Have I ever told you that ever single time I publish a story at any of the Deeper Story channels, I wake up the morning the story runs with a knot in my stomach? I'm always borderline terrified about how the story will be received.
As I've talked to fellow contributors there, I've realized I'm not alone in this. There's something about intentionally writing in a space that honors story - no matter how messy or ugly or even seemingly pointless that story is - that invites us to throw open our closets and let our skeletons dance.
Lately, however, I've been thinking about another aspect of the power of story. Yes, story has been a supremely powerful medium that inspires what I share with others, but I'm finding myself more and more sensitive to how story influences what others say to me.
As we get closer and closer to the birth of our boys, I'm reminded so much of all of those new baby parenting topics that for many years now, I've spoken to only in the great theoretical rather than as one in the trenches. I'm reminded, too, of how eight years ago as a first-time mom, these questions felt to me like veiled accusations, like a thousand prickly indictments building the case that I was missing the mark as a mom.
How is she sleeping at night?
Haven't you started her on solids yet?
Don't you think it's time to get rid of the paci?
Eight years ago, I was a raw, throbby, insecure mess of a new mom. And the main reason I heard those questions, comments, and suggestions as accusatory and judgmental is that my Mama Filter was brand new, too. It was flimsy and easily punctured by the slightest suggestion. I can't say I would change a thing about who I was and how I perceived the advice of others because what I internalized from that moment in time would later inspire Spirit-Led Parenting.
But as that chunky, brown-eyed baby who needed so much from me grew up into a pretty amazing and independent kiddo, and as we added a spunky, can't-be-contained free spirit of a younger daughter to the mix, I grew and grew and grew, too. And my filter through which I heard others got tougher and less defensive and more empathetic.
It seems that at the mature and silvery-haired age of thirty-five, I've finally learned to filter what I hear from others through the subtle subtext of story.
I've learned that what others say to me - whether it's about parenting choices or theology or politics - often has less to do with me and my thing and more to do with them and their thing. And that their thing almost always has a story behind it.
While this may seem obvious to many, this is a little bit of an epiphany for me. For years, I've tried to assign positive intent to others, especially those with whom I disagree. But it has taken me this long to discover that there is a difference between assigning positive intent as an act of sheer will and assigning positive intent because I know that no matter what words are coming out of a person's mouth, there's a story behind it.
When a friend tearfully tells me she is absolutely terrified of having a Cesarean birth and that it represents the worst possible birth scenario to her, me and my c-sections x2 (almost 3!) don't have to be offended. I can choose to filter that through story, and I can know that if I scratched the surface a little bit, there would be a pool of depth to what she was saying that could be found if we traced back the roots of her fears.
When someone shrugs, "All I know is there is no way I could handle having babies if it weren't for sleep training," sure, I may cringe because of all the Big Feelings I have about infant sleep training. But instead of casting that person and our friendship off into a pile of judgment and condemnation, I can keep the conversation going, keep listening and discover that maybe it was only sleep training that saved her sanity in those early months, that it helped her to feel like she could be the healthiest parent she could be if she was able to get a full night's sleep.
And the very cool thing about listening for story from others is that it doesn't have to change my mind or my position or my stance on any given topic. Or maybe it will. Or maybe it will strengthen what I already believed to be true. That is the incredible, amazing thing about the power of story.
Ultimately, what I'm learning over and over every day is that adjusting the filter through which I hear the words of others, turning the dial away from Defensive or Argumentative or Skeptical and setting it to There's A Story There helps me. It helps me not be a judgmental jerk. It helps me put the words of others into their proper context. It helps me to remember what Jesus said - that whatever is in your heart determines what you say.
And I want to hear your heart, so I'll be listening for that. I know it's there, in the words that you say to me, both hot and angry and meek and mild. It's all there in your story. And I've got my listening ears on.