For the past decade, doctors and psychologists have been taking notice of the health benefits of reflective writing. They note that wrestling with words to put your deepest thoughts into writing can lift your mind from depression, uncover wisdom within your experiences, provide insight and foster self-awareness. From autobiography to blogging to the increasingly popular genre of memoir, writers similarly laud the benefits of writing. Whether publically, anonymously, or privately, confessional writing can free the writer “to explore the depths of the emotional junkyard,” as one describes. In my own experience, writing has no doubt been a helpful way to sift through the junkyard, though perhaps most effectively when exploring in good faith and not merely reveling in the messes.
Writing is helpful because the eye of a writer seeks the transcendent—a moment where the extraordinary is beheld in the ordinary, a glimpse of clarity within the chaos, beauty in a world of contrasts. When Jesus stooped over the crumbled girl at his feet and wrote something in the sand, the written word spoke more powerfully than the anger of the Pharisees and well beyond any shame of the young woman. For those of us looking on through story, his words remain unknown but no less powerful. Writing is a tool with which we learn to see ourselves more clearly, a catalyst for which we can learn to see thankfully beyond ourselves.
In the C.S. Lewis novel, Till We Have Faces, the main character, Orual, has taken mental notes throughout her life, carefully building what she refers to as her “case” against the gods. Finally choosing to put her case in writing, she describes each instance where she feels she has been grievously wronged. It is only after Orual has finished writing that she soberly recognizes her great mistake. To have heard herself making the complaint was to be answered. She now sees the importance of uttering the speech at the center of one’s soul and profoundly observes that the gods used her own pen to probe the wounds. With sharpened insight Orual explains, “Till the words can be dug out of us, why should [the gods] hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?”(1)
There is something about writing that can introduce us to ourselves and to the image of another—both outside and within us. Daring to utter the words at the center of our souls we may find the words leading us to truer selves. What if God could use your own pen to probe the wounds of your life? In the intimate descriptions of life recorded in the Psalms, the writers express loneliness, joy, even frustration with God. “What gain is there in my destruction, in my going down into the pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it proclaim your faithfulness?”(2) Yet the psalmists seem to walk away from their words, not with tidied moralisms or regret and recanting, but with a clearer sense of what they meant and what they did not know—and of the one who helped them see. And, I would add, their honest words have been a source of encouragement to countless lives, pointing many to wisdom, to beauty and depth, to a God enthroned on high.
As Jesus stood with the girl at his feet in the middle of a group armed with power and hatred, the one who called forth creation and worked the heavens with his fingers, crouched down in the sand and with his human finger changed a life with a word. Face to face with God in human flesh, her despair and shame was remade into a startling glimpse of the God in the midst of it.
Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
(1) C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces (Orlando: Harcourt, 1980), 294.
(2) Psalm 30:9.