I don’t need to tell you that 2020 has been full of trauma for our country and our world.
People have lost jobs, homes, health, and even loved ones—if not to COVID-19 and the economy, then to an aggressive political divide.
On top of that, many people have felt the weightiness of their usual personal sufferings that would have taken place no matter the state of the world. And if that isn’t you, then chances are you know someone who has suffered this year.
Yet through all of this, I have developed some of the best spiritual disciplines for healing from loss and depression I’ve ever had.
By “spiritual disciplines,” I don’t mean that we fix ourselves. Instead, we use methods of grace so that God can teach and heal us. Prayer and Scripture meditation are our first methods of grace. Second to these are the use of reading and writing fiction and poetry, worded to draw us closer to the heart of Christ.
The following are the disciplines and methods I’ve developed to that end.
The first is story journaling. You can write partly fictional stories and memories to help you heal from anxiety or possible trauma.
If you’re not a professional writer, don’t fret. The writing I’m suggesting is private journaling. You don’t have to worry that it isn’t good, because no one will read it except you and Jesus. This writing is more like a prayer, lament, or meditation.
If you’ve ever visited a biblical counselor, you may have heard of what I’m about to describe. The counselor will ask you to sit down, close your eyes, and envision a painful memory or situation. She or he might say, “Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Good. Again.”
You picture something from childhood, earlier this year, or the conversation you just had this morning. You see it in your mind and feel a tightness in your chest or stomach.
“Now Jesus enters the room or space in your memory,” the counselor says. “Perhaps he touches your shoulder, hugs you, or speaks into your pain with the truth of Scripture.”
When you imagine your savior and hear his words, that tightness soon recedes. Tears of relief prick your eyes.
Sure, you can do all of this in your mind. But writing is slower, more deliberate, and uses a different part of your brain. It also helps to revisit the story another time, when you need to be reminded of what Jesus says about you and your suffering in order to continuously banish the lies you believe.
I recommend sticking close to Scripture, when you imagine what Jesus says and does, so you don’t put words in his mouth that he wouldn’t say. For example, this work of flash fiction I wrote may help illustrate what I’m describing.
Reading fiction and poetry
The Bible models other methods of healing through Jesus’s parables, and through the Psalms, which are designed to help shape our thoughts and emotions.
When you read someone else’s experiences, you engage another perspective that you may never have learned on your own. That is, after all, one of the greatest gifts of living in the community of believers.
- The Ravenwood Saga by Morgan L. Busse
- Fawkes by Nadine Brandes
- The Story of With by Allen Arnold
- This Present Darkness by Frank Peretti
- Creation of Jack by E.B. Dawson
We all know God specifically gifted Christians to serve the Church. But did you also know that creative saints throughout history, and some alive today, write poetry and fiction specifically to help the hurting sufferer and sinner? (See the sidebar for a short list of books recommended to me, though I haven’t read them all personally.)
Why did Jesus so often speak in parables, metaphors, and questions? Here’s a hint: it has to do with God making us in his image. How are we made in his image? We differ from animals not just in how we look, but in how we think. Animals have emotions just like us, but they can’t reason or think about thinking as we do. That’s the primary way we’re made in God’s image, and that’s the reason why Jesus spoke in parables. He was trying to get people to think. He wants us to comprehend complex and supernatural truths in ways that make sense to us.
When we read stories, we see characters believe lies before they learn the truth about themselves, their world, or both. When a character develops in a way that also aligns with Scripture, we learn truth and as they do. We experience what they experience, and we can imitate them in our own way.
Reading fiction without discernment can also be dangerous, because we could join characters in learning ideas that may not align with Scripture. But if we stay armed with our God-given reason, we may enjoy imperfect, man-made stories and come away with truth and healing.
If you find yourself in a particularly difficult season of life, try temporarily limiting your literary diet. That way, you can feed your soul on hearty, rich truth from trustworthy believers, instead of more difficult and weedy fiction from other sources. Drink from the fountain of authors like C. S. Lewis, George MacDonald, or J. R. R. Tolkien. For poetry, always begin with the Psalms, especially hymns of praise and psalms of lament. I also personally love the poetry collection by Bethany A. Jennings, This Poem is a Weapon, which speaks into loss, mental illness, and healing from a gospel-centered worldview. If you’re like me, you’ll feel as though she crawled inside your heart and penned the words with you in mind.
But before you begin any of this, stop and pray. Ask God to heal you, comfort you, and bring you to a knowledge of the truth we have through Christ—the prince of peace.