The Story of Your Past Can Change

Your story is changing. My story is changing. All of our stories are changing. And not just stories about the size of a fish you caught or the story of your future. It is also the story of your past. It changes in how we tell it, how it shapes us, and what it means moving forward.

As I typed that last line I could see the recoil on the faces of some people. Before I even finished typing the sentence their voices echoed into the silence of the morning, “How can the past change?” I understand where they are coming from. After all, to tell a story is to recount the facts and to lay things out as they happened. Facts do not change. Therefore to change the story, is to lie.

Or is it?

One Story, Or Two

More years ago than I care to admit, I sat in a college Bible class unprepared for the day’s assignment. I slacked off my freshman year of college, spending my free time playing sand volleyball and sleeping. Throughout high school, homework seemed generally pointless, so I rarely did it. I carried this habit over into my first year of college. As I had for the previous four years, I navigated through everyday classes fairly well, but on this day, it caught up to me.

Reading the entirety of the Old Testament was one of assignments. The most recent reading assignment was 1 and 2 Chronicles, which Western Bibles place right after the two books of both Samuel and Kings. The professor opened the day with a rather simple question: “What is the first thing you noticed when reading 1 and 2 Chronicles?”

I sat there with a blank face, absolutely terrified he might call on me for the answer. The basics of Samuel and Kings were easy as we previously discussed them in class, but I had no idea what came next! I can still feel the weight of the professor’s eyes as they looked towards me waiting for an answer. Thankfully, someone near me, thinking those eyes fixated on them, piped up with the answer. “After the genealogy, Chronicles repeats 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings.”

The Stories of Israel

My classmate was right. The overlap between the first four books and the second two is astounding. But there are differences. Sometimes Chronicles will skip over key stories in the earlier books, and at other times it will add onto or tell the same story in an entirely different light. But why?

Israel’s scribes wrote the two sets of books about 100 years apart under radically different circumstances. They wrote the Samuel and Kings books, like Genesis, during the Babylonian Exile, a season where God’s people found themselves in a foreign land. They wrote them in an attempt to make sense of how a people of promise landed in exile. The broad lesson points to their lack of faithfulness. These books are an invitation to reflection, repentance, and renewal.

One hundred years later, after Cyrus allowed many of the people to return to the Promised Land, the people once again struggled to understand their place in the world. So they turned to their history. But this time, rather than focusing on why they were rightfully conquered, they celebrated the good and God’s faithfulness through all of it. These books encourage and inspire people to live from a grand past into a bright future.

The Trickiness of Truth

So what happened in Israel’s history? Who knows. Neither book intended to convey history as we think of it, and even if they set out to do so, that is not possible. Even if you have video from every angle, it does not reveal the thought or motivations of the people involved or the dynamic between them. In other words, all accounts of the past are experienced through the subjective lens of the present. Since that is what we have to work with, why not make the most of it?

Moreover, one of the most important lessons I learned on the road to abundance, is that what happens is not nearly as important as how you respond to it.

I have memories of being told, “You don’t belong.” They used to torment me but after an EMDR session, they fuel the battle cry, “I don’t belong!” What used to haunt me now inspires me to rattle cages and drop keys.

But it does not stop there. Scripture verses that once left me feeling worthless now remind me of just how beloved I am. Resentments, rather than leaving me bitter, teach me what I need to make sure I provide myself. Wrongdoings, rather than fueling crippling shame are now a voice of wisdom guiding me towards a better life. The list goes on and on.

This is not swapping out the facts for an alternative set of “facts” or denying something that happened. It is taking what is remembered, repurposing it, and giving it new meaning going forward.

So as we step into a new year, what in your story needs to change?

Further Exploration

Paper: Appendix A: Autoethonography by Joe Burnham

Tucked at the back of my dissertation is a brief paper on the research methodology of autoethnography. I wrote it while trying to figure out how to write my dissertation and it is my preemptive defense of those who see the approach I took as less than academic. It is also a deeper look at what I write in this post.

Article: What’s the Difference Between Kings and Chronicles by Clayton Kraby

Want to know a bit more about the story of Israel’s history and the changes between the two tellings? This is the article for you.

Book: To Be Told by Dan Allender

Dan is a psychologist the theologian based in Seattle. He is also the founder of The Seattle School for Theology and Psychology. Much of his life’s work revolves around story and how to heal and move forward well. This book offers a guided process into your story and how discover new ways to tell it. If you want to go deeper, check out The Story Workshop.

Action

As you head into 2022, write down some pieces of your story that you would like to think about differently. If you are feeling particularly brave or committed to the change, share them with me.

What’s Next?

That is a fantastic question. What would you like to explore next?

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