Heights of Love
by Angela Bounds
I enjoy crying about as much as I enjoy a root canal, but I have found that each time I cry I release a tiny bit of the pain. The pain associated with grief can feel like an insurmountable mountain. Just as a mountain climber determinedly takes one step at a time and pushes through the discomfort in order to reach the ecstacy of the summit, so we must take grief one day at a time and have faith that suffering produces perseverance, character, and hope. I have found journaling to be a productive medium for reaching such heights.
In her article entitled The Benefits of Journaling and How to Get Started, Dr. Gail Gross writes that journaling has been scientifically proven to benefit our health in numerous ways:
- Increased immune system function (strengthened immune cells, called T-lymphocytes)
- Counteracted effects of stress
- Decreased symptoms of asthma, arthritis, among other health conditions (Gross, 2014).
Voicing pain via journaling has given the hurt less power over me. When I keep thoughts and feelings in the dark recesses of my mind they tend to take on a power of their own. I have noticed that grief hits me like a wave and, more times than I like to admit, I swallow it down and try not to feel it. However when I do that, like a tsunami, it comes back with a vengeance and I am tossed by emotions I can’t control. This might look like an ugly cry or a screaming rant at one of my poor, innocent (and safe) family members. When I journal I bring the grief out into the open where it can be worked on and processed. This is where real healing occurs. While the pain associated with grief is immense, it is necessary to feel it in order to grow.
Journaling can help us objectify things that are emotionally loaded. This can prevent us from feeling sorry for ourselves, and instead can help us move forward (L’engle, 2000). When we place a thought on paper it can help us see it for what it is, a thought from our own mind that is not necessarily grounded in reality. We can be reminded that the purpose of a feeling is to provide us with information, not truth.
An irrational thought that has circled in my mind is the utter disappointment that my mother never left me anything written and was not expressive in her love for me during her last few days on Earth. Through journaling I was able to see that her love language was giving gifts and that she left me her most prized possessions (hers and my grandmother’s jewelry). While this was not my love language of choice, it was hers and that has brought me immense comfort. I have been able to see my self-centered desire for her to love me the way I want to be loved, while the whole time she has loved me the best way she knew how. Her expression of love, in her own way, is a gift I will treasure.
Following is a journaling exercise that can be used to help process grief. Grab your tissues and join me as we explore one of humanity’s most complicated emotions:
- Allow yourself time to vent about whatever comes to your mind. If you need a place to start, consider exploring a memory. Don’t be afraid to let the waters flow. Holding them back will only delay the inevitable pain.
- Next, write a positive affirmation to yourself. Encourage yourself for being brave enough to express something so painful.
- Finally, spend some time trying to reframe any negative thoughts into something positive (see my example above).
Journaling provides a way for us to be the author of our own story. All good stories are complicated, with joy and sadness interwoven throughout. Even more important than reaching the summit of the mountain is the process of getting there. As believers, we anticipate the views of the peak to be magnificent, but not before a lot of suffering, time, and concerted effort. Don’t be afraid of the suffering; it is a step forward in the process of reaching the peak.
Gross, Gail. The Benefits of Journaling and Tips for Getting Started. Huffington Post. Sept. 21, 2014.
L’engle, Madeleine. Madeleine L’engle. Religion and Ethics Newsweekly. November 17, 2000.