I love stories. I love reading, writing, hearing, and sharing them.
I haven’t been secretive about the fact that I am working on my own memoir. I’ve written dozens if not hundreds of pages already. The thing about my memoir is that I don’t know when or how it will end. The writer in me is anxious to tie up this latest season of our life with a great big bow and call it done. Don’t we all do that? We want a conclusion. It doesn’t have to be a fairy tale ending but there has to be some kind of closure right?
I am the closure queen. I will try to make plans all day long thinking I can force resolve in whatever area I feel is left undone. This has really backfired when I made snap decisions rather than having patience.
Last year I read Brene Brown’s book “Rising Strong” and it talks a lot about how we make up stories. This insight has absolutely revolutionized the way J and I
fight dialogue. It is a simple phrase that changes accusations from arrows to question marks. Instead of trying to point fingers and lay blame we take our offenses and say “The story I am making up”. There is a whole book about it, so I am going to oversimplify here with an example.
Wife: Why didn’t you get home at 5:30 like you said?
Husband: I got caught up in a conversation with my boss and felt like it would be rude if I left.
The wife could go on a tirade about how he always does this and she can’t trust him to stick to his commitments at home. Another option is for the wife to really search for what is bothering her and what it is that she believes about her husband without claiming it as a fact. That’s where The story I am making up comes in.
Wife: The story I am making up is that you are using work as a way to escape your family and you like it better than being at home.
The reason this method dramatically changes the conversation is because we are owning the fact that our brain really does make up stories and a lot of times they are fictional stories! When J and I say “the story I am making up” we are much less defensive and ready to untangle the feelings that each of us are dealing with.
There is a whole science behind what our brains will do to bring closure to help us feel better about a situation. Brown explains it saying
“Our brains reward us with dopamine when we recognize and complete patterns. Stories are patterns. The brain recognized the familiar beginning- middle- end structure of a story and rewards us for clearing up the ambiguity”.
I don’t know about you, but as the “closure queen” I do not like ambiguity. Knowing that our brains find relief in these patterns helped me realize why I was trying so hard to push the plot line of my own real life story. I recently heard someone on a podcast say he always thought his life would have more of a narrative arc. That’s me! I subconsciously like to live in a novel and sometimes I think I can even write it, which couldn’t be further from the truth. I make decisions that can affect the outcome, but God is writing my story and I would be better off trusting him and learning how to float rather than swim aimlessly.
This analogy of swimming was brought to my attention recently since my youngest son is learning to swim. You can’t learn to swim if you can’t learn how to float and you can’t learn how to float if you can’t learn to relax. Holding your breath and propelling yourself underwater will only last so long. I’ve watched him in this struggle. He can dive for items in the shallow end and swim underwater like a champ, but he can’t come up for air unless it’s shallow enough for him to stand up. I have been anxious to teach him the skill of floating as it could potentially save his life. So I had him lay on his back on the water and I held him in place with my hands on his back. He kept wanting to lift his head up. It was a natural reaction for his body to want to resist going under water. I told him to trust me and let go of all the tension in his muscles and really lean back and look at the sky. I felt his abs contract and said to him “The more you struggle the more you are going to sink.” That’s when it hit me: that has been me lately. I have been swimming around without direction and it is tiring. As much as I want to work out all the details of this next chapter in my life story, God is teaching me to be still and wait on Him. Relax.
So I am working on that trusting HIM with total control of my story and I guess I am still learning to float.