How Writing Can Heal Us

In the busyness and noise of life, it’s easy to become unaware of our inner thoughts and feelings;  a result of this disconnect is a loss of integrity. We don’t follow through on a commitment yet are clueless of the cause; we block out feelings of anger, fear, discouragement, anxiety, and guilt and have no idea why we are depressed. In my post today, I’m talking about a process that has helped me get in touch with and evaluate the thoughts and and feelings of my heart. I call this process prayer-journaling.

It’s been my practice for many years to put my anger, fears, pain, other emotions, questions, and thoughts into words, place them on paper and give them to God. Placing these matters on paper makes me aware of what is going on in my heart and mind. The second part of prayer-journaling is listening to God, hearing his response to my concerns, receiving wisdom, correction, resolution to issues, and peace. His responses are always in line with the principles and truths of Scripture.

Journaling without the  help of the Holy Spirit and the study of Scripture is dangerous because we end up in endless self-examination and confusion. This is what Leanne Payne, in her book The Healing Presence, calls “the disease of introspection.”

Prayer-journaling is not my invention. David’s psalms are wonderful examples of this, and studying them is the very best way to learn how to proceed. Other resources are Listening Prayer: Learning To Hear God’s Voice And Keep A Prayer Journal by Leanne Payne and Dialogue With God by Mark Virkler.

Much of my poetry writing is directly connected with prayer-journaling and practicing the presence of God. The following poem became my inspiration for today’s post.

Writing reveals the pain
That our hearts contain—
Shame, guilt, and fear.
Why should we go there?

“The past is the past,”
We claim—but it masks
Our passion and kills
Our resolve . . . makes us ill.

We feel like a fake,
Hide every mistake—
Become addicted,
Confused, and conflicted.

Writing could help us heal,
Allow us to feel
What we have suppressed
And deceivingly dressed

As healthy and good.
Through writing we could
Uncover the facts,
Discover our lacks,

Stop blaming others—
Our fathers, our mothers,
Our neighbors, our friends.
Could writing heal? That depends

On how we proceed.
When we humbly concede
We need help from above—
Ask that heavenly Dove

To open our eyes
And do not despise
Our Creator and Friend,
He will graciously send

Truth, wisdom, and grace.
We will find our place,
Be productive, have peace;
Joy will greatly increase.

But when we insist
We need no assist,
God lets us ramble;
We try to unscramble

Our inexplicable riddle
Until, stuck in the middle,
We cry out for mercy.
He comes in a hurry—

His love has not stopped;
It’s only been blocked
By our blind rejection
Of boundless affection.

Give Yourself a Gift of Margin

I feel encouraged by those of you who told me that you’ve joined my “Early New Year’s Day Challenge”—thanks! It’s not too late to join; for the details, go here. I hope that you wrote out your red-light STOP list of energy-depleting activities and your green-light GO list of energy-renewing activities, and the made appropriate changes on your calendar.

When I compared my STOP list with my GO list, I saw a clear relationship between them. For example, I could remedy (STOP) feeling tired due to lack of sleep by (GO) taking naps (I’ve  taken three this week!); I could remedy (STOP) sifting through clutter by (GO) producing order from chaos (I organized my computer table.) ; and I could remedy (STOP) feelings of panic (adrenaline overload), caused by rushing to-get-things done, by (GO) revamping my schedule to give myself the gift of margin.

If you are wondering what I mean by margin, here’s a simple definition. Margin is the space above and below the print on this page, the space to the side of the print, the space between paragraphs, and the space between lines. While writing my book, Emotional Freedom, I discovered the importance of margin.

Lines that are too close together and words that are too small—like these—would make my pages difficult to read; they would probably make you feel mentally and emotionally frustrated; I expect that you would not read much of my book (or this blog post) if my pages looked like this.

This spacing feels more comfortable, doesn’t it!  I suspect that it makes reading easier for you; it makes reading and writing easier for me. Margin is comfortable; lack of margin is uncomfortable, and it produces unnecessary stress. In his book, Margin, Dr. Richard A. Swenson expands this concept.

