Most of us are familiar with filters on Instagram. We choose filters to present ourselves to the world in a particular light—perhaps to appear flawless or to portray a fairy-tale-like life.
Most of us also seem disdainful of these highly curated and polished avatars on social media. But what about the filters we use to view our own lives?
As we look back at past experiences and evaluate current situations, we often see life through the lenses of the stories we tell ourselves. Our stories become sieves through which we filter experiences. Sometimes, we are so invested in our stories that they become the stories we sell ourselves.
Understanding the Stories We Sell Ourselves
The other day, I met a lady who studied at the same school I had attended all my life. She graduated about a decade after me. Although we entered the same gates from kindergarten through high school, we viewed those 14 years differently.
While I often summarise my Catholic schooling as stifling and restrictive, she found the same institution stimulating and a place where she was encouraged to thrive.
On another occasion, I recently witnessed three siblings, now in their late sixties, arguing about “facts” that transpired more than 40 years ago. One sibling believed that their mother meted out punishments that bordered on torture. Another was certain that their mother was perfectly loving and never had a harsh word for anyone. The third sibling believed that she always put their dad before them.
Their dispute was a classic case of the “Blind Men and an Elephant” folk tale. As the story goes, six blind men examine one part of an elephant and come away with vastly different conclusions.
While none of these experiences are untrue, they did make me reconsider how we understand the stories of our past. With enough time and repetition, the stories of our memories become indisputable truths. But how often do we reevaluate and add nuance to our understanding of these past experiences?
How Our Past Shapes Our Present
The stories we tell ourselves about our pasts shape our personalities and colour our present-day relationships.
If I tell myself that my childhood was miserable, I may let unresolved hurt bleed into my current relationships. On the other hand, if I tell myself that my childhood was idyllic, I may let unrealistic expectations leave me dissatisfied with my present situation.
These narratives we adhere to do not remain relegated to the past. They become the filters we use to understand ourselves and our current experiences.
The Deceptiveness of Sin in Our Stories
While we live in a time where we are encouraged to “look within,” we rarely want to see the planks in our own eyes (Matt. 7:3-5). Despite the insistence on introspection, we are unwilling to perceive the sin in ourselves.
In our storylines, we want to assume the place of the good guy. Seldom do we see ourselves playing the role of the “villain.” So we morph into proficient public relations experts. We market our personal brand to ourselves and others.
In Scripture, we read about the prophet Nathan confronting David about his affair with Bathsheba and his cover-up ploy of murdering her husband, Uriah (2 Sam. 12). When Nathan shares the parable of a rich man who took and killed the only lamb of a poor man, David is indignant. He despises the rich man’s behaviour. However, David has not yet realised the point of the parable.
David had told himself a sanitised story. In his version, David had brushed off his sin with Bathsheba and his murder of Uriah. In the script that he crafted, David was still the good guy. So when Nathan declares to David, “You are that man,” (2 Sam. 12:7) referring to the hard-hearted rich man, David’s narrative unravels.
God uses Nathan to help David break out of the grip of his deceptive narrative. Confronted with his depravity, David repents. And while he faced the consequences of his actions, God forgave David and allowed him to retain his position as king.
The Gospel Tells a Better Story
God convicts us of our frailties and fallenness through his Word. He breaks the grip of pretence and pride. But he also confronts us with his grace. God’s truth—and not merely introspection—sets us free from the stories we sell ourselves.
As children of God, we do not need to hide behind the stories we sell ourselves. While our stories may be true or contain elements of truth, God writes a redemptive story for us through the power of the cross.
Through the gospel, God speaks a new story over us. Tim Keller shares this story by saying: “We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.”
We do not need to let our preconceived scripts shape us. God has given us a new heart and put a new spirit within us (Ezek. 36: 26). We do not need to fall into the rut of old thought patterns. Instead, we get to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Rom. 12:2). We get to think about things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy (Phil. 4:8) instead of reliving past hurts or dwelling on bygone glories.
In the words of David, “Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story” (Ps. 107:2). And what a compelling story it is: That he rescued us from our fallenness, reconciled us to himself, and is restoring us to the fulness of what he has planned for us.