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. Similarly, a recent news article discussed the benefits of confessional writing, where one is freed to “explore the depths of the emotional junkyard.” In my own experience, writing has no doubt been a helpful way to sift through the junkyard, though perhaps most effectively when open to being surprised by beauty and not merely reveling in the messes.
Writing is helpful because the eye of a writer seeks the transcendent—moments where the extraordinary is beheld in the ordinary, glimpses of clarity within the junkyard, 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 the sins of the prostitute. As singer songwriter Michael Card writes of Jesus’s scribbling, “It was a cup of cold water for a thirsty adulteress and an ice-cold drenching in the face to a group of angry Pharisees.” 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, Til 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 has been 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, for she now sees the importance of uttering the speech at the center of one’s soul. She profoundly then observes that the gods used her own pen to probe the wounds. With sharpened insight Orual explains, “Til 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 til we have faces?”
There is something about writing that can introduce us to ourselves and to the image of another. 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 of the Psalms 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?” (Psalm 30:9). Yet the psalmists walk away from their words with a clearer sense of reality. And, I would add, their 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 stones and hatred, the Word that brought life into existence and worked the heavens with his fingers, crouched down in the sand and with his finger changed a life. Might this Word so move us also such that our own words bring us to know ourselves, the beauty and the mess, each other, and God.
Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.