Resolve to write your spiritual autobiography

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Wednesday, January 6th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. 

Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard.

Hey Nick, do you have a New Year’s resolution?

EICHER: I’m reminded of the classic Calvin & Hobbes comic strip: Just what are you implying with the question? That I need to change?

But seriously—of course—read more, pray more, exercise more, eat less.

REICHARD: Right, boiled down to gain spiritual weight, lose the other kind!

And we’re not alone. Millions of people are considering New Year’s resolutions. Today, WORLD reporter Jenny Rough tells us about an exercise that’s worth adopting this year: a writing exercise.

AUDIOBOOK NARRATOR: You, O Lord my God, gave me my life and my body when I was born. You gave my body its five senses; you furnished it with limbs. 

JENNY ROUGH, REPORTER: When Augustine wrote Confessions, he started from the very beginning: infancy. Er, technically, he started even before that, probing deep questions.

AUDIOBOOK NARRATOR: I have myself seen women who are pregnant. But what came before that, O God, my Delight? Was I anywhere? Was I anybody?

Augustine went on to recount the stages of his life. How he squandered his brains. Became infatuated with money. And how—eventually—he came to love the God who first loved him. Confessions is one of the earliest autobiographies of Western literature. 

Fast forward about 1,600 years. Bill Haley—husband, father, Anglican priest—sits at a desk and writes his spiritual autobiography. Technology has changed a bit. 


But the Almighty God “who is and was and is to come” has not changed. Haley loves to read spiritual autobiographies and stories. He has an office full of them. 

HALEY: This one is absolutely one of my favorites. Mother Teresa Come Be My Light. Of course all the John Stott there. This is one of my favorites: The Birds Are Our Teachers, do you know that one? Oh, He Leadeth Me, one of my favorite books of all time, by a guy named Walter Ciszek.

It never occurred to Haley to write his own story—until he had to for a job application. The assignment caused him to think about God’s activity in his life. 

HALEY: There was a sense in which it became really a worship exercise of sort of tracing God’s fingerprints, and seeing some sort of coherence and being really, really grateful. So it really did end up being an experience of praise. 

Haley now encourages others to write their spiritual autobiography. Not to publish and sell in a bookstore. To give to family, friends, and future generations.

HALEY: I just think one of the most powerful and meaningful reasons to do a spiritual autobiography is simply to bear witness to God. 

He says putting memories on paper helps you see how you encounter God. That may be different than what others experience.

HALEY: And so there’s a huge development, transition, even a Rubicon in the Christian life, where we stop trying to have someone else’s relationship with God. And we discover what is the relationship with God that is mine. 

Marcus Brotherton is a Seattle-based author who has helped everyone from celebrities to war heroes tell their story. His first tip for getting started? Outline.

MARCUS BROTHERTON: Begin by charting out the defining moments of your life. 

The big and little pieces.

BROTHERTON: The high points, the low points, the big decisions, the transitions, the changes. How did you get from point A to B? Who or what helped you along the way?

Brotherton suggests picking a theme. Like overcoming obstacles. Or the importance of family. Write about incidents that illustrate that theme. 

Be specific with names and dates. 

BROTHERTON: Mom to you is going to be grandma to your kids. 

Haley says a word limit will also help you focus on what matters. 

HALEY: When you think, how am I going to write my life story with God? That’s really intimidating, right? Because you kind of want to capture it all. But if you put a word limit on yourself it immediately forces you to have to determine what are the things that I really want to say?

Say 2,500 words. That’s about 10 pages doubled spaced. 

BROTHERTON: Shorter is often better these days because people tend to be kind of quick, cold readers. They’re used to reading blogs or Twitter or whatever.

Haley summed up high school in one sentence. But his post-graduate fellowship got much more space. Haley stretched a $18,000 scholarship for a trip around that world to learn about ministry. He worked with heroin addicts and the homeless. Visited L’Abri in Switzerland and volunteered at the Home for the Dying in Calcutta. The trip opened his eyes to the plight of man. He knew it belonged in his story.

HALEY: It just led to sort of this eruption of gratitude. And not in such a way that sort of like God was out there, and I was thanking him. As I’m writing, as I’m thinking, God’s with me right now. It ended up being not so much of a head experience, as much as it was a heart and relational experience with God.

Your story could focus on just one segment from your life. 

HALEY: You could easily write a spiritual autobiography about 2020. The fact that you can have this bug that you can’t even see, that stops everything, and we can’t fix it tomorrow, I think has been shocking.  

Other tips? Interview yourself. 

HALEY: What is something about you that if I don’t know it, I don’t know you?

For Haley, the answer was his marriage to his wife, Tara. Another question: What scripture verses take on a deep meaning for you? 

Also, be careful how you paint others. Remember God is working in their lives as well. 

Painful times can lead us to wonder: Where was God in that? Both Haley and Brotherton say: Do the hard work. Be honest about those difficult times. Again, Marcus Brotherton:

BROTHERTON: So you’re talking about memories where you made a wrong choice, or you were in the wrong. Or memories where life didn’t turn out as hoped. Definitely go there. It can be really healing to write down those memories. Perhaps you tell the story of how you asked for forgiveness or maybe you just describe how you lamented for a season.

The way God works in every life is remarkable. Haley says not to worry if your story isn’t as dramatic as, I used to be a drug dealer and then—. 

HALEY: A good life faithfully lived is a great gift on the planet.

Your story matters. Write it down.


MUSIC: [Francesca Battistelli — Write Your Story]

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Jenny Rough.

(Photo/Jenny Rough) Bill Haley’s office

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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