Everything bad that happens to you doesn’t have to be a teachable moment.
It’s probably a product of the boom in confessional journalism and its Christian equivalent, the storytelling boom. We’re all storytellers now and perhaps we’ve internalised the idea that every significant event in our lives must be presented as a carefully-structured essay, a sermon of sorts, or like so many sermons a list of points that speak of the learning and practical application that have come out of our pain.
We hold off writing about things, not simply until we’ve got our thoughts on the subject organised, but also until we’ve got a structured message, some clear takeaways for our readers and an opportunity to be inspirational - perhaps with a few key ‘shareables’ highlighted specifically for that purpose.
This week a friend shared a lengthy update on social media, informing people of the tough year they’ve been having and being thankful that things have turned out ok, even though they still have a lot to work through. As people commented with love and support, expressing admiration for how open and ‘real’ my friend had been, it struck me that much of the post's perceived ‘realness’ lay in the fact it didn’t follow what I’m now recognising as the script we, as Christians, often follow (consciously, unconsciously, who knows?) when reflecting on difficult times.
We describe the difficulties and pain; we bring the focus back to God; we give thanks and count our blessings; we move into reflecting on any positives that have come out of the situation and our lessons learned. We can hit ‘publish’ safe in the knowledge that we’ve followed the approved framework for dealing with life’s knocks and that people will like it.
Don’t misunderstand me: this ‘script’ isn’t wrong. It’s helpful sometimes and yes, it can be inspirational. It’s quite natural for many people and in many circumstances - but sometimes it’s hard to get there. Sometimes it feels like we’re never going to get there at all. Our feelings aren’t so neatly organised and I wonder if we’ve perhaps lost something in shying away from sharing the messiness of our thought processes, preferring instead, by the time we’re ready to share on our blogs or on Facebook, to tie it all up neatly into a set of inspirational learning points that make us seem like real writers, or teachers, or ‘thought leaders’. Or at least the right sort of Christian.
We should be able to write about our struggles - if we want to - without waiting for the perfect time to share, when our attitudes are right and we can say all the ‘right’ things. We should understand that praising people and telling them how inspirational they are when they describe their pain using the ‘right’ narrative isn’t always helpful. We pick up on what we see and keep quiet accordingly when our emotions and thoughts and questions don’t follow the approved script because we worry what people might think. Our thoughts aren’t for everyone to see unless they’re ordered correctly. That's something I've been guilty of in recent times, my head a swirling mess of half written essays not considered well-formed enough to be shared because there's no teachable moment for you, or because things are still difficult, or because I can't look at them objectively and give you some life application fat to chew on.
Everything bad that happens to you doesn’t have to be a teachable moment. When being ‘real’ becomes scripted, it doesn’t seem so authentic any more. We can share our truths without completing a checklist of themes and words. And the difference will show, as it did for me this week when I read my friend's Facebook post and as it does always when I think about the stories that have stayed with me the most.