What is your favorite story and how did it influence you to become the person that you are today?
Have you ever considered the power of a great story? It might be a true story of a person who overcame great adversity, or accomplished something amazing. Or it might be a fictional story with a great meaning/moral that captured your heart.
I was reminded this week about a story that had profound impact upon my life. As a child, I loved to read. My first love was Nancy Drew mysteries (LOL) but my close second love was biographies. I loved to read about people from history, especially women, who made a profound difference in their place and time. I also loved to read stories of character development. To see someone’s spiritual, emotional or intellectual growth gave me the encouragement to grow in my own ways.
The story that had the most impact upon me was the story of Jane Addams. Jane was born in 1860 to a family with some financial means. Unfortunately, her mother died when Jane was two years old and at age five she was physically disabled by a disease. Jane knew pain and suffering. At age six she became aware of poverty and vowed to buy a big house someday to share with poor people. Years went by and Jane attended college. Then, as young women of means were known to do in that era, she did some traveling abroad. She was again confronted by poverty and visited Toynbee Hall in England, the world’s first settlement house. This visit reignited her heart to help the poor. She returned to the United States and, with the help of a college friend, she raised money to buy Hull House in Chicago. Jane and her friend opened Hull House to immigrants from many different countries who found themselves in a large city, in a foreign land, with no English language skills and much poverty. She didn’t just give them a hand out, she gave them a hand up…skills to help them get jobs, to learn English, to learn to read and help to raise their children to be productive United States citizens. Jane Addams is said to be the first Social Worker. Jane Addams went on to do many other heroic, compassionate, and inspiring acts. She was called “Saint Jane” and “Miss Kind Heart”. She was also dubbed as the “most dangerous woman in America” by the FBI at one time. In 1931 she was the first American woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. I encourage you to read more about her.
It was because of the story of Jane Addams that I ever knew about social work. As an only child of a middle class family, I did not know poverty. I, thankfully, was never exposed to abuse or addiction or family violence. Growing up in a small town surrounded by family, friends and a nurturing church, I did not have any concept of life in a big city surrounded by strangers. Reading about Jane Addams and her compassion for people in need ignited my compassion for people in need. It introduced me to the struggles of immigrants. It opened my eyes to the challenges of big city life, especially at the dawn of the industrial age.
I dare say that I owe my 40+ year career in Social Work to reading one story over fifty years ago about one inspiring woman in history!! I tell you all of this not to entice you into the field of Social Work (though I cannot imagine a more rewarding career than I have been blessed to enjoy). I am not even sharing this to promote more compassion for immigrants or people in poverty or others in need (though it would be wonderful if you are so inspired).
My motivation today is to encourage you to read and to tell stories. Stories are so valuable to our society, and I am afraid that we have gotten away from telling them. We have gotten so caught up in our endless activities or so obsessed with our social media that we have ceased reading stories that inspire us. We have gotten so preoccupied stating (or in some case screaming) our opinions at each other that we have forgotten to tell our stories to each other.
We each have stories to tell. Stories about how we have faced hardships and overcome them…stories of people who have helped us out of difficult situations…stories where we have learned profound life lessons. If you are a person of faith, you have stories that have inspired your faith journey… stories from scripture that have spoken to your heart…stories of how God has shown up in your darkest moments…stories of Jesus in your life that made following him the only option you could entertain.
For the last twenty years, Social Work and my spirituality has taken me to the field of mental health, specifically Christian Counseling. I have come to learn how therapeutic telling your story can be. Your story has created the person you are today with all the ups and downs and character development of any great novel. Writing your story can help you to make sense of your past. Telling your story can help those around you to understand you better. If your children, grandchildren or greatgrandchildren do not know your story, I beg you to begin to share it. We have a hard time understanding where or who we are if we do not know where or who we have come from. If you perceive that your family is uninterested in hearing your story, please write it down anyway. There will be someone who needs to read it even if it is after you are no longer able to share it.
So story on, my friends! Telling your stories does not have to mean that you are just living in the past as long as that is not the only thing you ever talk about! LOL! Maya Angelou once said…”There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”