Once we got through the shocking reality of the arrest, conviction, and sentencing of our son, we had a big decision to make. Would we hide as much of the story as possible, hoping no one in our work, church, and social circles would hear about it? Or would we bring up the subject honestly, admitting the truth of what happened and discussing what we’ve learned in the process of this unwanted and unexpected situation?
Over the past few years, I’ve received many comments and questions on this issue:
- “I’m afraid my neighbors wouldn’t allow their children to play with my kids if they knew my oldest son is in prison for molesting a child.”
- “Hearing you tell your story helped me to move forward, but I’m too afraid to tell mine. I live in a constant state of anxiety, wondering if people in my building have heard rumors about my wife’s incarceration for fraud.”
- “I actually moved my family to a different state, hoping to start over in a place where no one had heard about my husband’s arrest for armed robbery.”
Your story is different from mine, but you might have wondered: What will the repercussions be if I “go public” with my story? But that’s a scary way to live our lives, never knowing when the truth will be revealed to destroy that invisible, protective bubble we’ve tried to place around ourselves.
I’ve discovered the benefits of telling our story far outweigh the liabilities, if we can just find the courage to move forward. You may not tell your story from a public platform like I do, but you’ll have many opportunities to speak to individuals or small groups in an open and honest way. Here are some practical ideas for preparing your story, whether in spoken or written form:
- Pray first. Ask God for the courage to proceed and for wisdom about what to include.
- Determine your aim. What is your goal in telling your story? If you’re a Christian, it will no doubt be to give other people hope—the hope that God will also work in the midst of their hard circumstances too. Part of your goal might be to lead people to the point of choosing to follow Jesus.
- Be alert to the right timing. Before my son’s trial, I needed to be very careful about saying anything publicly that could affect the legal process. One-on-one or in small groups I would say, “We are in the middle of a gigantic family crisis. I’m not free to share the details at this time, but I would appreciate your prayers.” That way, people who had heard rumors about our son’s arrest knew I was honestly addressing the fact that something bad had happened. I wasn’t hiding it.
- Talk about your life before your crisis.
- Explain the emotional, spiritual, financial, and physical challenges you’ve experienced as a result of your journey.
- Speak and write about what you’ve learned as a result of this life detour. What unexpected benefits have you discovered? What Bible verses helped you hold on to hope?
- Decide what action step you want your listeners to take. People usually follow through when they know what to do.
- Finish with a hope-filled thought, challenge, or quotation. I like to highlight what Christine Caine said: “God is able to take the mess of our past and turn it into a message. He takes the trials and tests and turns them into a testimony.”
Paul wrote this while he was in prison: “I want you to know, my dear brothers and sisters, that everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News” (Philippians 1:12 NLT). If God is nudging you to write or speak about your journey, consider attending the Speak Up Conference. You’ll find information here.
His Words over You
“When it comes to presenting a message of hope to others, you may feel like the least qualified, but I will see to it that you are equipped. Lean on me and I will do more through your story than you could ever imagine or request in your wildest dreams. I do this not by pushing you around, but by working within you, deeply and gently, by my Spirit.”
Based on Ephesians 3:7–8, 20–21
Question: What have you learned through the hard experiences in your life that could give others hope?