus of her song read all about it says: “I wanna sing, I wanna shout, I wanna scream ’til the words dry out. So put it in all of the papers, I’m not afraid. They can read all about it, read all about it.” The world needs to know your story.
So finally I pray, to the author and perfecter of all of our stories, that we would have courage to tell our stories, that we would have humility when sharing our stories and that we would connect with new people in new ways and beautiful things would come from it.