Friday, October 12, 2018

Writing Your Story as a Spiritual Discipline

by Marcia Moston @MarciaMoston

“I know some of you would rather haul bricks than write, but I think you’ll find these exercises valuable. Definitely not like your old 8th-grade essays.” I looked across the room at the twenty-five or so pairs of eyes fixed on me. Some were curious, others clearly doubtful.

The women had gathered on this sunny Saturday in Maine for their annual church retreat. They knew the focus of the retreat was the Reality of the Presence of God, but what most didn’t know was that they would spend the day mining their pasts for the footprints of God in every woe and wrinkle, mess and miracle of their lives.

I had proposed to them that, unlike Tolkien’s Sam the Hobbit who wondered what sort of a tale he’d fallen into, they’d been intentionally placed in a specific time and place for a purpose. By examining the people, places, pivotal moments and outcomes of their story so far, they’d learn to see patterns, themes and connections often overlooked in the close-up view of day to day.     

Each writing session would be followed by a time for them to share their stories with each other. Gamely, they picked up pens and bent over their handouts—except for one who stared at her journal for the first ten minutes. “I like spreadsheets and lists,” she said.

“Then make lists,” I suggested. I wanted them all to have something to share, not only for their own clarification, but also for expanding the vision of God in someone else’s life.

As writers, we know the power of story. We craft our characters and situate them in settings appropriate for the conflicts they’ll encounter and hopefully overcome. Some of us write to entertain, others to inform or illustrate. Because I like memoir, I enjoy experiencing aspects of our common human condition through the lives of others.

In my forays into the realm of spiritual memoir, I came across a little study guide, Spiritual Autobiography, by Richard Peace, Ph.D., professor at Fuller Theological Seminary. Peace says, “To write a spiritual autobiography is to notice, and noticing helps us respond to God.”

That in itself is impetus enough to contemplate our spiritual story, but here are some other good reasons for turning your storytelling skills inward for a while:

Reasons to Write Your Story
1. Personal clarification: Writing our stories gives them form. It helps us to see how the individual pieces fit into the whole. When we name things, we understand them better. As one woman at the conference wrote: “Writing helps me see what I think.”

2. Legacy: When the Israelites returned to Canaan after hundreds of years in Egypt, they found signs of their forefathers who’d left their altars and burial places. The footprints of our faith will live on long after we’ve left the trail. How many of us wish we knew the whys and hows of our loved ones lives, not just what they did.

3. Teachable moments: So often many of us feel our spiritual story is mainly our testimony of coming to faith. By practicing the discipline of noticing more daily encounters with God, we’ll be able to share our mini-narratives as spontaneous opportunities arise.

4. We forget: God had a reason to tell the Israelites over and over to “remember.” Unless you are one of the handful of people identified with HSAM (Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory) and you can remember any and every day of your life, you forget—at least the good things. Polls vary; some say it takes 10 positive words/actions to overcome 1 negative one. (Some polls say 4:1.) Because we have a propensity to remember the bad, we need to be intentional about noting the good.

5. Finally, we learn: Looking back helps us to see what we need for the future. Or as Danish philosopher Kierkegaard said, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

After a day of writing, sharing, laughing and crying, the ladies turned in surveys and thank you cards. Many expressed wonder at the power of stories to open avenues of communication, to connect them with others, and to inspire them about the presence of God.

 One of my favorite cards was from a woman whose husband was recently diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. Although she didn’t like to write, she said, “Thanks for getting me out of my comfort zone. This will encourage me to write more, especially as a legacy to my children.”

And—“It wasn’t as hard as hauling bricks.”

Writing your story as a spiritual discipline - @MarciaMoston on @EdieMelson (Click to Tweet)

5 reasons to write your own story - @MarciaMoston on @EdieMelson (Click to Tweet)

Marcia Moston—author of the award-winning Call of a Coward-The God of Moses and the Middle-class Housewife—has written columns and features for several magazines and newspapers. She has served on the faculty of the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference and currently teaches her true love—memoir and creative nonfiction—at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute on the Furman campus in South Carolina.


  1. Excellent! Thanks for sharing your wisdom

  2. This is powerful on so many levels! Thank you! I'm in Greenville, too. I hope I meet you soon.

    1. Thank you--yes I'm sure we will in one of the many writing circles Greenville has!

  3. Wonderful thoughts Ms. Marcia! Writing memoir is a wonderful therapeutic outlet to cleanse our past of pain. Isn't it amazing that when we look back on our lives, we more clearly see where God was with us. The most amazing thing in remembering through memoir is that God takes away the pain and replaces it with His love. God blessings for this important post.

    1. Good point Jim--God can use it for healing. Thanks

  4. Marcia, Thanks for your great insights. Writing has been a panacea for me; I wrote my spiritual autobiography several years ago. I have kept a journal for several years, mostly so that our children and grandchildren can get an overall picture of how God worked in our lives.

    1. Thank you. I'm sure one day your kids and grands will enjoy looking at God's footprints in their history.

  5. I've been keeping a daily Bible study/devotion time journal for many years. Once in a while I go back and read a few pages from the stacks of composition books (I haven't done that in a while, however.) It helps me see where I've been and often where I'm going. I see my cries of anguish and my huge exclamation pointed praises. Insights too in the Bible reading that day.
    Thanks for your post and encouragement.