How Writing Heals

There’s a famous fairy tale about a woman indebted to a crafty imp. As a result of some unfortunate events, she will have to give up her child if she doesn’t figure out the imp’s name. It is only after she journeys through the woods at night that she discovers the imp’s name—Rumpelstiltskin—and becomes freed from the debt.

While this may be just a fairy tale, it holds a certain measure of truth in regards to the power of names. When we can name our problems, we hold a certain measure of power over them.

But like the woman in the story, the names to our problems aren’t always obvious. We have to take a journey through the dark—a journey involving thought, prayer, and perhaps even counseling.

Those who take the steps down the path are rewarded.

For Robert Juarez, a former gang member who now mentors at Homeboy Industries in LA, it meant getting his life back.

Neglected by parents and growing up in a rough neighborhood in east LA, it was only a matter of time before Robert fell into gang life. As a witness to so much blood and bullet wounds, he didn’t expect to live past his 25th birthday. So screw it—he easily succumbed to sex and drugs.

It was not until Robert wound up in Homeboy Industries for rehabilitation that his life took a change for the better.

He speaks about that change:

I was able to see myself again. I started breaking down that façade and breaking through those layers and started to see the child that was hurt….My first class was a creative writing class. And that creative writing class—it showed me words….And from then I was able to define my pain.

And just like an inmate when he serves a sentence and he’s released to the public, once I served that sentence and put that period on it, I was able to release it to the public. And a little bit of my pain was gone. And the more I did it, the less I felt that pain. It took me many years, and the journey doesn’t stop.

So it is with all of us.

Many times we are at a loss for words when it comes to naming our pain. Yet the poetry and stories are inside of us. It is only a matter of journeying within and pulling the words out.

The work may be difficult and many of us might not consider ourselves to be poets and storytellers. But this is why we undertake the journey in community.

Others have gone before us and learned the language of the soul. They lend us the words when we struggle to find them ourselves.

We rely on poets and storytellers to “see the despair and heartache as well as the beauty and miracle that lie just beneath the thin veneer of the ordinary, and they describe this in ways that are recognized not only in the mind, but more profoundly in the soul.”*

In this way, we learn the words together and hold power over the pain. We see Rumpelstiltskin for who he is, and that little imp loses his power.



*The Pastor as Minor Poet: Texts and Subtexts in the Ministerial Life by M. Craig Barnes

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