Shaped Through Writing by Lisa Dean
As I write, the persistent hum of leaf blowers vibrates through my closed windows to fill my ears. The indecipherable words of my husband on a work-from-home phone call drift down the hallway. My three-year-old son babbles in his bed as he attempts an afternoon nap.
Because of the sounds and movements in my household, I’m often losing my train of thought, forgetting why I’m walking up the stairs, or wondering if I’ll accomplish anything before dinnertime. I try to hold five different ideas in my head as I go about my day. So when I sit down to write, I am thankful for the keyboard’s limitations that only allow me to press one letter at a time. I’m forced to sift and strain out distractions as I produce each word on the page. This is how, in a time of interrupted routines and routine interruptions, I’ve stumbled into a practice that allows me to focus my affections on God and bolster the connection between my heart and His.
Years ago, God put a word in my heart: remember. The recurring intrusion of this one word in my thoughts left me with questions. What is He asking me to remember? And whatever that is, how am I supposed to do it? It took me years to fully explore the idea, but He remained patient as I uncovered His calling to remember Him by writing to Him and writing of Him.
He knows you and me better than we can, and He holds the instruction manual to our created selves. He saw my heart’s wandering tendencies and my difficulty maintaining focus during times of prayer. So He beckoned me to write.
Although you and I sit in different rooms, you are likely hearing or seeing something that is tempting to draw away your attention. Maybe you do find yourself in a quiet environment, but even there I would predict phone notifications, a coworker, a child, or your own wandering mind threaten to break your focus at any moment.
We know we should engage with God. We want to want to engage with God. And yet. It feels like a fight to bring our environments and minds into submission so that we can read, pray, worship, and listen.
If you find yourself nodding along in agreement with these challenges, I would invite you to try the spiritual practice of writing to and about God.
Lamentations 3:40 reminds me of the importance of seeking God through writing. “Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the Lord!” When I wonder whether I have time to fit a few minutes of journaling in my day, I remember this verse. Testing and examining my ways can be done with other methods too, but writing helps me comply with this Scripture because it turns my focus inward and upward.
As I write in the safety and privacy of my journal, I “test and examine” my ways by exposing my heart, the good and the bad. I then “return to the Lord” as I take what I find in my heart and offer it up to Him by expressing both my gratitude and desperate need.
When I write as a spiritual practice, I do so in one of two ways—prayer or reflection.
Last week I sat down to write because I was angry. Seething, really. An incident caused strong emotion to bubble up, and it left me wandering around the house not knowing what to do. After a moment, I picked up a pen and spilled out the facts, my thoughts, and my feelings onto the page. I wrote and wrote expecting to feel better. After a few minutes, I stopped and realized nothing was changing in my head and heart. I continued to bubble over with anger.
I took a breath and started a new line that began, “Father God, help me to not sin in my anger.” I told Him what I had experienced and what I felt—similar to what I had written when I first started. But this time, because I was addressing God and interacting with the Holy Spirit, He directed my thoughts to Scripture in the Psalms and gospels that addresses anger. He reminded me of his sovereign nature and His trustworthiness in every situation. It was only when I surrendered to Him in prayer that I experienced a freedom from the gripping emotion.
We cannot change ourselves, we cannot bring ourselves peace, and we cannot grow closer to God without speaking to Him. If you are looking for a place to start, begin writing about your emotions to God. Whatever you feel right now—despair, joy, boredom, or some combination—know that He wants to hear from you.
The Bible is not a simple text. Its depth and richness contain layer upon layer of imagery, wordplay, cultural references, and more. If we could easily understand everything in Scripture, then it wouldn’t be a book written by an infinite God. This is why many times we hit a speed bump in our reading. We think a phrase seems out of place, or we don’t understand an illustration. There are many ways to address our questions and curiosities including prayer, research, or asking a trusted source. One method I’ve found surprisingly effective is to write it down. As I write about it, my brain searches for connections to make sense of the passage. Writing also helps us listen to the Holy Spirit. When we write and ask God for help, He brings ideas to mind and reveals applications to our lives that we may otherwise be too busy or distracted to notice.
Reflecting on our circumstances is similarly effective. As we write about our struggles and successes, we can look for God’s hand in and among them. He is able to point out where and how He is working all things together “for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28). Through this practice, God has opened my eyes to areas of sin which I’d grown indifferent about, and He has reminded me to give Him credit for his faithfulness and provision.
My hope is that you see a way in which writing to and about God can help you engage in prayer, meditation, worship, or listening. The goal in all of it is to know God more, to lift Him high in our lives, and to increase our adoration of Him. Today, let’s go to God in our writing. Tell him what’s on your heart and mind. Ask Him questions about the passage of Scripture you’re reading. Invite him to stir up love and gratitude for who He is.
If you use writing as a spiritual practice, would you share your experience? And if not, what is holding you back from trying this practice? I would love to hear your thoughts!
*Photo credit Gift Habeshaw from Unsplash
Lisa Dean is a writer passionate about helping people cling to the peace only Jesus can provide. She writes and creates resources to invite readers on a journey of cultivating and claiming the peace of God by reframing everyday life in light of our eternal reality. She resides in Knoxville, Tennessee with her husband and two children. When she’s not reading books to her kids, you can find her sipping coffee, striking a yoga pose, or trying out new recipes in the kitchen. You can find her online at lisazdean.com or follow her on Instagram @lisazdean. For more information about seeking God through writing, check out her Journaling Toolkit: A Prayerful Approach to Fostering Peace, Contentment, and Growth.