I saw an incredible sermon this weekend that touched on the fact that maybe all of the difficult things we have gone through are not for us, but so we can be a blessing/lesson for someone else. This concept struck me. I was raised in a small town in Wyoming where it was expected to paste a smile on your face and pretend that you have a perfect life. Now, there is a difference between living a positive life and living a fake one.
This white picket fence obsession severely impacted my life when I was 15. One of my closest friends, Ryan, committed suicide. It absolutely rocked my world, and tore everything that I thought I knew absolutely apart. Suddenly, life wasn’t perfect. In my quest to heal and find understanding, I found void faces in a sea of people who just wanted to cover it up and never discuss it again. I just could not grasp that hiding Ryan’s life, and his tragic end, for the rest of my life. When I realized no one was going to acknowledge the severity of what had happened (by the way, he was one of three boys to commit suicide in our town that year), I internalized the event and thought something was wrong with me since I was feeling such an insane amount of grief.
It wasn’t until four months later, when my parents took me to speak to my pastor, that I found relief. My pastor said, “Everyone grieves in their own time, and you need to take as much time as you need.” The moment she said that, a weight was lifted off of me. I was able to accept my grief, embrace it and direct the energy of it into something meaningful in my life. I began to live each day for Ryan, because he couldn’t live it for himself. I started not to take things for granted, and started chasing after what I really wanted, because one of my childhood friends would never, ever have those opportunities, and I had to live life for him.
To this day, there are people that will not speak of Ryan with me. We became closer friends through our mutual tragedy, but yet we never spoke of it together. After his funeral, his name never crossed our lips again. Not sharing his life, his vibrancy, his story, is the true tragedy. In the quest for perfection, people fail to realize that the stories of tragedy they are hiding could actually impact others in the most beautiful, authentic way.
I learned this lesson best when I left an abusive marriage that I had splashed pretty (fake) pictures of all over social media. Suddenly, I had to explain to 50K+ blog readers why there were no longer photos of the perfect marriage, why my last name quickly reverted back. It was then I realized that if I shared all of the pretty, fun times with my audience, I owed it to them to share my gritty, tragic times as well. I sat down and wrote one of the most honest blogs I’ve ever written in my entire life (You can read it here --> Using the Power of Social Media for a Higher Purpose). I cringed as I published it, patiently awaiting the criticism that I would come under for breaking the white-picket fence ideal. Then, something shocking happened. The blog kept getting shared, and shared, and shared. Pretty soon, I was receiving hundreds of emails, direct messages, Tweets, Facebook messages in which people were sharing their own stories of abuse with me. Some told me how they overcame it, and I would get through it too, while others told me that my post helped them realize that they had the strength it took to get out of their own abusive situations. To this day, I still receive positive feedback on how the post has influenced and changed lives for the better.
I shared my taboo story about something most people would rather hide and brush under the rug, and it positively impacted so many others. What if I never shared it? What if I followed the protocol of that small town I grew up in and continued to pretend everything was fine without ever getting out of that situation? --> I might not be here right now to tell my story.
As I listened to that sermon this weekend, I realized that all of those 3AM, terrifying moments locked in a bathroom, fearing for what happened next, weren’t for me → They were for others to see that they, too, had the strength to get out of their own painful situations.
Your story is IMPORTANT and could literally save a life. We weren’t put here to live white picket fence lives, we were put here to positively influence others and provide them the strength to survive and live impactful lives. Don’t live in the dark, hiding the tragic things that have happened to you. Use those stories to heal others. As the famous Rick Warren said, “Other people are going to find healing in your wounds. Your greatest life messages and your most effective ministry will come out of your greatest hurts.” Tell your story. I dare you.
- Marji J. Sherman