It’s tornado season here in Texas and in a matter of only seconds last week, three local communities suffered major destruction – homes were leveled, personal belongings disappeared, six people died in an instant. We’re shocked yet again by the suddenness of death. We grieve collectively and individually, we mourn who it is we’ve lost and, for some, what it is we’ve lost.
And when those who survive begin slowly, painfully to piece life back together, usually it’s not the real estate that’s grieved – houses can be rebuilt – it’s the loss of their records. The photos, memorabilia, letters, and keepsakes that tell the story of their family history can never be replaced or restored.
We’re hard-wired to be record keepers. We keep a calendar, we write notes to ourselves, we make lists, we send memos. In most circumstances we take delight in creating a record – we text, tweet, and email, often with a photo or video attached. For some of us there’s still a certain aesthetic pleasure in writing a letter on a beautiful piece of paper with a real fountain pen – the dying art of personal correspondence. Sometimes those who receive our letters save them, especially family and friends. I kept many of the notes people wrote when Leighton died – they’re a record of how people felt about him, who he was, and his legacy in life.
The psalmists are the biblical paradigm of nothing-held-back record keeping. They wrote what they felt - they cried out, they lamented, they wept, they grieved, they rejoiced, they praised God, “Record my misery; list my tears on your scroll - are they not in your record?” (Psalm 56:8 NIV).
One day while driving along about three weeks after Leighton died I was suddenly overwhelmed by a sense of panicked desperation. In that moment I knew I must find an outlet to release my emotional turmoil. I needed to understand Leighton’s death, to figure it out, and ex-press the pent-up power of this experience in my life. I had to get it out. I knew, too, that if I didn’t do something to release the agitation, anxiety, and despair I was internalizing every minute of every day, very likely there could be some dire physical consequence. At the time, the possibility of a heart attack or stroke seemed very real to me.
I’m sure it was the Holy Spirit that directed me that day to a bookstore for the clear purpose of buying a journal. Until then, I’d never kept a journal or even a diary. And although personal writing was new to me, the journal became my mental lifeline. It saved my sanity through months of shock and dark grief. As I turned to page one and began to write, the floodgates of my mental anguish opened. I poured out my heart, my mind, my soul, and my wounded spirit on page after page - every day for many months. When at last I paused and re-read what I’d written, I found I’d made a record of what had happened and how I felt about it all. Over time I told the story of my grief to myself. I still journal, though differently now – I write down random thoughts, inspirational ideas, and some surprising stray scraps of lingering grief.
Although not everyone's inclined to journal, there’s certainly value in the relief and release of creative record keeping, especially when we grieve. What I’ve found is that it helps to write down what we’re feeling. There’s no test, grammar and punctuation don’t count, no one grades our personal record of grief – it’s entirely private and personal, often a kind of self-help therapy that gives us insight and instruction. And this is because our inner voice has something to say to us about our loss.
Think. Reflect. Pray. Make some notes. See what comes out of your bottled-up heart. Give your emotions space to ex-press whatever you’re sensing, remembering, and experiencing - how you feel about the death of the one you love and now grieve. When we honor our grief with record keeping, we discover a new view of God’s perspective and wisdom in the comfort and care of the Holy Spirit.
In God, whose word I praise, in the Lord, whose word I praise - in God I trust and am not afraid. What can man do to me?
Psalm 56:10-11 NIV
Keep me this day, O God, in the wisdom of your heart. Amen.