The Stories We Make Up

Mutual friends said we’d get along, this new friend of mine and I. They recognized our common interests and desire to go deep. Plus, we were both mired in the mess of transition, looking for new connections, longing for rootedness here.

We chatted over coffee and discovered our mutual friends were right—we did hit it off. We planned to meet again a few weeks later. 

But the morning of our planned date, looking over a day unintentionally too full, I knew I had reached my limit. The slow drain we can experience in transition—all the energy needed to navigate one more conversation, one more new situation—had taken its toll. I knew that for my own soul’s sake, I had to take something out. 

I texted again. I called and left a message. I called again. Nothing.

So I texted my new friend an apology and an offer to reschedule. It felt honoring to my weariness, a healthy choice to rest rather than push through. I was sure, or at least hoped, my friend would understand. After all, she too was feeling the drain.

Until she didn’t respond. 

I texted again. I called and left a message. I called again. Nothing.

And that’s when I started making up my story.

The story I made up was that she didn’t respond out of hurt and disappointment. It wasn’t OK for me to let her down. I should have rationed my energy better to make time for her. She’d been on the fence about being my friend, and I just decided it for her with my flakiness. My messy transition self was just too much for her. 

And that’s when I started making up my story.

I tried to counter my story with reasoning. Maybe she just didn’t pay much attention to her phone. Maybe she was really busy. Maybe she had completely forgotten about our date. Worse—maybe something happened to her to incapacitate her. Maybe she was in the hospital, although that seemed unlikely. I couldn’t reason it out. 

Brené Brown says in Rising Strong that it’s important we examine the stories we’re making up. Much like first drafts of writing, they’re usually garbage-fact mixed with fiction, tainted by misconceptions and twisted realities. Our enemy loves to step in and write shame and unworthiness into our stories, trying to convince us that our version of our stories is truth.

Over the next 24 hours, I wrestled with my story. I realized it showed me how insecure I still felt about finding connection here in this new season. I recognized the raw desire in me for deep, all-accepting friendship. I questioned my decision to take that time back and determined it was still the right thing to do, regardless of the response (or lack thereof). It was what I needed to do to care well for myself in that season.

I shared the story with a friend, asking her to help me understand it. She affirmed my weariness and agreed it seemed strange that my new friend didn’t respond. As I talked with her, the shame dissipated. 

Brown says shame is a liar and a story stealer. Questioning the story I was making up helped me separate the lies from the truth, and gave my weary, transitioning heart space to be right where she was again. 

A few days later, my friend texted. She literally had been in the hospital, without her phone for a few days. While I had been making up my story, she had made up her own, filled with its own lies about her worth. We both breathed sighs of relief in hearing each other’s truth—we were both saddened to miss our time together. 

Since then, I have tried to pay more attention to the stories I make up. When my husband and I fight, or I miscommunicate with a friend, or I feel like I’ve missed the mark at work—I want to be curious about what story I’m writing, and if it’s really the truth. If we stop and examine them, they have powerful things to tell us about the voices we’re inclined to listen to. There’s an invitation in them to bring others in to help us write the true story that affirms our worth.   

Editor’s Note:

Catch Gina’s recent podcast interview with Abby Alleman, (the friend mentioned above) here.

For more on Gina’s book, Making Peace with Change: Navigating Life’s Messy Transitions with Honesty and Grace, check out Nicole T. Walter’s Mudroom review.

Gina Butz
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