Choosing your brokenness story

Image credit: © 2009 Patrick Feller, from Flickr | used via CC-BY licensing

Humans are meaning-making creatures, which means that we love stories. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that we are addicted to stories. We create them all day long about every situation even when we are completely unaware that we are doing it.

We do this because stories are the only way to feed that ravenous hunger to know why. Why did this bad thing happen? Why did it happen to me instead of someone else? Why did it happen to them and not to me?

We crave these answers to the question “why?” both as a means of creating meaning and because we think that knowing why something happened the way it did will allow us to prevent something similar from happening to ourselves or those we love in the future.

We think that knowing why will keep us safe. We think it might give us more control over that safety in the future.

Surface level stories

On one level, this may be true. Knowing that texting while driving greatly increases the risk of a car accident allows me to make the choice not to engage in that behavior, and that does help to keep me safe. (Of course, my decision not to do that doesn’t prevent other drivers sharing the road with me from doing it anyway so that I’m still at risk.)

But our stories don’t stop at that surface level. We want to know why some drivers who text while driving wind up in serious car accidents while others are untouched.

In the same way, I know that the reason why my best friend died a number of years ago is that she had a very aggressive form of cancer. Cancer is why she died. But why did she get cancer at such a young age? Why was it not found until it was too late to do anything about it? Why did she get such an aggressive form? Why her?

The truth is that I’ll never know. I can come up with all kinds of possible explanations, all sorts of possible risk factors, a whole variety of stories about why. But I will never know the why to any of those questions.

I hate that. I bet you do too for those big why questions in your life.

Deeper stories

We combat this discomfort about not knowing the deeper whys by embracing default deeper stories—often given to us by our families, our cultures, or our faith traditions—to explain why bad things happen. We often inherit these stories without ever consciously evaluating or choosing them.

Some of the common ones I hear (and have used at various times) are:

  • Bad things happen to us because God is punishing us.
  • Bad things happen to us to teach us a lesson we needed to learn.
  • Bad things happen to us because of karma; it’s the result of something we did in the past.
  • Bad things happen to us because we did not think enough positive thoughts.
  • Bad things happen to us because we weren’t “good” enough (didn’t eat the right foods, didn’t exercise enough, didn’t work hard enough, etc.).
  • Bad things happen to us because we attract bad things with our unresolved wounds.

Over time I’ve noticed that all of these deeper stories we tend to default to really boil down to blame: “we deserved it.”

I don’t know about you, but I don’t find that to be particularly helpful when I’m in the midst of dealing with a painful circumstance. All too often, it just keeps me mired in self-blame.

But the other thing I’ve also noticed over time, is that none of these stories about the deeper why of a given situation are absolute. Most of the time we never truly know why.

These stories we spin about why it happened are just that: stories.

Realizing that has been a real ticket to freedom for me. Here’s why:

If I’m the one spinning the deeper story about why something happened, then I can choose whatever story is the most helpful to me in moving forward in the healthiest way possible.

While every deeper story I might choose might offer me some comfort or potential for growth, every story also has its shadow side that can lead to an illusion that we can control more than we really can or can create even more pain through the self-blame it might generate.

Choosing our deeper story

I have the right (and the responsibility) to choose the story that will offer the greatest assistance with the minimum amount of shadow for me.

This also means that I don’t have to allow others to impose their stories on me, nor do I have the right to impose my story on them.

Even more importantly, if I’m the one choosing the story, then I can also choose to let go of having a story at all. Sometimes painful things just happen, and I’ll never know why.

If I’ll never know why, then I can spend that energy choosing how I want to move forward instead of spending it on polishing my story.

I don’t know why my friend died. I will never know. I do know that the experience of losing her has taught me so much about valuing friendship and about valuing life itself because I never know how much more of it I might have.

But I don’t think she died for the purpose of teaching me that lesson. I also don’t think she died because I deserve to be punished or because I didn’t think enough positive thoughts after her diagnosis or because I wasn’t good enough in some way.

Letting go of knowing why frees me instead to focus on remembering her with love and gratitude, and living my life more fully with an increased appreciation for the brevity of it.

What default deeper stories do you tend to go to? Are they helping you? Are there other stories that might be more helpful in your healing process? What would it take for you to reframe your story using that more helpful deeper story?

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2 thoughts on “Choosing your brokenness story

  • March 25, 2015 at 12:30 pm

    I love this post! One of my default “deeper” stories has to do with destiny – that we all have a unique destiny planted within us that we are meant to bring to life and share with the world. This type of destiny story is our legacy of what beauty we can leave behind for this amazing world :) Thank you for always writing deeply moving and personal reflections!

    • March 25, 2015 at 8:45 pm

      Thanks so much! It sounds like your default “deeper” story is one that is serving you well as you work to birth your book into the world. That’s awesome!

      Thanks for stopping by to read and to comment! Hugs to you!!

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