February 2, 2015—I was a hospice chaplain for about six years. It was a great job, despite the obvious need to redefine professional competence and success that comes with the territory. Nothing I was able to do would help the patient “get better.” And every one of our patients died. Over six hundred patients died under my ministry. That’s not something I put on the resume.
One of the most significant pastoral interventions I did with my patients was to help them engage in life review. Not only was this practice very therapeutic (and healing) for the patients, but it was part of what made my job such a gift of grace for me. I learned to appreciate the truth that we are the story of our lives. That being so, how we choose to write that story as we go through life becomes one of the most important tasks for living.
Stefán Snaevarr, in “Don Quixote and the Narrative Self,” (Philosophy Now March/April 2007) explores the significance of narrative for the formation of self and meaning. He writes,
The idea that our life is a story is by no means new. Thus the great bard Shakespeare said that life “…is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” (Macbeth) However, it took philosophers some time to discover the philosophical import of this view of life. It was actually a German chap called William Schapp who first gave this age-old idea a philosophical twist. He maintained that we live our lives in a host of stories, which have connection with the stories of other people in various ways; so actually, our selves are nothing but cross-sections of stories. Our identities are created by a vast web of stories, as is our relationship with reality. We understand and identify things by placing them in the stories we tell about them: just like selves, things do not really exist outside of stories. We are caught in this narrative web because we cannot exist outside of it. There is a world-wide web of stories: the world is that web.
As an educator and someone who works with Bowen Family Systems Theory, with its emphasis on the self and its context in the multigenerational narrative of family, I continue to appreciate the power of narrative, and the stories it contains, for learning and for personal growth. The use of narrative is a primary resource for helping students achieve meaningful learning, and in working with persons on life and work issues.
So, what’s your story? What is the narrative of your life?
Where and when do you have opportunity to tell your story?
Where and when does your church provide opportunities for its members to share their stories?