Week 2, Day 1: Experiences
Stories matter. Many stories matter.
Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign,
but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize.
Stories can break the dignity of a people,
but stories can also repair that broken dignity.
- Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
READ: GENESIS 37:2-11, LUKE 2:41-42
In Ephesians, Paul writes, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10). Leadership expert Bobby Clinton writes that one of the key contributors to the development of a great leader is the ability to tell their story, to be able to pinpoint pivotal experiences in one’s life that have helped to form them into who they are.
There is an ancient Greek maxim that says, “Know thyself.” Too often, in our generation, overloaded by media stimulation and overwhelmed by the many swirling — and sometimes conflicting — narratives in our culture, we don’t take the time to listen to God’s story and we fail to look at our own lives with the understanding that our choices and our experiences have made us who we are, for better or for worse.
You might prefer to completely forget your past; or perhaps you spend too much time reminiscing about the past. Neither extreme is the path to flourishing. Rather, it is in looking at our lives both with brutal honesty and in the light of the grace of God that we will find the way forward to fullness of life and full partnership with God. As story consultant Bobette Buster puts it, “Stories embolden, strengthen, and establish how we can become our very best.”
In the stories of both Joseph in the Old Testament and Jesus in the New Testament, we can see experiences, particularly early in their lives, that formed who they would become. For Joseph, favoritism in the family, a special gift, dreams of grandeur, and familial animosity. For Jesus, a trip to Jerusalem, a choice to stay behind, signs of greatness and wisdom, and a revealed understanding of priority.
The first piece of learning to tell your story is looking back at the experiences that have made you who you are. A college mentor of mine once said to me, “God never wastes an experience.” At the time, I was in the middle of a difficult season, confused about a broken romantic relationship I had thought would end in marriage and uncertain about my vocational and professional path; it seemed everything was foggy before me. I remember nodding in agreement, accepting the statement in theory. But it would take almost a decade before I would see it worked out in my own life.
God never wastes an experience. You may not be in a place right now where you believe that or you may not want to believe it or you may not yet see how that is true, but it is the witness of Scripture and of countless lives over millennia. And perhaps yours too.
REFLECT & RESPOND
Head: As you look back on your life, write down 3-5 key experiences you had that you think made you who you are today, for better or for worse; for example, a childhood trauma, a special gift, the loss of a loved one, a breakup, a life-giving relationship, even a world event that directly impacted you (such as 9/11). As you write each one down, add one or two sentences about how the experience impacted you.
Heart: How do you respond to the words “God never wastes an experience”? In what ways have you seen that to be true in your life so far? In what ways are you still waiting to see the reality of that statement? Do you tend more towards wanting to forget your past or to dwell in your past? Why?
Hands: Sometimes we can feel like we need to carry the burdens of our past on our own, or that we need to hide certain things about us so that people will like us. Are there any experiences in your life that you need to share with someone? Do it.
Ask God to help you see how he has been forming you, and what he is forming you into.
God never wastes an experience.