I don’t remember how or when my seminary writing group turned into therapy, but it just so happened that four of the six of us had experienced abuse and domestic violence in some form or another. It had happened to us, or to someone we knew and loved. Twice a month we would meet in a conference room to share our work, bare our souls, and shed many tears.
This was about the same time I started seeing a new therapist, since I left my first one in Ohio when I moved to Colorado. Starting over with someone new is always a pain in the ass, among other places, since it involves sharing your entire sob story from start to finish to get them up to speed. But there’s only so much you can fit in an hour-long session, and details I either repressed or forgot about starting bubbling back to the surface. The raw emotions leaked onto my pages, and I wrote a piece on the idea of closure being a myth to share with the group.
It was well received by all of the women except one. Roughly twice my age and never shy of saying exactly what was on her mind, Jean commented, “Why are all of you wallowing in despair instead of choosing hope? What are you saying about Jesus if you don’t think closure is possible?”
I think she confused “closure” and “healing” as being interchangeable. Perhaps we were using the words that way. We looked at each other, unsure of whether to accuse her of missing the point, or maybe that was the point. But I sat with Jean’s response for a long time after the group disbanded, and forced myself to consider the possibility that Jesus, for me, was a nice idea to help me out of troubled times, but ultimately wasn’t practical for long-term damage control. How exactly are you supposed to “place your burdens at the foot of the cross” before someone you have never seen with your own eyes?
It doesn’t take a psychologist to explain that tragedy changes people. Anyone who has suffered a loss knows this. I believe closure is a myth in that you never quite return to your previous normal, but you create a new one. You grow around the loss as skin grafts grow over burnt places and eventually become part of you. That’s normal, expected, and even healthy. What isn’t healthy is burning yourself over and over, forcing the old normal into a serrated slot where it just doesn’t belong.
Writing is, and has been, my altar. Long before I knew what an altar was, or the spiritual significance of offering sacrifices, I was bringing my pain, my anger, and my tears to the page and leaving it there for unseen forces to reconcile. Pouring out honesty from a pen is a form of sacrifice; it’s taking off a cloak when there’s nothing underneath. Writing down prayers, even angry ones, is all part of making a new self, but it doesn’t make the pain disappear.
Too many Christians think an inability to forget pain is the same as dwelling on it, which is sin, which isn’t true.
In Judaism, we remember so we don’t repeat the same cycles. Remembrance is central to healing even if it still hurts. Perhaps Christians should consider that perspective.