I know who I am by the stories I tell to myself. The same is true of my relationships.
People who are happy in their relationships tell themselves happy stories from their relationships. They remember past events with fondness, because those are the past events they choose to dwell on. And they pick the good events of the day just past to remember and rehearse, instead of its frustrations.
Single events from life that are repeatedly told to ourselves have the ability to become the story of our lives, for good or for ill. And what’s fascinating is these stories are often untrue. I don’t mean unfactual. I mean faulty in interpretation.
I know someone whose first wife died from carbon monoxide poisoning because of a heater leak in a too airtight cabin. He only barely survived. His oldest son from his second marriage has remarked on the weight he feels that he wouldn’t be alive if his dad’s first wife hadn’t died.
That is factually correct. But only partly so. And it’s a negative interpretation of what happened. The real truth is this: He’s alive because his dad survived, and miraculously so.
One telling of this story focuses on a sad and meaningless death. The other telling of this story focuses on a miraculous and purposeful life.
How he tells the same exact story to himself determines how he views his own life. Is it sad and meaningless? Or is it miraculous and purposeful?
Interpreting the stories of our lives is everything.
Seth Godin wrote a brief and excellent blog post on how we tell stories of success and failure to ourselves. When we focus on telling stories of failure to ourselves, we begin to feel like failures, even if our successes outnumber our failures.
We become our self-stories.
But this is true not just of ourselves. It’s true of our relationships. When a husband ignores all of the loving things his wife says to him and focuses on her attempts to get him to do something she’s asked him to do for months, he tells a relational story of nagging.
The telling of negative stories in marriages has destroyed many. But the positive flip side is also true. There are many marriages that have been repaired and flourished because negative stories have been replaced by positive ones.
My guess is that there are a few relationships that have gone south on you, where you continue to tell certain stories to yourself about the relationship, reinforcing its negativity. And my guess is that there are alternative stories you could be telling yourself about these people that would renew the relationship.
The question is: Do we love our negative stories so much that we’re unwilling to let them go and replace them with positive stories?
At the heart of the Christian faith is a small meal which is eaten regularly as an act of memory. It’s main purpose is to engage the telling of a particular story. That meal, called communion or the Eucharist or the Lord’s Supper, recalls the sacrificial death of Jesus. And those who eat it are reminded every time they do of just how much they are loved. They are loved so much that the words “I would die for you” aren’t mere sentiment, but are foundational reality.
The story that meal retells is one of amazing grace: “I once was lost, but now I’m found; was blind, but now I see.” This is a story of daring rescue, of passionate love, of unbreakable hope.
So, what stories are you telling yourself today? Is there a better interpretation than the one you’ve settled on?