When I came onto staff at Mariners Church as the “story person,” I quickly began to feel the weight of holding someone’s story—and the fear of asking hard questions. In my role I was trusted to meet with individuals who were sharing the deepest pains of their life, yet when it came time to film, I shut down and told myself lies about my ability to hear their stories.
“They hinted to a traumatic experience…who am I to poke at it more? If they were truly ready to share, they already would have done so. I can tell this story without any of the specifics…”
This mindset trapped me for over a year, and instilled a fear and hesitancy in my interviewing posture. “I don’t have enough relationship to go there with them! What if I make things feel unsafe?”
These lies told me it was better to appear cautious than overbearing. It wasn’t until I saw a story play that left the audience with the job of piecing together the plot points, that I realized the danger in being cautious. In this story, the subject was hinting at a trauma he experienced as a child. The audience heard:
“It happened at home. I saw myself differently after that.”
Me, the interviewer, knowing the context, thought his allusion was sufficient, and that the vague response would allow the audience to plug and play their own story into the scenario. What I didn’t realize, was how harmful that was for not only the subject, but the audience. What was “it” that happened? Was it assault? Was it something he did or was done to him? I saw the engaged faces of the audience turn to introspection, away from the story in front of them. It took them down a path to find resolution with their own trauma, because there was no longer a promise of resolution on the screen. It was unsafe.
I knew had to approach interviews more ruthlessly in order to give the audience a clear path to travel.
Rooted celebration came a few weeks later. I have the honor of going through the Rooted cards and choosing individuals to share. I decided that this time, I’d dig a bit deeper than what was written down.
It started simply, but boldly. I asked, “Would you be willing to share what that shame was about…specifically?”
We hide so many details of our lives behind closed doors, mostly due to shame. There is a fear in opening a door and releasing whatever darkness lives behind it. But what we see on display in Rooted, is the power of “me, too.” When we share our stories, doors are swung opened, and someone in the group starts to believe, “If they can draw their secret out…maybe I can too. Maybe I can bring this shame into the light and remove its hold on me.” And while there is power in saying “I have addiction…I struggle with anxiety…I am trapped by envy…” there is another victory just below the surface. Addiction to what? Anxiety from where? Envious of whom?
I once thought “who am I to go there with this person?” Your calling to lead your group, your own experience of freedom in sharing your story—that qualifies you. The safety you create in your group, and your willingness to lead by example, will invite others to do the same. Some might not be ready, and there is still great power in the broad strokes, but my encouragement to you, is to take a chance and see what the power of specificity can unlock not just for those listening, but for the person sharing. More often than not, people are waiting for the invitation to go deeper, they are seeking freedom. To know the intimate details of our stories are not too much for others to walk into, is the transcendent power of community, and it lies in the courageous pursuit of honest storytelling.
Alana Aronson is the Story Curator at Mariners Church, Irvine. She cares deeply about people, and believes in the unity and empowerment that emerges when an individual shares his or her story. Leading the Story and Video Team at Mariners, Alana is passionate about putting God’s work on display through honest and creative communication.