It seemed like one of those conversations that was just going nowhere. One of those conversations spinning in memory and woe, pain and hurt, going over one more time the details as if telling it again might wear a way to clarity.
There is a time for self-pity. A time for the processing of grief and change. There is a time for telling the stories over and over again to all who will hear us. Times like these are essential for finding our way through pain to compassion, to healing and hope. It was the kind of self-pity they felt walking the lonely road down to Emmaus after Jesus had been killed and grieving that what they had hoped for never happened. (Luke 24:13-35)
Yes, there is a time for self-pity.
And there is, as well, a time to put it down. The endless spinning of our stories of woe has no chance of lighting a spark and making a fire of vision, clarity, and newness.
Boy Scouts learn that you need three things to start a fire – oxygen, fuel and heat.
The problem with the familiar conversations we spin of pain and woe, abandonment and hurt is that they don’t make room for any air. We wind ourselves so tight there’s no room for anything new to get in. For some air to get in, you need to bring in the possibility of opening up to another story.
Daniel Menaker, author of A Good Talk: The Story and Skill of Conversation, notes that good conversations depend on three things: curiosity, humor and impudence. By impudence he means a little conversational nerve to speak about what we might otherwise not say.
It’s exactly what we see happening in the story. A dead-end conversation becomes a good conversation. The stranger interrupts the two friends spinning their tale of woe with a question, “What are you talking about?” Which leads to the two stopping in their tracks wide mouthed and laughing, “Are you kidding? Are you the only one who hasn’t heard?” As they tell their well worn tale one more time, the stranger interrupts them with an audacious, “O how foolish!” and the conversation sparks to a new level as the stranger offers a different interpretation of the same events.
The day has drawn to a close and they come to the village of Emmaus. The two friends stop at the door of their home. The stranger walks on.
There is a moment.
What do you do?
You know the familiarity of going back and winding around yourself your familiar stories of pain, regret, shame and woe. You now the familiarity of rubbing over and over the sharp stones of your own broken past.
You know as well that voice that you hear sometimes as a whisper, “It’s not too late. Change your life.”
There is a moment. This moment. What do you do?
Do you go in and shut the door? Return to spinning in your familiar old story?
Or despite everything in you that is full of fear of where it might lead do you shout down the road and invite the storyteller in, “Hey, come back! Join us for supper!”
As children we learned that when there is danger of a fire, you put your hand on a door first and don’t open it if it is hot.
If it is God’s spirit, God’s fire beckoning you to new life on the other side of that door, you need to risk opening the door even though you don’t know where it will take you or how it will change you.
If you open the door what may well come forth is an avalanche of verbs like came that day – blessing, breaking, sharing, burning, recognizing, telling. Changed lives. A new story.
What will you do?
Today, will you open the door to a new conversation and the possibility of hearing a different story?