The Healing Power of Our Stories

 Brenda Smit-James explaining why she wrote her memoir of healing

I wrote my memoir When God Says No for two reasons.

The first was because my heart was broken and I knew that I needed to heal.

Grief is one of the most difficult emotions we will ever need to navigate in our lives. In today’s Western society it is often considered an undesirable emotion – one we should get over and leave behind as soon as possible. And in my Christian faith, I found it conflicted with a philosophy that can be summed up in these words, said to me after church one Sunday, just two months into my grief, “Are you still crying? Don’t you know that your mother is in heaven? That is cause for celebration.”

So what are we to do with our deep emotions? A public display of our emotions is often tolerated only so long before it starts to cause others to feel uncomfortable and the message, either spoken or unspoken, is that we should move on.

I found my answer on the page and in the written word. Writing became a way for me to process my grief, my questioning, and my inner world.

First, I journaled.

And it was cathartic – to a point.

My desire to heal and my realization that I needed to move forward collided with my longing not to forget. In grief, we often feel guilty when we start to smile or laugh again. It feels a little traitorous. We don’t want to forget. We don’t want to dishonour our loved one. We want to remember but in remembering, we can become stuck and our memories can slowly destroy us.

I experienced what I call 'the guilt of forgetting and the torment of remembering'.

I didn’t want to forget but I also couldn’t continue to hold on to the memories related to my mother’s untimely death. I realized that it would slowly be the death of me. And so I took to the page. I started to write the story of my mother’s death and the journey that God took me on through my grief.

Writing my story let me take all those hard memories out of my head and put them into a story. They could live there – on the page – and I could go back to read them any time I wanted to. Now I didn’t have to try to remember them and, because they lived elsewhere, there was no guilt that I would forget them.

It was liberating, and a crucial step in moving forward in my grief journey to healing and to living life to the full again.

The second reason I wrote my memoir was to share how my story is part of God’s greater story for all of us.

As I journaled my way through my grief I asked God a lot of hard questions. I wanted answers. I wanted to make meaning out of my mother’s death and my heartbreak. I didn’t get all my questions answered but what I saw was how God guided me through my grief.

God challenged me, he didn’t rescue me. He was kind and also firm. His plans were beyond my understanding and I had to increasingly let go and trust that God was at work in the sad and difficult circumstances of my life.

I came to see my whole story, not just my grief journey, as part of God’s greater story of healing and love for all. I realized that God does not work independently from our individual stories. His great story for humankind is crafted one individual’s story at a time. I realized that to share my story was to tell God’s story in my life, a story that could help others in their healing journey.

I have learnt, the slow way, that there is no benefit in silencing my story and in gagging the difficult and hurt-filled memories that have littered my life. I have found that those memories don’t just go away. Even when I gagged them, they continued to fester and ooze with toxicity.

It didn’t matter how far away I pushed them or how much I ignored them these difficult and sometimes shameful memories were relentless. Somewhere, somehow, they would rise up again and ache to be acknowledged and disclosed. And until I did that – acknowledge them – they would continue to ravage my life in some debilitating way.

When I started to write my story, I experienced both an unshackling from my past pattern of hurt and inner healing from my deep grief. As I told my story to myself, I started to experience new insight into some of those difficult parts of my story. Not right away, mind you, but over time, I started to see the stories I had told myself through a different lens. A lens that gave me greater compassion for myself and for others. 

I believe that it isn’t just important that we tell our stories. Rather, I believe that it is vital that we tell our stories so that we can not only heal but, in joining the dots of our lives, we can start to see our story as part of God’s greater story of love and healing for humankind.

Will you write yours?

Here are other blogs on this topic:

If I Journal, do I need to Write a Memoir?

Write a Memoir and Find your Voice

Gift Yourself, Write a Memoir

You can find link to my three most recent blog posts right here.

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