When I share my story, I do so to challenge women to open up their hands, and say, “God, you may have given me many blessings, but ultimately my life is based entirely, and solely, in You. You are my Source. You are enough.”
And I do that by sharing my story of loss–my son who passed away, my fiance who walked out.
Yet those losses only make sense in a wider context–namely, that of growing up with rejection because my father left. His actions made me who I am, and God ended up using it all for good. Yet I cannot tell my story without his.
When I asked on my Facebook Page a while ago what the biggest challenge is for people when it comes to speaking, a number mentioned, “figuring out how much to share”. That is a challenge, and it comes in two forms. Let’s look at both:
Sharing when your story involves others doing things wrong
That’s my case. And how do you share about things others have done that have hurt you? What if a large part of your story is abuse, for instance. Do you name your abuser? What if a large part of your story is your husband’s–or ex-husband’s–pornography addiction? Do you talk about it? It impacted you. It made you who you are today. But do you mention it?
Here are some thoughts to consider:
1. Are you in a reconciled relationship with that person?
If you are in a reconciled relationship, ask them if you can share. Say that you will put boundaries around it, if necessary–like you will only share that story out of state.
If you are not in a reconciled relationship, and it is unlikely to ever be reconciled, then I think, personally, that it is okay to share. That’s the conclusion I’ve come to in my own life. To not share means that I miss out on telling what God has done, and often through my story people in the audience are touched. You can do it tastefully, but I do believe that God wants to work in people’s lives, and if we keep things under wraps, we take away some of that opportunity.
At the same time:
2. Are there others who would be affected by this?
I spoke recently to a woman who had been in a horrid marriage where he had used porn and had sexually abused their children. When the abuse became known (the mom hadn’t known) she immediately left her husband, sued for custody, and got a restraining order.
She went through a horrible time of grieving and of trying to repair broken relationships. Now she wants to warn other women about the dangers of staying in a marriage when you know something is terribly wrong but you can’t put your finger on it. What should she share?
This is a harder case, because her story is intricately wound up in that of her children. While she does not owe her husband the right to privacy, she does owe it to her children. Talking and praying with them about what is all right to share, and when, would be crucial.
God still wants to use her story, and praying that He will open doors to minister, even if it’s not done on a large stage, is important. But it could be that with healing, her children are willing, even eager, to have her share. Nevertheless, I think their feelings and needs are paramount here.
3. Can you share without sharing details?
Finally, at times there are opportunities to share without spelling everything out. So, for instance, if your uncle sexually abused you, but you are now reconciled, or your uncle’s children are prominent in the church and don’t want it known, you could talk about how as a child someone you trusted violated your trust. You don’t need to name the person.
You can, however, focus on the details of how this made you feel, which is really far more important than what was done. Remember, people in the audience will relate to you around feelings, not actions. It is very unlikely anyone in the audience will have gone through exactly what you did. But everyone in the audience understands betrayal, and shame, and fear. Talking about those emotions is far more important than the exact details of what was done.
Now let’s look at the second scenario about deciding what to share:
What I Share Can Affect My Reputation in other Circles
I’m the sex lady. I never meant to be the sex lady, but I became the sex lady with the publication of The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex. And my husband and I speak at marriage conferences, where we always do the sex talk.
That’s not really that big a deal–until the conference is in your home town, and your mother-in-law is in the audience. Do you really want your friends and family knowing all your funny and personal anecdotes (don’t worry, we don’t get too specific, but we are funny!). That’s just awkward.
And I’ve had to learn that awkwardness is one of the sacrifices that you make for God. It’s one of the things that we offer Him, as a sacrifice of praise. Because the speaker that touches people and that leads them more and more to God is the speaker who is real. When we cover up our foibles, and our fears, and our mistakes, we aren’t real. People can’t relate to a “perfect” version of Christianity. They relate to God doing something in the struggles of ordinary people. If you don’t share your real-ness, your ordinary-ness, you protect yourself at the expense of ministry.
Sometimes God wants to humble us.
At the same time, there are lines. Jessica Harris, for instance, wrote this on my Facebook Page:
I am a high school teacher who speaks about pornography addiction, so it’s hard to keep my ministry life and my school life separate! haha. The last thing I want my students to remember is that I was the teacher who used to watch porn.
I am blessed that my speaking engagements have been outside of my immediate circle of influence, so there’s no worries of ‘cross contamination.’ Some of my school parents know what I do and tell their kids, “Did you know we know a celebrity?” And I say, “No, no. To them I am just Miss Jessica.”
She wants to be real. She wants to minister to people. But she also is right in that this could cause awkwardness at her day job. In this case, keeping them as separate as possible is likely a good idea! And keeping your boss in the loop about what you are doing, and about the steps that you are taking to separate the two, is also likely a good idea, so that nothing would ever happen that would take your boss by surprise.
It is a difficult thing to decide how much to open up. Am I just seeking attention? Do I just want to hurt this person who hurt me? Am I trying to find my own healing through speaking, and am I hurting others in the process? These are all questions we need to honestly ask ourselves and pray through with God.
Ultimately, though, your story is your story. If your story leads people to God, then pray that God will open doors and show you how to share it effectively and with integrity, even if it means that you do offer him a sacrifice of your own pride.
Want to learn how to share your story the most effectively, so it leads people to Christ–and not just focusing on what you went through? My audio download, Crafting an Effective Signature Talk, teaches you how to do just that!