Writing to Remember

Online Writing Retreat 2014

Memories can be tricky, and sometimes they hide, even when we’re trying to locate them! With the right kind of writing exercise, sometimes we can get past the various defense systems that block us from remembering. We may not remember simply because the memory goes so far back in time. We may not remember because there is an emotional resistance to the event. We may not remember because our reason has not been able to make sense of what happened, and so it’s easier to dismiss it.

Prepare to Write

  1. Set a time to do this writing. Plan a half hour sometime today and put it on your schedule as an appointment you must keep.
  2. Choose a place to write. It should be free of distractions; you know the conditions that work best for you, whether a home office or the corner of a bedroom or a table tucked away in a local coffee shop.
  3. Make the space conducive to writing. Disconnect from the Internet; turn off your phone. Get rid of clutter, such as books, calendars, or projects. Enhance the environment with what helps you: background music, a lit candle, an image or object that calms or inspires you.
  4. Give yourself five minutes to settle in and get ready to write. Sip your coffee or tea, if that helps. It’s probably better not to have food around because eating can become a distraction. Find a good position for sitting. Close your eyes or find a visual point of focus. Take several deep breaths.
  5. Consecrate the time, space, and your efforts. Accept this writing time as God’s gift to you. Offer your time, energy, and work back to God. Ask the Holy Spirit to clear the way for writing that will benefit you. Expect good work to happen.

Do the Work

Most of the time, it’s best to write quickly and not think too much about what you’re writing. This allows the flow of material to come forth. Choose one or both of the following exercises.

Exercise #1
Bring to mind a specific room in the house where you grew up. You might need to sketch out a rough floor plan. Where were the doors and windows? What furniture do you remember? Colors of paint or wallpaper? Features that ornamented the room, such as pictures, vases, mementos? Describe every detail you can remember. Then try to remember something that happened in this room: a conversation with your mother, or you and a sibling lying around on couch and floor, reading or watching TV. Try to write this event as a scene with a beginning and an ending.

Exercise #2
Recall an emotionally charged conversation you had once. It’s best if it involves you and only one other person rather than a group of people. Try to reconstruct it as though you’re writing a movie script. Describe the other person—his or her appearance, clothing, posture, physical movements, facial expressions. Describe all of this about yourself as well as you can. For instance, you could not see your own facial expressions but you could feel what happened in your face—the clenched jaw, the tears stinging, the sudden grin that stretched across both cheeks. You might write this scene twice—once from your point of view and then from the other person’s. Indicate if there was a high point, low point, or turning point in this conversation. Describe the emotions you felt and how your body felt because of those emotions.

Reflect on the Work

  1. Read what you have written during this time.
  2. Highlight or underline a word, phrase, or paragraph that has the most emotional pull for you as you read it now.
  3. Ask these questions: How did it feel to do this writing today? Was there a free flow to it? Was there resistance? Did I feel relieved to do this writing, or was the experience unsettling or negative in some way? What one bit of wisdom can I glean from today’s writing? What outcome from this exercise am I most thankful for?
  4. If there is some action you need to take, as indicated by this writing experience, make a note of it. If you can, plan how you will take action.
  5. You can take this a step further and talk to God [Jesus, Holy Spirit] or Mary or your favorite saint about this experience.

If you feel so inclined, share with the DDF community a sentence or two about this experience. I’d like to collect sentences from as many people who are willing.


I wrote the material this week especially for this online retreat—these are not book excerpts! However, if you find this material helpful and would like to pursue your writing further, you will probably enjoy my book: The Art of Spiritual Writing: How to Craft Prose That Engages and Inspires Your Readers. Use code 4535 to purchase your copy at 30% off through 10/05/14. Shipping and handling are additional.

Writing to Pay Attention

Online Writing Retreat 2014

Creative work, such as writing, can help us build a habit of attentiveness. Putting a feeling, a situation, or even a thought into words makes it easier to identify and name. And once we’ve done that, we might be better prepared to deal with that feeling, situation, or thought.

Prepare to Write

  1. Set a time to do this writing. Plan a half hour sometime today and put it on your schedule as an appointment you must keep.
  2. Choose a place to write. It should be free of distractions; you know the conditions that work best for you, whether a home office or the corner of a bedroom or a table tucked away in a local coffee shop.
  3. Make the space conducive to writing. Disconnect from the Internet; turn off your phone. Get rid of clutter, such as books, calendars, or projects. Enhance the environment with what helps you: background music, a lit candle, an image or object that calms or inspires you.
  4. Give yourself five minutes to settle in and get ready to write. Sip your coffee or tea, if that helps. It’s probably better not to have food around because eating can become a distraction. Find a good position for sitting. Close your eyes or find a visual point of focus. Take several deep breaths.
  5. Consecrate the time, space, and your efforts. Accept this writing time as God’s gift to you. Offer your time, energy, and work back to God. Ask the Holy Spirit to clear the way for writing that will benefit you. Expect good work to happen.

