Listener Questions, Part Three

On last week’s podcast, Dan began responding to this question we received from a listener: “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?” Many of us can relate to that listener. We have experienced the heartache of having a friend, partner, or relative who is not just indifferent to our efforts to better engage our stories, but actively opposed.

“Has your story work brought goodness to you? If it’s brought goodness, then I think in a world where the kingdom of darkness opposes any kind of narrative connection between our death and the death of Jesus, our rising and the resurrection of Jesus, and our empowerment, our use of skill, gifts, talent, assets, for the larger goal of the kingdom of God—any time our story is linked to God’s story, you ought darn well predict that there will be opposition.”

Before we can engage someone else’s resistance to story work with wisdom and compassion, Dan says there are a few hard questions we need to ask ourselves:

“Is the engagement with the guts of your story deepening your heart for kindness—kindness for others, kindness for yourself? Are you a kinder person as a result of this engagement?”

“Is your grief in engaging the losses, the harm, the injuries, the insults, the shame, the violations, the abuse—is your grief finding comfort through the kindness of Jesus?”

“Does the engagement with your story actually increase your capacity to care for, to be kind toward and curious about others? What I find with people who do story work initially is, yeah, they tend to get a bit self-absorbed.”

If we find that, as we more fully engage our stories, we are growing in kindness toward ourselves and others, we are able to grieve and to allow ourselves to be comforted, and we are deepening our capacity to extend care and curiosity to others—if, after all of this, our story work is still being resisted by someone we love, Dan invites us to be curious about what is stirring up such opposition. First he reminds us that deep heart work is about transformation, meaning we are not the same person we were a few years ago—and people in your life might feel betrayed by this, hurt that you aren’t the same person they entered a relationship with, and afraid of what they might be asked to lose.

“It is a very wise thing for you to engage that question, with no blame—not saying you’re a betrayer, but simply saying they feel betrayed. […] It means you’ve got to do the work on behalf of the other who’s unwilling to do the work, at least being able to name what are they afraid to lose, what are they afraid to risk, and perhaps even what are they afraid to face? […] It really brings us to that question: Can I suffer with you? In the war that you hate your story, or you hate my story, or you hate story, will I let my heart suffer rather than letting my disappointment turn against my own heart?”

Attempting to understand the fears and disappointments of the other might help us not turn to rigidity and self-righteousness, while at the same time not getting caught in the power struggle of mockery and accusation. It will allow us to continue to offer kindness, truth, and invitation without labeling anyone as a lost cause.

“As simplistic as this will come to sound in a conclusion, I don’t think there’s a better gift that we bring to the person who refuses to engage our story than to continue to enter the drama of prayer on their behalf. But as we have said before, prayer always asks us to not only ask for what we desire, but to become what we dream.”