We sat across the room from each other for three or four days, but we didn’t speak much. Maybe a smile or two were exchanged on occasion, but all I knew about the girl with long black hair sitting across the classroom from me was that she’d written a super-cool novel about a story peddler whose stories shot from her fingertips and became glassy strands of art.
I loved the story the first time I read it. I had no idea how much I’d also come to love the person who wrote it.
On the last full day of the writers conference, it was my turn to share the first chapters of my novel, a book about a teen birth-mom named Lola who became a summer camp counselor shortly after placing her baby with an adoptive family.
Lindsay offered her critique of my chapters with kindness and wisdom. And then she looked me right in the face and said, “I was a teen mom. My baby’s dad and I chose to get married and parent together, but I can relate to Lola.”
Lindsay shared the tiniest piece of her story with me in that moment. Her vulnerability drew me in. We started talking after class, and that evening another conference goer asked us, “Do you two go anywhere without each other?”
Years and hundreds of thousands of words later, she and I still share a raw, comfortable, laughter-filled friendship.
I attribute our relationship entirely to God’s generosity and the fact that Lindsay dared to share her story with me in that moment.
It’s not easy to bare our vulnerabilities and our pasts and our hearts with other people. So when they choose to count on us in that way, it’s an honor.
Before anyone ever shares anything with us, we must make an ongoing effort to be safe people. This means we don’t gossip or talk bad about others. We carefully guard private conversation. We don’t make light of others’ struggles, pain, or failure. People always notice how we handle these things, and it becomes a part of our reputations—in positive or negative ways.
While we’re working on being safe people, there are a few ways we can invite others to share.
We can share our own stories if the timing is right. If we want someone to feel comfortable around us, we can’t withhold all of our personal experiences and expect them to spill the details of their lives. We’ve all heard that good conversations resemble tennis matches, exchanging questions and answers, and sometimes we might have to “serve” first by sharing our own stuff.
We have to be available. Vulnerability doesn’t often happen on schedule, and it also doesn’t seem to happen when we feel rushed. So sometimes we have to set aside our own plans and our own agendas in order to go with the flow of the conversation. It’s not easy for someone like me who loves schedules and planning!
We ask questions with a spirit of kindness–not as an interrogation. When we ask questions, we communicate that we’re interested.
Questions lead to answers. And when our friends answer, we listen with open hearts. When we listen to someone else’s story, we might not agree with their choices. We might not agree with their perspective. We might not agree with anything. But if we’ve asked to hear their stories, none of that matters while we’re listening.
When we listen, we aren’t planning out what we’re going to say next, we’re not thinking of points to make, we’re not offering sage advice. When someone chooses to share intimate pieces of their stories with us, we can give them the gift of our time, hearts, and compassion by listening without judgment.
When have you felt safe to share your story with another person? How did the other person or people encourage you as you shared?