Writing provides us with a powerful tool
to organise overwhelming events and make them manageable.7 It was on
Pentecost Sunday, 1985, shortly after the breakup of our ministry
team, that someone brought me this word from the Lord: “I have a
message, I have a pen. If you are willing, I will be with you.” This
is what I have been doing ever since, and in these next two sections
we will be seeing just how therapeutic both writing and music can
James Pennebaker is the author of
several pioneering publications that demonstrate how recording our
traumas on paper can lead to genuine grief resolution. In a
publication that pulls together the fruit of ten years of research,8
Pennebaker shows that if we simply describe some traumatic event in
our past – even giving full rein to our emotions as we do so – we
will probably derive no lasting benefit from the exercise. His great
discovery was that if we then proceed to record not only how we felt
about it at the time, but also how we feel about it now, that is
when something remarkable happens. By confronting the past, we as it
were remove its horns and are free to move on again.
Can it really be so simple?
Pennebaker discovered that people obtain the maximum benefit if they
write four fifteen-minute bursts over a period of four days. Louise
de Salvo, a creative writing specialist, confirms Pennebaker’s
findings,9 and goes on to warn that anyone who does not put pen to
paper will become increasingly irritated and even depressed until
they do so!
Despite such encouragements, many
people many of us find the thought of committing our deepest sorrows
to paper daunting. We are bound to find reliving our most intense
experiences emotionally challenging, but both Louise and James see
this as appropriate pain: something that is worth enduring in order
to reap the benefits.
In his subsequent studies, Pennebaker discovered that people who
have been made redundant reported a much higher success rate of
finding new jobs, and those who had lost their spouses made much
faster recoveries as a result of following this pattern of writing.
The studies also showed that doing
this on a regular basis reduced physical and mental stress and
boosted the immune system. By contrast, those who neither spoke nor
wrote about their traumas fared less well.
Those for whom writing currently holds no special place in your life
may be tempted to skim over this section. If you know that there are
hurts in your life that you have not yet recovered from, however, I
would encourage you to try doing precisely what James and Louise
recommend: four bursts of fifteen minutes of writing, spread over
There is no need to edit and polish
these passages. You are not writing with a view to anyone else
seeing your work: all that matters is to tell the story, taking care
to record how you felt about it at the time, and how you feel about
A word of warning. When you first set
out to describe some trauma, you may (intentionally or otherwise)
find yourself omitting some vital part of the story.
It takes time and courage to reach
such a place of inner honesty, but this is when you will begin to
discern the hand of the Lord in issues which, until now, may have
felt only like severe loss. Grief resolution proceeds apace as you
come to see hidden blessings springing from even the hardest times!
Taking time out to write about
specific traumas is therefore anything but self-indulgent. It has
the power to stabilise our subconscious – which is, of course, the
driving force behind how we really are. Just as the vast bulk of
icebergs lie beneath the surface, so too do the greater part of our
memories. Like a gigantic storehouse, the subconscious contains not
only every experience we have ever been through, but also the
imprint of how we felt and responded to those events. On a
day-to-day basis we are largely unaware of these, but they are
closer than we realise, awaiting only particular triggers to flush
them into the open. As Mike Field commented,
||I found it valuable
specifically to invite Jesus to be Lord of my subconscious
mind. Doing this put an abrupt end to very troubling
recurring dreams I had been having since I was a child.
Don’t expect miraculous
results every time you pick up a pen – but do expect
attempting this exercise to have beneficial effects in terms
of helping you to come to terms with things that have
happened in the past.
If at some later stage you feel moved
to share your insights with a wider audience, you will benefit from
the practice you have gained in “writing to order,” as opposed to
writing only when you feel like it. This will help to school you for
the serious discipline of shaping your original jottings,10 for
although writing may be the most portable of callings, that does not
make it an easy option. Just as with anything that is of lasting
value, it is less a question of finding the time to do the necessary
work of editing so much as making the time.
Write to God, for God, and about God;
write to loved ones and about loved ones, and pour out your hopes,
dreams and memories. Turn thoughts and impressions into carefully
crafted prayers for the people and situations you are concerned
about. It can be incredibly powerful!11