Do the Work

Most of the time, it’s best to write quickly and not think too much about what you’re writing. This allows the flow of material to come forth. Choose one or both of the following exercises.

Exercise #1
Select an object in your house, preferably one that has some meaning to you beyond its apparent purpose—for instance, if you choose a drinking cup, it should be the one you use every day for your coffee or one that belonged to your grandmother. Sit with this object for a few minutes. Then write about it. Begin with physical description, and don’t leave out anything. Include color, shape, size, texture, appearance, its weight in your hand.

Then write more about it—whatever comes to mind. Write about why you chose this cup. Write the emotions, if any, that surface as you sit with the cup. Write about a conversation you had recently while drinking from this cup. Write anything that you associate with the cup.

Exercise #2
Sit in a public place where you can watch people without being obvious or intrusive. Allow your attention to be drawn to a particular person or to two people who are interacting. Describe what you see, beginning with the obvious details, such as physical appearance. Then describe how this person moves; what she does with her hands or her head when she’s talking, how quickly/slowly and heavily/lightly she seems to be breathing. Notice where she focuses her eyes. If she is interacting with someone, write down everything you notice. After a while, try to write about what emotions she seems to be expressing. Write other things too—does she seem tired? Is she hesitant or eager to talk? What does her body language say about her well-being?

Reflect on the Work

  1. Read what you have written during this time.
  2. Highlight or underline a word, phrase, or paragraph that has the most emotional pull for you as you read it now.
  3. Ask these questions: How did it feel to do this writing today? Was there a free flow to it? Was there resistance? Did I feel relieved to do this writing, or was the experience unsettling or negative in some way? What one bit of wisdom can I glean from today’s writing? What outcome from this exercise am I most thankful for?
  4. If there is some action you need to take, as indicated by this writing experience, make a note of it. If you can, plan how you will take action.
  5. You can take this a step further and talk to God [Jesus, Holy Spirit] or Mary or your favorite saint about this experience.

If you feel so inclined, share with the DDF community a sentence or two about this experience. I’d like to collect sentences from as many people who are willing.


The Art of Spiritual Writing book coverI wrote the material this week especially for this online retreat—these are not book excerpts! However, if you find this material helpful and would like to pursue your writing further, you will probably enjoy my book: The Art of Spiritual Writing: How to Craft Prose That Engages and Inspires Your Readers. Use code 4535 to purchase your copy at 30% off through 10/05/14. Shipping and handling are additional.

Two Differences between Forgiveness and Reconciliation

Sometimes we hesitate to forgive because we think it must automatically include reconciliation. These are two separate processes, and one does not always lead to the other.

handshake

1. One person can forgive; it takes two to reconcile.

With God’s help, I have the power to forgive anything. That doesn’t mean that I’m willing to forgive anything or that it will be easy. And sometimes a wrong is so heinous that it can take the rest of my life to forgive completely. But the possibility is there. My capacity to forgive does not depend on anyone else’s behavior or permission. The person I forgive can continue to be cruel, thoughtless, and relentlessly set against me. But he or she cannot command my spirit to offer or withhold forgiveness. Forgiveness is a spiritual act, which means that, ultimately, I rely on God’s grace to accomplish it. In fact, my own faults and weaknesses will get in the way of my ability to forgive, especially in some situations. But whatever I’m lacking, God can supply. At times my need for God’s assistance is acute, but when I choose to forgive, my effort does not rely on any other person.

Reconciliation is a multiple-person process. When I reconcile with another person, both of us must first ask and/or offer forgiveness. But it must go further than that. Both people choose to do whatever it takes to restore the relationship. One person can be completely willing, but if the other person is not willing, reconciliation is not possible. This means that I can forgive someone for damaging our friendship, but perhaps I don’t feel safe enough to resume the friendship. That might happen later, but for now I will forgive and leave it at that. Or I might forgive and be ready to reconcile, but the other person no longer desires this relationship. Or the other person can forgive me but not want to reconcile; or the other person forgives me but I don’t want to reconcile. It’s worth noting here that some damage occurs in relationships that are out of balance to begin with, such as the friendship in which one person is needy and the other one always comes to the rescue. In such cases, reconciliation—if it should happen at all—will require a complete reconstruction and that only after one or both people have dealt with their individual issues. Reconciliation can be long and painful and messy, but it can also be well worth all the turmoil if the relationship is indeed restored. Sometimes restored relationships are stronger than they were before all the trouble.

2. Forgiveness is an interior discipline; reconciliation is an outward process.

Forgiveness is a private and ongoing discipline of mind, heart, and soul. Actually, forgiveness is one aspect of an overall posture toward others and life itself. If I am judgmental and vindictive in general, forgiveness will be an awkward and difficult change of direction for me. If I hope to forgive specific wrongs others commit against me, then I should be practicing this very day to look at others with openness and compassion, to be slow to place blame, to resist seeking revenge. And I can practice forgiveness without anyone else knowing what is happening inside me. I may be terribly hurt at something another person said, and I know that before I confront that person in any way, I need to choose forgiveness. I might silently work on forgiveness—in my prayer, meditation, talks with a counselor or spiritual director—for days or weeks without talking directly to the person whose words hurt me so. In some cases, I might go through that private process, realize that the wrong wasn’t as blatant or as intentional as I first thought, and then get over it completely without the other person ever knowing about my struggle.

