Hard Stories: Writing for Yourself

As ministry practitioners and nonprofit communicators, we are often called to sit with difficult stories of human suffering and injustice. And, even though we are storytellers, not every story is for sharing.

Woman sitting, thinking, looking at her journal. Hard Stories - writing for yourself

Last week, I received an email from a longtime friend, asking for help with a medical issue for a young man halfway around the world. A small group banded together to pay for his travel to get treatment, but he didn’t survive the journey. The intensity of my own reaction to the young man’s death surprised me. I never met him. I didn’t know him. But his situation triggered many more stories. 

I’ve not been great at journaling lately, but I couldn’t leave this story alone. I wrote, then kept coming back to it all morning. Kept grieving. Kept writing and revising, finding just the right words for a story no one would read but one I had to write. I felt guilty for not being productive, and then I felt guilty for putting productivity above grief. Jesus wept, after all.

Maybe you’ve been there. Crying in silence because you’re the leader and you have to be strong. 

Leaders carry heavy stories.

As ministry practitioners and nonprofit communicators, we are often called to sit with difficult stories of human suffering and injustice. And, even though we are storytellers, not every story is for sharing. Our words are also meant for remembering, exploring, questioning, and hoping.

“Prayerful lament is better than silence. However, I’ve found that many people are afraid of lament. They find it too honest, too open, or too risky. But there’s something far worse: silent despair.”

― Mark Vroegop, Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy: Discovering the Grace of Lament

I want to encourage you to use writing and storytelling privately. Allow yourself to make incomplete sentences and drip tears onto a perfectly good notebook. 

Journal, scribble, type, doodle–whatever works for you. No one is grading this. No one ever has to see it, unless you need someone to bear witness with you, which is also quite a release. 

We need help, too.

There’s an old philosophical question. “If a tree falls in the forest and no one’s around to hear it, does it make a sound?” And that’s actually how I felt a little bit last Friday when I was spending time on this article that nobody’s going to see. I felt like I just needed one person to see it, one person really, to bear witness to it. This story needed to land somewhere. Someone needed to hear the proverbial tree fall.

I finally called a fellow communicator (one with a pastoral heart).

“Not for sharing,” I said, “but I need someone to read this.” 

Some time later, I received a simple, compassionate text: “I’m in tears.” 

Boom. That was it. The tree fell. Somebody heard it. At that point, I could go on with my day. 

We all need people with whom we can share our laments, not as a writing exercise for critique but just someone who can bear witness with us for those stories that we can’t share publicly. I hope you have somebody like that. And I hope you’ll take the time to use your writing skills to help yourself heal, to help yourself go through the things that we all go through, the things that are big in your life.

We all need reminding from time to time that writing doesn’t have to be work all the time. Writing doesn’t have to have some outside focus or outside purpose all the time. It doesn’t have to be something you’re doing to get better at your craft. Just do it for yourself. Put another tool in your self-care toolbox.

I pray that you have people in your life you can share your deep hurts with, and that you can share your cries with, and that they can walk with you in tough seasons. 

Resources

Mark Vroegop, Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy: Discovering the Grace of Lament
Michael Card, A Sacred Sorrow: Reaching Out to God in the Lost Language of Lament (Quiet Times for the Heart)

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