“Margin,” he says, “is the space between our load and our limits. It is the amount allowed beyond [italics, mine]that which is needed. It is the amount held in reserve for contingencies or unanticipated situations. Margin is the gap between rest and exhaustion, the space between breathing freely and suffocating.”[i]

Swenson’s “gap between rest and exhaustion” phrase caught my attention. Rushing to-get-things done pumps too much adrenaline into our systems, producing anxiety and exhaustion. Pushing ourselves to the point of exhaustion makes us inefficient. For example, yesterday I slept poorly; when I tried to write this post, I could not think clearly. Finally, I gave up and took a 30-minute nap. After that, my energy was restored and I made progress.

In order to have the time (margin) to allow a nap, I made two additional changes. (1) I set a boundary on the number of daily, weekly, and monthly commitments that I have, and (2) I made a “NOT To-Do” list.

I found got the idea of a “NOT To-Do” list in More Writer’s First Aid: Getting the Writing Done. The author is Kristi Holl. I recommend her book not only for everyone who seriously desires to write but also for other creative people who want inspiration and need practical help to develop healthy habits. It’s available on Amazon.

 Suggested Activities:

  1. Creatively imagine what your day, week, and month would look like if you had the freedom of margin.
  2. Look at your STOP list and find something on your GO list that you could replace it with, so that the net result would be an increase of margin and inner peace.

[i] Richard A. Swenson, Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives. (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2004) 69.

An Early New Year’s Day Challenge

Although I’m very excited about publishing my book, Emotional Freedom, I admit that I’m tired. I need to slow down. But how can I do that? October is already half over and the busiest season of the year is just beginning. It’s the time when I usually gear up for end-of- the-year celebrations. And how do I end up?  Too often, physically drained, emotionally depleted, and spiritually flat. Not this year! I’m determined to make wiser choices, so that I don’t lose the emotional freedom I’ve gained and fall back into old pathways of anger, resentment, and revenge.

My goal is to reverse this unhealthy trend, accomplish important tasks for the year and celebrate New Year’s Day 2016 with emotional, physical, and spiritual reserve—a heart filled with love, a body filled with energy, and a spirit filled with joy.  If that’s something you desire, I invite you to join me in this challenge.

If we are going to end the year with both accomplishments and reserves, then we will have to make some hard choices. The first one is to face the reality that doing everything we would like to do leaves us not only financially bankrupt but also physically, emotionally and spiritually overdrawn. Therefore, some desires we must forgo, and some invitations we must graciously decline. For us conscientious and caring people, the word “Yes” is much easier to pronounce than the word “No.”

What do we say “no” to and what do we say “yes” to? In her book, The Best Yes, Lysa Terkeusrt gives some excellent advice for determining the answer. When facing a decision to take on another activity, she both asks God for guidance and examines her reserves to find out if she has the emotional, physical, financial, and spiritual resources to handle the demands of this activity.[i] (I call that an example of “Choosing grace.”)

We must take the time to honestly and prayerfully asses our present condition. The people living close to us can usually help us identify signs of overload stress such as irritability, impatience, anxiety, and unkept commitments. (For the past month, my husband has been noticing my signs of stress.) If our feelings, behavior, and family all tell us that we are nearing bankruptcy, then we must say “yes” to more of the activities that renew us and “no” to more of the activities that deplete us.

If you would like to follow along in this challenge, here is an action plan for this week:

  1. List activities that deplete your energy/resources. This is your red-light STOP list.
  2. List activities that renew your energy/resources. This is your green-light GO list.
  3. Look at your weekly calendar; mark the activities that are on your STOP list with red and reduce or eliminate as many of them as possible (take them off your calendar).
  4. Look again at your weekly calendar; mark the activities that are on your GO list with green, keep them on your calendar, and add more of these activities, if you can do so without producing an energy/resource overload.

If you are joining me in this challenge to accomplish important tasks for the year, and celebrate New Year’s Day 2016 with emotional, physical, and spiritual reserve, I hope that you will comment on my action plan and share yours.

If you feel overloaded already and need help in overcoming resentment, copies of Emotional Freedom are available. To order one, go here.

