It’s true you’re no Augustine of Hippo or Faustina of Kraków, but that doesn’t mean you have nothing to write about when it comes to the Faith.
You have your faith story, and only you can tell it.
Seem a bit presumptuous (if not downright pompous)? “Who am I to ...?” Take a look at a little discussion between God and the prophet Jeremiah:
“The word of the Lord came to me:
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
before you were born I dedicated you,
a prophet to the nations I appointed you.
‘Ah, Lord God!’ I said,
‘I do not know how to speak. I am too young!’
But the Lord answered me,
Do not say, ‘I am too young.’
To whomever I send you, you shall go;
whatever I command you, you shall speak.
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you — oracle of the Lord.
Then the Lord extended his hand and touched my mouth, saying to me,
See, I place my words in your mouth!” (Jer 1:4-9).
How could any of that apply to you?
• Long before you were born, God chose your path, your pilgrimage, back home to him.
• Maybe you’re OK with talking but have little or no confidence when it comes to writing. Apparently, that’s not an excuse.
• You’re not too young, or too old, to write your memoirs.
• God will help you with the memories, with the words, because what you have to say after looking back on your life through the eyes of faith is important — to your family, to your friends and to you.
A few suggestions
1. At least consider writing them. Think about it. Pray about it. Is the Holy Spirit nudging you in that direction?
2. Take comfort in the fact you can do this whatever way you want. Your “faith memoirs” don’t have to be chronological. You can focus on topics (the sacraments, prayers and favorite Scripture verses, for example); on people who influenced your Catholicism (some family members, maybe, some saints, some teachers, priests or nuns, neighbors or coworkers); on how your faith was shaped by the places you’ve lived, the schools or parishes you attended, or the work you’ve done, both as an employee and as a volunteer; on your vocation as a married person, single person, priest or religious.
3. Keep in mind there’s no word limit. There’s no “too short” or “too long.” And there’s no deadline. You can write something this Advent. You can write something else during Lent. You can decide you want to have some material completed for your 80th birthday. Or your 30th. You can write during your prayer time at home or at an adoration chapel. (No, don’t bring your laptop there! Pen and paper, please.) That’s OK, because what you’re doing is praying. At its heart, it’s a form of both reflection and thanksgiving. You’re chatting with God.
4. Yes, many books (including memoirs) begin at the beginning of one’s life but, no, you don’t have to do that. Consider just one vivid memory of a strong — perhaps life-changing and faith-changing — event, person, time or place. Maybe receiving a sacrament. Maybe the influence of a parent. Maybe a retreat you were on. Maybe hitting bottom financially. Maybe an illness or medical condition. Maybe the death of a loved one (or of someone you didn’t love very well). Simply tell that story. In your own words, in your own way. As if you were talking to someone you dearly love and who dearly loves you. As if you were talking to God. The words don’t have to be perfect. The writing doesn’t have to be perfect. God knows you’re not perfect at anything. And he’s more than OK with that. He’s more than OK with you.
5. When you’re done with one story, one memory, pick another. Then another. And another. Quit at any time it seems the right thing to do (no need to be a “tortured writer”). Keep what you write to yourself or show it to others. Show some stories, but not all. Put your stories into some kind of order (maybe each as their own chapter) or leave them helter-skelter.
6. Leave out what you want to leave out. No need for this to be a tell-all, cataloging all your mistakes, your faults and your sins. If you want to talk about some bad times, some hard times, some times you were distant from God, you can write in generalities. “During that period in my life there were some bad times, some hard times, some times when I was distant from God.” We all, to one degree or another, have them. And most of us much prefer to keep them private, just among God, us and our confessor.
6. Still not convinced you have much to say or are pretty certain you don’t have many “highpoint” memories? Try this: Make a list of what might, possibly, maybe, perhaps, could be something to say. That list may have only one item. If you jot down some thoughts on that one, more memories and ideas will come.
7. Know that your faith story, like your life story, is really interesting. Don’t get a big head. Everyone’s is. But no one else’s is yours. And if you’re, uh, mature in years, then your experiences of Catholicism and the Faith can be a lot different from those of your children or grandchildren, your nieces and nephews. (That younger generations may be surprised to learn that some of the “new” liturgical developments popping up are anything but. That you can easily rattle off the Sanctus or Agnus Dei in Latin.)
8. With time, over time, what you’re doing for yourself and (if you choose) for others, will become more valuable, more precious — for you to reread, remember and, again, give thanks; for them to find love, courage, hope and faith as they make their own way through life.
Travel their own way home.
Live their own faith story.
Bill Dodds writes from Washington.