Listener Questions, Part Two

On last week’s podcast, Dan Allender responded to listener questions about leaving and cleaving in dating relationships. This week’s question, one that will take two weeks to explore, will likely be familiar to many of us: “As I work deeper into my story, how can I honor my own heart, and my spouse, when he or she is not willing to engage his or her own story and suffering?” Before we can look at all of the implications that are packed in that one painful question, it is necessary to look at another question: “What does it mean to engage in story?”

“Most of our conversations are really just about what we’re experiencing, what we need, what we’re thinking about with regard to the now. […] The task is to hold time together—not to be so bound to the present that we lose the reality of how we came to be who we are in these moments in the present, or how we’ve come to the dreams and desires of the future based on things that have been germinating in us, honestly, for decades. The ability to hold time is what I mean by a commitment to story—not just one dimension, but all dimensions of time, in fact, time that goes into the realm of eternity.”

This engagement with the past to illuminate the present and refocus the future means entering and exploring, again and again, the experiences, characters, and settings that have shaped who we are today.

“How did I become who I am, both so deeply broken and equally, if not more, so deeply beautiful?”

Even as we continually learn to explore our own histories, we experience something totally unique, something beautiful and heartbreaking, when we enter the stories of other people, and when we allow others to enter our stories.

“It’s what happens whenever your imagination is loaned to another reality, for it to become then a part of your own existence. We experience this when we read fiction, when we see films, even when we watch the news—there is an empathic joining, to some degree, of the experiences of others. […] That’s the core of what it means to share story. And for the person who’s asking this question, that loss of experience, that loss of someone joining you […] oh, oh what a painful question.”

As we allow trusted individuals to enter stories that might feel familiar to us, dwelling in and exploring our past experiences, asking new questions and looking from new angles, those stories are expanded in profound ways, clarifying how we have become who we are today.

“That kind of dwelling is an experience that is such a profound loss when it’s not there. How many arguments, how many fights between a husband and wife, have occurred when really all that’s being asked is, ‘Would you suffer with me?’ I’m not asking you to do a damn thing, I just want you to resonate, feel what I feel, like a tuning fork that just somehow brings to the other a sense of, ‘I know what is vibrating in you.’ That’s what we’re meant for.”

The more we learn about the ways our stories reverberate and impact both the present and the future, the more it becomes clear that we were not meant to do this work alone. And yet, for many of us, finding someone who is willing to enter this journey with us, in all of its heartbreak and all of its glory, is itself a lonely and painful challenge. Tune in next week as Dan continues to reflect on these important questions.

“What if you have no one open and willing to do that kind of work with you? How will you live? How will you live with that person? It’s very important to address that, and to the listener who brought that question, I grieve for the implications of that for you. […] How do we live well, with regard to our own and other’s stories?”