No matter how hard we try not to be, we are — each of us — storytellers. You don’t have to have your name on the New York Times bestseller list. You don’t need a blog or a web site. A stack of journals by your bed, and boxes more in your basement? Not required. No need to preach a sermon every Sunday.
Honestly. None of that is what makes us storytellers.
Every single, ordinary, regular, no-surprise-to-us life is, in reality, a uniquely beautiful, breathtakingly spectacular, fabulously stunning story. There will never be another one like it. Not ever.
Together, H and I have painted many rooms. H is better at it than I. I’m always in a hurry to see the finished product. I load up the paint roller and slide it across the wall, then I bring in the furniture and hang the curtains and add a little mood lighting. I call H in to stand next to me while we admire my work, and he says, “Holiday.”
“Holiday?” I asked, the first time he said it.
“Yep,” he answered, pointing to a spot on the wall. I walked over to take a closer look.
“What do you mean, holiday?”
“Well,” he said. “See that spot right there? You didn’t load up your paint roller with enough paint. Looks like the roller had a spot where there wasn’t any paint on it at all. No paint on the roller means no paint on the wall. See? Right here.”
I leaned in and, sure enough, there was a spot where the old paint color bled through the new. “Yeah. I see it. But why are you calling it a holiday?”
“Because it’s like the paint went on vacation. Took a break. Opted out. Went on holiday. There’s nothing there. You missed a spot.”
“Be yourself,” a wise preacher once said to my husband. It was years ago, at the very beginning of H’s ministry. “When you stand in the pulpit, be yourself.”
A lot of H’s seminary classmates were trying to sound like preachers they admired. They copied the cadence and the stance and the rhythms of the seasoned preachers who’d gone before them. But this wise preacher cautioned my husband against that practice.
“If, when you stand in the pulpit, you’re trying to be like someone else, the pulpit is empty,” the wise preacher said. “The person you’re trying to be isn’t there, and neither are you. So, the pulpit is empty.”
“You can’t help but tell your story,” H says to me from time to time. He says it to me when I’m staring down a deadline, or when I’m trying to get ready to speak at a conference or a retreat or to a congregation. I begin to panic, because I know I’m not going to sound like so-and-so, and what can I say that hasn’t already been said, and what made me ever think I could do this anyway? That person has more talent. And that other person has a bigger audience. And she’s got a fabulous family and a beautiful body and lovely hair and skin and nails. And what have I got?
I try to conjure up a new story to tell, or a witty sense of humor, or a higher IQ, or a deeper theological framework, and all of it falls flat. Sometimes, I actually bring the flat me to the page, or to the screen, or to the microphone, and everyone in the audience thinks to themselves, “Holiday.”
Worse yet, sometimes I bring flat, holiday me to my marriage, my friendships, my family.
I do it because I’m afraid of my own story. I’m afraid it’s not good enough. Not embellished enough. Not captivating enough. So, I stare at the blank screen, or the conference speaker lineup, and the stacks of amazing books written by amazing writers who are not me and I say (although it sounds more like a wail, or a whine) to H, “I can’t do this! I don’t know what to say! I don’t have enough information! I don’t have the right words!”
And H, unfazed, passes by the open door of my office on his way to watch a football game or take the dog outside and says, “You can’t help but tell your story. That’s all they’re looking for.” That man is right more times than he’s not.
It’s really all anyone is looking for. Whether you have a blog, a best-selling book, a jam-packed speaking schedule or not. Those aren’t the things that matter, anyway. All we really need from one another — in our marriages, our friendships, our families — is each uniquely beautiful, breathtakingly spectacular, fabulously stunning story. No holidays. No empty pulpits.
There will never be another story like yours. Not ever. We want that one.