Reconciliation is not private because it must include at least one other person. Sometimes reconciliation includes others as well, such as pastors, mediators, and counselors. When I’m working on reconciliation, of course I do my own interior work, but I must also cooperate with the larger work that involves others’ schedules, personal difficulties, and needs. I may feel a burning desire to have a discussion immediately and try to restore this friendship, but the other person has a lot going on—dealing with her teenager, pressures at work, or health problems—and she simply cannot enter such a heavy conversation yet. My loved one may want to reconcile now and move back home, but I know that until she has received professional help for her substance abuse or mental-health problems, such a move would be a mistake and likely result not in reconciliation but a bigger mess. Reconciliation is as complicated as the people involved, and it can require more time and patience than forgiveness because of all the moving pieces. Another huge factor in reconciliation is the inclusion—or, intrusion—of other friends and family members. Additional people can provide strength, encouragement, and wisdom. They can also provide more opportunities for argument, miscommunication, and flawed strategies.

  • How do you deal with the gap between forgiveness and reconciliation?
  • How do you know when forgiveness must be enough for now?
  • How do you know when it’s time to try reconciliation?

Four Examples of False Forgiveness

silhouetted figure alone

Sometimes forgiveness . . . isn’t. Here’s what I mean.

1. I’m very sweet to you, but it’s all about my control.
I keep saying, “Oh, it’s all right,” or “Let’s just forget about it,” but I never actually say, “I forgive you,” even though you ask my forgiveness. This is my way of holding over you whatever you’ve done. I’m saying everything is fine, but you are left wondering when the other shoe will drop. We both know that if another problem develops between us, I’m going to bring up this other thing you did—even though at the time I said, “Oh, it’s all right.”

2. Rather than forgive the wrong, I minimize the wrong and don’t deal with it.
I say, “Oh, don’t worry about it. Of course I forgive you.” But I end the discussion before the two of us are able to acknowledge the harm that was done. I gloss over the event/offense as if it’s not really that bad, even though both of us know that it caused much hurt. I do this because digging into the wound would be painful for me and for you, and I just want to avoid the pain. Unfortunately, by avoiding this pain, I allow the initial wound to remain unhealed.

3. I call it forgiveness, but actually it is a form of enabling.
My husband keeps abusing me, or my grown child keeps taking advantage of me. So I keep forgiving the offense because—isn’t that what Christians are supposed to do? No. The Christian life is about ongoing conversion, about healing, about helping ourselves and others grow into Christlikeness. When I forgive abuse while remaining in the situation and participating in the dysfunction, I have become an enabler.* The husband becomes even more violent, more often. The grown son or daughter refuses to grow up and learn to manage life better. This sort of “forgiveness” doesn’t help anyone. When Jesus saved a wrongdoer from the death sentence, he said, “Go, and sin no more”; he forgave the sin but required real change in the sinner. So forgive the man who beats you, but get away from him—involve police and attorneys if necessary. Forgive the child, but stop paying her bills and babysitting for free and at her convenience; she may finally own her problems and learn to solve them for herself. Be free of bitterness over the wrongdoing, but protect yourself—and the wrongdoer—from more of the same. And do not allow others, no matter how well-meaning, to get in the way of your personal survival and progress by selectively quoting a few Bible verses on forgiveness minus any context or spiritual depth.

4. I say, “I forgive you,” but what I really want is to force a change.
If I forgive you, then maybe you’ll relent and do things my way. If I forgive you, maybe we can go back to the way things used to be. If I forgive you, maybe you’ll see me in a whole new way and everything can be better. If I have a tendency to manipulate or try to manipulate people and situations, I will be tempted to use forgiveness—or the appearance of forgiveness—to obtain a certain outcome. Forgiveness is not about getting other people to be different or to behave differently. Forgiveness simply frees me and the other person from past wrong or hurt. It’s nice when forgiveness becomes the impetus for good change, but we don’t forgive in order to force change. Forced change does not endure anyway.

  • When do you know that your forgiveness is not really forgiveness?
  • When do you know that another person’s show of forgiveness is not the real thing—or is it even possible to determine false/true about someone else’s forgiveness?

*Domestic violence is pervasive and no respecter of persons. The violence is never the fault of the person being abused. In this post I am speaking in quite general terms about how misconceptions about forgiveness can lead us to remain in bad situations. Victims of domestic violence do end up “participating” in unhealthy family systems; this in no way implies that they have caused the problem but that they are caught up in a web of relational behaviors that self-propagate and harm everyone involved.