[i] Lysa Terkeurst, The Best Yes (Nashville: Nelson, 2014) 53.

Unfinished Tasks and Success: Are They Connected?

Like most Christians whom I know, I want to finish the race of life and hear my Lord say, “Well done!” Finishing well means finishing every task that we begin, doesn’t it? If you grew up like I did with the instruction, “You shouldn’t start something that you can’t finish,” then there might be guilt (as well as disappointment) related to not finishing things. Dr. Archibald Hart has a different viewpoint. In his book, Adrenaline and Stress, he makes the following astounding statements.

I suspect that the more we want to “finish before we die,” the more likely we are to die before we’re finished! Life is composed of a chain of incompletes. We never quite finish the business of adjusting to one state of it when we are pushed on the next . . . is it realistic to think that we can learn to accept incompleteness and still be content? I think so . . . A successful life will always be unfinished, and the more successful it is, the more will be left undone.[i]

Although there is plenty in my life that’s unfinished, it’s hard for me to wrap my mind around the idea of that being okay and, also, linked with success. I still have a desire to finish everything that I start. The problem is: I start more tasks than I can finish—everyday. And perhaps it would be better if I did not start some of the things that I do. I’m trying to be more realistic about what I think I can accomplish, as well as to what God would like me to accomplish.

For example, when I made it out last night, I thought my things-to-do list for today was reasonable. It seemed like my plans for today were minimal; however, by noon, even though I had not strayed far from my list, I could see that I would not be able to finish everything on it. This did not coincide with my desire to finish everything I start. Unfinished tasks feel like failure—not success.

Jesus finished every task assigned to him. At age 33,  he finished everything that was important for him to do. Everything else he left undone.  If we want to hear the words “Well done,” we must do the same. How? Maybe we could start by asking ourselves (and God) what we do not need to do.

Here are some questions to consider:

  • What tasks would you like to leave undone?
  • What tasks do you need to leave undone?
  • Are the tasks that you would like to leave undone the same ones that you need to leave undone?’
  • How do you determine which tasks are important and which are not?

[i] Hart, Dr. Archibald D., Adrenaline and Stress (Dallas: Word, 1995) p. 213

Wholehearted Living and Imperfection

100_5690Whatever you are doing, do it with all your heart—those were the words of the melody that started playing in my mind when I sat down at my computer to write this post. At first that little melody annoyed me; I did not feel excited and happy about the day—just grumpy and tired. But wholehearted living—like everything else—is a choice before it’s a feeling.  It involves many daily and challenging choices. Among them is a willingness to accept imperfection.

Brené Brown, in her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, goes beyond this; she says that wholehearted living means embracing imperfection. When I first read that statement, it did not make sense to me. I dislike being imperfect; nevertheless, it is reality. And refusing to accept myself in my imperfect state insures unhappiness. It means that I can only be satisfied with an accomplishment if it contains no flaws.

Last night my husband asked the members of his small group (of which I am a part) to share an accomplishment that they felt good about. When my turn came, I held up my book and said, “I published my book and here it is! I’m excited about sharing it.”  I am excited, yet my excitement fluctuates. Putting my imperfect but growing self “out there” for others to see is exciting, but also scary. How do I overcome the scariness? By reminding myself of the truths reflected in the following poem, written before my hair started turning gray.


I would like to reach maturity without the graying hair.
I’d like to skip a step or two; instead I climb each stair.
I’d like to pass the tests of life without a failing score.
However, I have flunked a few; more will come, I’m sure.

I’d like to skate Olympic style—command performance sing.
But when it comes to exercise, no strength my muscles bring.
When I’m challenged by some task, I quickly volunteer—
Then emotions fade and flee, my knees give way in fear.

I’d like to boast in confidence—all my great exploits sell.
But most of them are fantasies—a lie I will not tell.
When I face reality, I know I’m simply dust.
To mold me in perfection’s plan, my Savior I will trust.

Our present reality–immaturity and imperfection is the topic I discuss in chapter 2 of Emotional Freedom. I point out that perfection is not about flawlessness, but about character change—the development of healthy love in our lives, which happens as we connect with Jesus Christ.