But as much as our memoir is for others, part way into writing our rough drafts we discover something much bigger is happening, and it's happening inside us, the writers. And that surprises most memoirists.
We discover we're on a journey of healing.
That's because writing a memoir includes writing about the painful stuff. Often our ache is so great that we can't endure the writing. But those who persist, who write anyway—crying and clawing and fighting their way through, if necessary—find that getting their stories into writing results in healing.
Writing a memoir changes us because if we give it the needed time and dig deep enough, the process helps us wrestle with ourselves, our memories, and God.
Writing a memoir can:
- help us make sense of hurtful, confusing incidents,
- reveal answers that have too long evaded us,
- process grief,
- reshape our perspectives,
- help us get un-stuck, and
- move us toward healing, forgiveness, peace, and hope for the future.
Secular studies show that writing can improve our physical and emotional health and, I'm convinced, it improves our spiritual health as well. The most powerful result of taking time to reflect and unravel is to discover the ways God was actively, graciously, mercifully working out His good plans for us—which you and I probably didn't recognize in the midst of the incident, or saw only dimly.
In that way, writing our stories helps us learn from the past, strengthens us as individuals, deepens our relationship with God, and makes us more grateful than before.
But we won't discover the many blessings unless we're willing to take the time and make the effort to put our stories in writing.
Let's look at what others say:
“When I first started writing out my stories, facing painful memories was difficult,” writes memoirist Kathleen Pooler. “As I kept writing, new insights revealed themselves…just through the process of facing them and writing about them. I experienced healing through reading my own words and began to feel I was on the other side of the pain.” (The Role of Mindfulness and Memoir Writing in Healing: A Reflection)
“It's hard to go back. To take a moment to stare at the burned parts, the ones seared into the fabric of my life,” writes Amanda Hill. “Sometimes it's okay to remember. Because in the hurt you see all the healing that's taken place over a lifetime. You take note of the way it's formed you.... You see for the first time how far you've really come.”
“[T]hrough writing I've discovered that...protecting and preserving our stories is about discovering God's story,” writes Mick Silva. “What he did through us, with us, in spite of us.... To speak its life-affirming power in proper words and context, it can be the delight of our lives, an endless source of inspiration.”
So we work out the pain, we work through it. Mick also says, “So face the pain. And how is that done? I believe that's done by writing with God.”
“Some days I could not write and some days I could only write a little,” writes Martha Graham-Waldon. “But by the time I finished my memoir, I did have a sense of closure and resolution of my past that brought me to a place of peace in the present. Even though writing my memoir was painful, I know it would have been even more painful not to write it. To carry around the hurt and memories like a cloud hanging over my head would have been harder still. Instead, I was able to release the clouds into bursts of cleansing rainfall and healing sunlight after the storms.”
Sherrey Meyer writes, “With each word typed, I felt changes taking place. The invisible scars created by years of verbal and emotional abuse seemed to loosen. Old hurts seemed to soften despite the painful process of remembering.”
She also writes, “Writing soothes and heals by extracting those memories from your inner being and on the computer or paper. No longer do those bad memories live in you. You have moved them to another place and time outside yourself. ”
You’ll especially want to read Cecil Murphey’s words. He describes himself as a “hurting, fragmented individual” as a result of childhood abuse. He writes that after he became a Christian, “I grew beyond the pain, but those childhood memories remained. For most of my life, I wanted to obliterate them.”
He shares significant lessons he has learned since then:
“First, I couldn’t undo my agony, no matter how many times I relived the memories or wished my childhood had been different.
“Second, I… connected with people on a more-than-surface level…. I sensed their pain and felt deep compassion for them…. I assumed it was in spite of my dysfunctional background—that is, that I had overcome the trauma of a negative childhood. About four years ago, however, I realized I’ve been able to connect with others because I experienced pain and struggled for spiritual healing. I call that reusing my pain.
“The agonizing memories no longer hurt or cripple me. Instead I’m using my experiences to understand others enmeshed in trauma. At the same time, my soul remains scarred. For me, that means the trauma has been covered by God’s grace, even though the distressful memories won’t be totally erased. Not only do I accept those scars, but I’m at peace. Because I experienced emotional damage and anguish, I find common meeting places with others whose wounds still fester.
“Here’s the best lesson I’ve learned: Although I’m marked by my inner scars, I’m also empowered by my experiences. I need both. We need both.” (Scars)
Recognizing God’s loving involvement in your life,
even through the painful parts,
transforms you and deepens your faith for the future.
If you doubt that, give it a try—
write your stories,
discern what God was up to
and discover how your life and faith have changed.