by Sue Fulmore
Flannery O’Conner said “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.”
Keeping a journal is a way of making sense of my life, of figuring out what I am thinking and feeling. It is almost like the thoughts, struggles, obsessions, fears of my unconscious mind flow out through my pen onto the page. It is here that I begin to discern what lies within.
As children our sense of self often comes from our place in the social setting of family with all of its rules, values and beliefs. My small enclosed world shaped my identity as a young girl. The norms that defined how a female was to speak and behave were enforced and applauded. The expectations placed on me were often good and existed to guide me into becoming a valuable member of society. I learned to work hard, follow through with promises, tell the truth, and be kind to others – all positive traits worthy of pursuit.
It was the subtler, often unspoken requirements that began to take the life from me. The “me” being created was one who pleased, who did not make waves, whose opinions were not needed, who behaved like a “young lady” at all times. During my childhood years, I interpreted my experiences as telling me that I should be quiet and that my opinions did not matter.
Being a very social child, I remember being reprimanded many times in first grade for talking too much in class. As punishment I was told to put my head down on my desk and consider my failings. My tears would flow and soon my desk would be flooded. I desperately wanted the approval of my teacher and that meant curbing my desire to talk with the other kids. Not feeling free to express myself, I ended up “stuffing” my emotions, quelling thoughts, and living in the shallows. I came to the place where I did not even who I really was and this is when writing saved me.
Writing in a journal became an acceptable place to express my thoughts and emotions. When I got angry but could not identify where this was coming from, I could “hash it out” on the pages. The very act of writing about my circumstances and the events that led up to the rage I felt, became the arrow pointing me to places within that needed my attention. I continued this practice for years. For instance, when my own daughters were teens and we dealt with conflict, I often gained deeper insight and empathy as I processed on the page.
Journaling became a way for me to talk to God. As I saw David express his emotions in the Psalms, I learned I could pour my heart out before God. I can rant, plead, cry, complain and finally come around to praise.
Writing is a way to pay attention. I am often rushing from one thing to the next on the to-do list and spend little time being fully aware of the moment I am in. Writing about what I see outside my window, the hard parts of my day, the ways that I experienced love or kindness, is a way of “listening to my life”, as Frederick Buechner would say. In this way I come to see myself more clearly, the ways that God has been present, the ways I have been blessed. It is comparable to the difference between grabbing a bite to eat in the car and sitting down to a leisurely multi-course dinner. As I write and pay attention, I begin to savour my life, tasting fully the bitter and the sweet.
There is a curious thing that happens if I do not write for many days in a row. The pace of life seems to speed up and I can barely catch my breath. It is like I am suddenly in the rapids, out of control and hanging on for dear life. But as I take the time to reflect on and record my life, I come into still waters where I can enjoy the scenery and fully participate in this adventure.
Writing also helps me to remember. It seems as though I have selective amnesia. I so easily forget how far I have traveled on my journey, how I have grown, how God has been present, how my children have matured, how my marriage has shifted and deepened. The act of recording these things, helps me to acknowledge all of the feelings and gain a deeper appreciation for my actual life. There is a reason that the Israelites were instructed to mark significant events through festivals, altar making, and storytelling. It was to help them remember, to rehearse the goodness of God for their benefit and for the generations to come. When I write, I can do the same. I can look back to the ways that God provided and led, growing my own faith and the faith of my children.
“The writing itself reveals to us what is alive in us. The deepest satisfaction of writing is precisely that it opens up new spaces within us of which we were not aware before we started to write. To write is to embark on a journey of which we do not know the final destination.”– Henri Nouwen
Writing consistently took me on a journey with God and to my interior spaces that I had not acknowledged or explored. Eventually, I began to feel it was time to share my writing with some other people. This took writing to a completely different level. What I confidently wrote on my pages I now struggle to work up the courage to share. Always the voice within asks, “Who am I to call yourself a writer?”, and “What do I have to say that could be of value?”. Some of the same feelings I had as a child come rushing back to cause doubt and silence my voice. It has become an almost daily battle. Sometimes I do battle with the words themselves, seeking to express myself in a way that is clear, truthful and inclusive. At other times the battle is against exposing my vulnerable spaces to other human beings who are free to judge and critique. I vacillate between excitement in writing down my thoughts and a desire to hide my words.
I think of the writers whose works have shaped me even from a young age, how their words have fed my soul. Writers like Lucy Maud Montgomery, the creator of Anne of Green Gables. In a world that told me not to daydream and where imagination was frowned upon, this author fanned the flames, made them beautiful, and I came to know that it was okay to be weird, different, of my own mind.
The Little House on the Prairie books told stories of courage, hardship, family, faith and perseverance. Perhaps it was books that influenced me to “move west” as a young adult and make my way in an unfamiliar landscape.
The writing of Julia Cameron and Sarah Ban Breathnach helped me discover the real me that had been hidden under layers of shame, hurt, fear, insecurities. I began to see the heart of the artist within. Barbara Brown Taylor’s lyrical writing has made intellectual truths come alive with imagination, where all the senses are wooed into believing in a good and present God.
Each of these writers were faithful to the call to write and the words they penned have a reach greater than they probably dared believe. Their courage and insight strengthens me as I share my own words.
Henri Nouwen said, “Writing is like giving away the few loaves and fishes one has, trusting that they will multiply in the giving”. So I continue on this journey, continuing to journal, and now, offering some of those words to others and trusting that the One who leads me will multiply it for His purposes.
Sue Fulmore is an art quilter, decorator, and gardener. She’s also a wife, mother, friend, sister, aunt, daughter, and a two-steps-forward one-step-back follower of Jesus. She lives in sunny Alberta, Canada with my robust shoe collection and retired husband. You can find her at https://www.instagram.com/gr8fulwanderer/ and https://www.facebook.com/sue.fulmore