mental health & wellness, ministry, spiritual

How to Tell Sad Stories: With Holiness

How can we tell sad stories? Whether in conversation, in therapy, in writing, or otherwise, this can be a terrifying task.

I think the characteristics of Christ described in Hebrews 12 have something to say about this. Here, the apostle Paul advises “looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

God is Author. God is the Author of the Universe. He got the Story of life started, making it very “good” (Genesis 1). But his protagonists, Adam and Eve, faced the conflict of being deceived, tempted, disobedient, and ultimately separated from God.

It’s important to note that God isn’t the cause of the conflict any more than J.K. Rowling was the murderer of Harry Potter’s parents (she wasn’t; Voldemort was). Rather, God is the author of our stories, meaning they’re holy stories. Happy? No, not always. But holy? Yes. 

God is Finisher. I might even take a little poetic license and say that God is Editor. He doesn’t just throw words on a page (like I sometimes do). He doesn’t just give us life and then leave us alone to live it. Rather, He works on stories to make them sanctified, redeemed, used for good in time. As Joseph put it, talking to his brothers in Genesis 50:20, “you intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”

Christ was unashamed. Even on the cross, having been betrayed, mocked, whipped, and crucified, he “despised” (alternatively translated as disregarded, ignored, or scorned) the shame. Perhaps followers of Christ, following in his example and filled with his strength, should despise shame too.

God is  alive. Because Christ rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, and “sat down at the right hand of the throne of God,” he is still alive (Hebrews 12:2, Nicene Creed). What’s more, he sent the Holy Spirit to be Helper/Advocate/Counselor, dwelling with us and in us (John 14).

When we have to tell sad stories, we can remember:

  1. Our stories are holy.
  2. Our stories are useful.
  3. We don’t need to be ashamed.
  4. God is with us and in us.


If none of those things seem true, we can look — look for holiness, for ways to make our stories useful, for reasons to be unashamed or for confidantes with whom we can be unashamed, and for God’s abiding presence.

I’ll be looking. I hope you will too.

1 thought on “How to Tell Sad Stories: With Holiness”

  1. I love the way your reflection frames our stories theologically. In my experience, having a non-judgmental, interested listener is important–kind of a stand-in for God? Not that the listener is God. Yet she or he can represent God by listening in a way that’s compatible with your 4 points.

    I’m wondering a bit about shame. It’s one thing to ‘know’ in my mind that I don’t need to be ashamed. It’s another to walk right into it, so to speak, and just say what I need to say (to a safe person). Even though I haven’t yet gotten beyond feeling shame. For me, there can be liberating power in the way my story/stories are received. The feedback becomes part of God’s work in me–setting things right, slowly but surely.

    There are so many sad stories to be told–thanks for your thoughtful post!

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