March 15, 2024

Getting Unstuck: Why You Need Help to Understand Your Story (Part 1)

How do the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves help us through life's transitions? Why do we need others to help us gain insight into who we are becoming?...

“We need spaciousness and freedom to become ourselves.”  – Dr. Pam King

Seeing our lives as Liturgy

Have you ever caught yourself feeling stuck in a cycle? Have you ever come to a point of realization where you start to notice patterns about yourself and your relationships with others that you’d really like to stop? These moments of revelation often come about through times of being hurt or realizing we have hurt others. These moments harken to something within us that longs to write a different story for ourselves. It’s the part of us that knows there has to be a better way.  Can we change our story so that our actions might better support our thriving? 

In a performance driven culture, it is easy to look at the things we are doing to write our story for us. Our self-narratives speak to the essence of who we believe ourselves to be. Yet, there is a challenge: we are human beings not human doers, and simple stories that only reflect our roles and contributions will fall short. Our stories and the narratives we believe about ourselves and the world are complex and develop in the context of our relationships. In these moments of insight, we have to look at the kind of person we are becoming and who we want to become. What kinds of stories help us to live fully and purposefully, supported by relationships with others? How do we examine our narratives? We do this by looking at our lives and the narratives we’ve picked up along the way. The good, the bad, the ugly, the socially acceptable and the ones we wish we never learned–all these narratives matter, because these stories can sometimes keep us stuck. Some narratives can keep us from establishing healthy relationships and investing in community – for example, some people tell themselves that they are outsiders and that they don’t fit in. Sometimes our stories keep us from understanding that we are fully loved and capable of fully loving others, which is so important for thriving. We thrive by being in loving relationships with others, with God, and with self. These relationships create a foundation for us to thrive.

How do you change a narrative that has you stuck? 

I grew up in a big sports family. Every weekend, we were traveling to a soccer or golf tournament to compete. My self-narrative was informed by the “liturgy” of the soccer field and the golf course. Sports, competition, and being part of a team were a formative part of my childhood. At its best a performative based narrative strengthened my striving for excellence; at its worst, it fostered the belief that my worth was wound up in my ability to compete. When I got to college, I wanted to learn a new story for myself. The narrative of needing to perform my way to being worthy wasn’t working. I no longer wanted my self-narrative to be dictated by how well I competed, if I won, or if I lost. The pressure to perform was mounting as I got closer to needing to commit to a school if I was going to play collegiate golf. I felt stuck in cycles of perfectionism, anxiety, and performance. That’s when one of my Bible teachers caught me. She caught me as I was spiraling in my anxiety that I would never be enough. She prayed for me when I didn’t have the language to do so for myself. I found my faith through her inexplicable love for me as one of her students. She created the safety I needed to begin to see myself through a different lens. 

Sometimes you need other people to help you rewrite your story. Mentorship set me on a trajectory to seek out community as I wrestled with these questions throughout college. I landed amongst a community of faith that welcomed, embraced, and reinforced a new narrative of belonging. I continued to seek out mentorship in this faith community because I knew that I needed others to remind me of this narrative. This new narrative was deeply relational, taking shape in the context of community rather than my ability to perform. My self-narrative began to shift, albeit very slowly and painfully, from a performative narrative to one of intrinsic worthiness. This is still something I am continuing to learn today. 

I know I’m not alone in this re-defining that takes place during emerging adulthood. Acknowledging our worthiness can sometimes feel more like a weighted blanket than an invitation to a life of purpose, especially when our worth is rooted in what we do. I’m now in my mid twenties, and I’m still on a journey of defining and re-defining who I am, but faith provides a foundation to come back time and time again to my first narrative. This is the narrative of being the beloved. Being the beloved doesn’t happen in isolation, it happens through the safety of relationships that have the capacity to hold us in all of our messiness, brokenness and doubts and still say unequivocally that “you are loved.”

Embracing our Belovedness

As a single 25 yr old, the days leading up to and following Valentine’s day carry with them an acknowledgement that singleness is a part of my story. This week in particular I am actively embracing one unchanging truth –  that in spite of my relationship status, I am the beloved. Yet, in spite of what I believe, my ability to experience this belovedness in seasons of singleness can sometimes feel more like a distant hope than a tangible reality. 

This is where the narratives we learn in our faith communities can help provide hope if we can allow them to ring true regardless of our relationship status. We were created to be integrated human beings who are able to self-soothe, attune to their emotions, and remain open to loving relationships throughout our lives. Functioning from this place of secure attachment does not come easy. It is much easier in theory to acknowledge that our primary attachment figure is God than to experience this reality in our bodies. It is much harder to embrace this reality when we do not always experience the kind of relationships that God created us for. For many of us, we may experience some cognitive dissonance about our belovedness. It goes against every fabric of our American Exceptionalism to embrace that we are the beloved no matter what our relationship status is, what socioeconomic class we fall into, where we live, who our family is, or what we believe. It is actually quite hard to embrace our belovedness. What God intended as a gift can quickly turn into something burdensome if we don’t first acknowledge our internal narratives that we tell ourselves.

With the acknowledgement of our belovedness comes an expectation that we acknowledge the belovedness of others. Part of our story is not only acknowledging our own narrative of belovedness, but the belovedness of every person around us. Part of being the beloved is being a steward of who we are. As theologian Miroslav Volf draws our attention to, we are a sum of pluses and minuses, stories of pain and stories of hope and healing–we cannot undo the past, but we do get the opportunity to redefine how these narratives shape us today. Encountering one another in the raw realities of our day to day experiences enables us to see our stories through a new perspective. Vulnerability gives us a chance to enter into each other’s narratives and remind one another that we are the beloved. 

Shaya Aguilar Thrive Fellow / Writer


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