by Benjie Colberg, Class of 2019
We don’t talk about story enough. You have one, I have one, your parents have one, your boss has one, even Kanye has one. But do we know these stories? Do we know the stories of our friends and family? Do we even know our own? Before this year I would have said that I knew mine, but I would have been lying. Sure, I knew the obvious things pretty well—where I was born, what my childhood looked like, where I went to school, and what the triumphs and tragedies in my life were, but I hadn’t yet sought to understand how all of these experiences had shaped me and continued to shape me. Fellows woke me up by asking me to wrestle with and engage my story, and in turn, engage my Creator. While there are many themes of the Trinity Fellows year, one that rings loudly for me can be summarized by John Calvin (with a Benjie Colberg addition at the end), “One cannot truly know God without knowing oneself, and one cannot truly know oneself without knowing God. [Additionally, one cannot truly know others without knowing oneself]”.
Fellows creates the space for you to dive deeply into your story in ways that are simultaneously burdensome and beautiful. I say burdensome because all of our stories contain memories and experiences that are difficult. We all encounter loss, pain, sadness, embarrassment, and brokenness in our lives… this is inevitable. To look back on those times and recount them is a heavy, yet imperative endeavor. For understanding and naming the brokenness allows you to more clearly see the beauty that takes place as a result. As Fellows, this process begins during Testimony retreat, where you are asked to share your story, broken pieces and all, with 15 strangers. That was a sacred time for us as a class, as we heard each other’s life story up to the day we arrived in Charlottesville. The stories were hard, they were funny, they were unique, they were sad, and they were joyful. Yet most importantly, they were all beautiful, because our God writes beautiful, redemptive stories. Testimony retreat allowed us to take off the masks we wear in public and be vulnerable with each other, a necessity for friendship.
From there, we continued to learn how we are wired through various assessments such as the Enneagram, Myers-Briggs, Highlands Ability Battery (a test that shows your natural abilities), and MCore (a test that shows your core motivations). We dove into what these results mean for us—both how our stories are impacted by our personalities and how our personalities are impacted by our stories. We also explored our stories’ role in shaping our interactions with family, friends, and strangers. While this introspection was a good and necessary first step, perhaps more importantly we were given platforms to understand each other’s results, painting a more clear picture of who each person is. As the Fellows year proceeded, we had roundtable dinners and retreats, where it seemed that every speaker told us his or her story and how God had brought redemption through it. We heard from pastors, artists, singers, writers, educators, students, parents, husbands, wives, bankers, financial advisors, and farmers. Their stories have shaped them into who they are today, and across the board, their ability to know their own story has offered them a deeper relationship with God, their families, and their friends. It’s difficult to quantify the encouragement we have felt from the stories that have been shared with us this year.
So what does this mean for us moving forward? I think a few things. First, we must continue to engage our stories, as they are still being written every day. Our stories change every time we tell them, because more has been added. Ceasing to do so would be failing to love ourselves and as a result, failing to love our Creator. Second, we must be intentional in seeking to know each other’s stories! How can we pretend to understand where our friends, colleagues, parents, and the other people we interact with are coming from if we don’t really know them? (Trick question, we can’t). I know we will be better friends, workers, bosses, husbands, wives, and parents if we give the people in our lives the opportunity to tell us their story. Vulnerability breeds vulnerability—sharing your story with others allows them the freedom to share their own. Lastly, and most importantly, we must, at all times, look for God in our story. In my short experience, I’ve seen that I can’t always find Him in the present stages of my life. He seems quiet, sometimes nonexistent, and that can be disheartening and scary. Yet I rest in the knowledge that I always see Him when I look backwards, or when I hear other people’s stories. Aren’t we missing the entire point of being human if we don’t do this?
It’s bittersweet to think that we only have a few weeks of Fellows left, and I will miss these people, this place, and this program more than words can express. Yet I am eternally grateful for the chapter of my life that Fellows has written. I feel honored to have played just a minor role in the story of my brothers and sisters, and I know that our stories together are just beginning. For that’s what happens when you engage and know other people’s stories… you create friendships that are deep, that are true, and that will last. That is a beautiful thing, and I find great comfort in this truth as I prepare to move on from Fellows to wherever it is that God would continue my story!