If you are a human being, and if you are reading this you most definitely are, it can be challenging to “own-up” to erroneous thought patterns in your life. This was the situation I found myself in. Somewhere along the line, I created a story that I was unwanted, unlovable, and that I got in everybody’s way. Sadly, I had carried this story with me into almost every area of my life. In doing this, I unconsciously created a great chasm between those I loved and myself.
For most of my life, I’ve been known as a fun-loving guy. Since birth, I’ve had a permanent smile slapped across my face. It is a rare occasion when you find this smile turned upside-down. This, in itself, is both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because having a constant smile makes approaching people easier. However, it is a curse, because it creates an organic mask that allows me to hide my innermost fears and struggles. For the most part, most people around me are clueless as to when I am having a bad day. My smile simply tells them another story than what is happening in my heart.
I didn’t expect the weekend to turn out the way it did. My friend had invited me to a seminar. At first, I declined his invitation. One look at the cost of it sent me in the opposite direction. However, my friend was able to secure a scholarship for me and constantly boasted of how the seminar had transformed his life. Reasoning that there was no harm in attending, I finally accepted his offer.
I honestly had expected it to be a leadership training that would empower me to launch a following like John Maxwell’s. Much to my surprise, it was nothing like I had imagined. The seminar was facilitated by a guru-type gentleman with a Scottish accent. As the seminar went on, he presented a concept that was foreign to me. As he spoke, I began to understand that we, as human beings, tend to create stories about each occurrence in our lives. I learned that many events in our life are neutral, but take on positive and negative effects as we begin to assign meaning to them. Our interpretations then begin to provide a framework for how we relate to people, places, and events from that point on. Because of this, we can unconsciously hold others as a prisoner to and accountable for, events they weren’t part of. Many times, we do not allow ourselves to experience great things because we are attempting, at all costs, to avoid the same type of pain we previously experienced. Additionally, many of us are unaware of the mental constructs we unconsciously designed. This seminar was about to empower me to break free from some of the stories that had kept me shackled for most of my life.
As the facilitator continued, I became aware of several stories that I had created in early childhood. As the youngest sibling out of eight and being forty-three years younger than my oldest sibling (my father was sixty-one when I was born), I had a difficult time finding my place in my family. As I continued to grow and took notice that my family looked different than those of my classmates, I began to feel awkward and weird. I constantly had to explain to others that my dad wasn’t my grandpa and that my siblings were “indeed” my siblings. Although I didn’t talk about it, I sometimes felt like I was my father’s late-life experiment.
As we advanced from session to session, I continued to grow in awareness of the storyline I had created. I realized that I began to use this painful story as a foundation for how I related to others. I carried this story in the back of my mind as I related to classmates, interacted in the workforce, avoided family, and blamed my wife for the problems in our marriage. Most of my actions were founded on this lie that I accepted as true.
The revelation of my misinterpretation of events didn’t feel good at all. I could see that I had missed out on so much, simply because I was constantly being defensive. Rather than give people the benefit of the doubt, I immediately came up with an excuse as to why they wouldn’t want me to be part of their lives. Even worse, I realized I didn’t even want to be part of my own life. The story I had bought into kept me away from becoming the “me” I desired to be. Simply stated, I didn’t love myself enough to think I deserved it.
The second day of the seminar led me to the realization that the stories I created were absolutely unfounded. This understanding made me realize that I had to own my part in creating the chasm between me and my family. “I’ll just work on this when I get home,” I told myself. However, that thought came to an abrupt stop when the facilitator told us we were going to take a recess from the session. But we were assigned a task during the recess, one that caused my heart to tremor with fear. We were assigned to call someone who had been affected by our story, and we were to take ownership of our story by asking for forgiveness for holding that person prisoner to it.
“Hello,” I said with a trembling voice, “can I talk to you about something?” My phone call came out of the blue, and it was obvious the person on the receiving end hadn’t expected the words I was about to share. Nevertheless, every thought and feeling I had felt since I was a child came running out of my mouth like a flash flood during monsoon season. As I took ownership of my story and behavior, I could hear the person on the other end choke on some tears. “John,” the voice said, “What you don’t realize is that I always carry your picture in my wallet. I share it with everybody. I am so proud of you.”
The words I heard not only brought healing to my soul, but they also gave a heightened awareness of my propensity to assume the worst in many situations. This is what I learned from this situation.
I am a story maker.
I’m not proud of my tendency to create tragic interpretations over events. Nevertheless, I’d be a fool not to admit it. On the same note, I know I am not alone with this. Admitting and taking ownership of this tendency helps hold me accountable not to get stuck in a false story. It also makes me aware that many of the stories created are fictional and not reality.
Revealing is a step towards healing.
Making that phone call was absolutely one of the scariest things I have ever done. However, it helped clarify the truth surrounding a lie I had believed for years. Owning up to believing the lie paved the way to hear the truth I needed to hear.
I am more loved than I can ever imagine.
I am so grateful that the words that met me in my misery were words of love. Hearing this person tell me that they love me was one of the greatest things I have ever heard in my life. It opened my heart to the truth that I am wanted, I am lovable, and I don’t get in the way. I confidently believe that the mission of God includes healing hearts. I also believe that He assigns people to speak words of life, that not only heal, but give us a glimpse into His very own heart.
This is an updated edition of a post originally published on john-eli.com
Featured Image by Tim Marshall