Every other Saturday I meet with a great group of guys for a Bible study. Every time I go I find myself renewed and challenged in a new way. This past Saturday, one of our guys said, “You guys know me, I’m an open book“. I’ve heard this many times before. I mean we all have right? It’s an indication from the other person that you are free to ask whatever you want. Essentially stating that I’ll let myself be “read” and known by you. Perhaps a heavy statement said a little too lightly. I’m not sure why, but hearing it this Saturday struck me differently. I realized, “I don’t think I’ve ever said that and meant it”. Why?
I don’t think I’m alone. I think there’s a lot of us who want to be open books, but instead, our books remain closed, the contents safely hidden from those around us. To be clear, the book we’re talking about is the narrative of your life. It’s not just the things you’ve done, it’s all the things you hoped for, thought of, were disappointed with, loved, lost, and on it goes. That’s heavy reading.
I think there are three key reasons that we remain closed books.
We would rather people appreciate the cover
Strolling through Barnes & Noble you’ll quickly find that some books are just simply more attractive than others. They’re more appealing because their covers draw us in. Whether it’s an artistic interpretation of a key scene, a striking photo of the author, or a unique illustration, you are simply drawn to the books with covers that attract the eye. Tangentially, we’re simply more attracted to some Instagram profiles than others. Whether it’s the perfect bio, engaging highlight icons, or unified filters, some Instagram profiles just draw you in.
In both these examples, we see that the adage “Don’t judge a book by its cover”, is quite the opposite. Yes, one is very literal, but the other is just as true. The cover of our “book” is so thoughtfully constructed. We’ve worked hard to craft a reputation, a resume, and a track record of visits to the local church. Our author bio on the back is simple, positive, and says all we want someone to know. We want the cover of our “book” to be incredibly engaging. The problem is that we want people to only be interested in our cover and never read the story. We seek to be known by our cover.
Our story looks like a rough draft with edits
Now in today’s age, rough drafts can actually look pretty okay if you’re typing them up. Don’t like a paragraph? Delete it! Don’t like the name of a character? You could do a find and replace. Growing up though, we had to use paper and pencil to write our first draft. We’d hand it to our friend who’d mark it up, then re-write it so it was just perfect. If you turned in the peer review, or rather, just the draft, it’d be full of errors and you’d certainly get a bad grade. So the final draft was always the version you showed the teacher.
The problem is, we don’t get to rewrite our story, no matter how much we want to try and edit it. We’re writing the book as we go, which means it’s as real of a first draft as we’ll ever get. Sometimes though, we take a pause, look at what’s already been written and become ashamed.
When we look back we see characters we wish had never been there. Maybe there’s a character we really wish had been around longer or at all. There are chapters we want to put a big “X” through and claim they never happened. Some plotlines never seemed to have finished, or go anywhere at all! The words are imperfect and the cadence is off. There’s a lot we wish we could re-write.
The plot isn’t interesting, it just isn’t worth reading
I don’t care how much of a bookworm you are, at some point, you have read a book that you just genuinely couldn’t wait to put down. For me, that book was The Crucible. Fourteen-year-old Justin could not care less about the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. Would twenty-four-year-old Justin? Chances are slim. To me, The Crucible had a plot I didn’t find interesting and so I didn’t think it was worth reading!
I think we believe this about our own stories as well. I think we believe that my plot isn’t worth sharing because it isn’t interesting. We think that there isn’t a purpose of opening our book because no one would want to read it anyways. That somehow, our lives just don’t have the same draw as others.
Opening the Book
So what do we say in response to these things? They’re real concerns and are often deeply woven into our subconscious. I believe opening up our lives requires that we acknowledge that sharing our true, vulnerable stories, can greatly influence those around us and better ourselves. In Daring Greatly, Brene Brown says, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path“. If I were to summarize this, I’d say Brene is stating that we need to become open books.
On a practical level though, I feel there are three key takeaways from the above points:
- To be seen is not to be known. Someone reading the cover of a book cannot very well say, that they’ve actually read it. Just because someone liked your picture, doesn’t mean they know the story. Maybe you can’t say the whole story, but give a quote or a summary or a snippet, something! Let people get past the cover.
- We live in a broken world, everyone has parts they wish they could edit. Yet, every part of your story makes you, the central character, who you are today. God loves who you are today, not who you could’ve/would’ve/should’ve been. Lean into Romans 5:8 which says “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” You don’t have to be perfect to be loved, you’re loved as you are.
- Your story may not be the story that everyone needs, but it is absolutely the story that someone needs. Your life has a great purpose, your story will have someone hooked. Just don’t forget to share the highs and lows. We love our heroes because of the tragedy they overcame, not because of how easy life was for them. Better yet, we resonate most with the heroes who have overcome what we’re going through.
For my fellow followers of Christ, 2 Corinthians 12:9, says, “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” Consider that telling your story may be the thing that draws someone into a relationship with Jesus. Let Christ move powerfully in your life, and the lives of those around you, by letting them read your “book”.
It’s not easy to be an open book. But it’s worth every bit of effort to try.