Why We Sometimes Shouldn’t Write
I have a long history of offending people with my writing. I’ve often wondered about this, because I don’t necessarily have a long history of offending people in person. Still, I’m not terribly articulate in person, so I find myself preferring to interact in some situations through writing — a way of ensuring that my halting words are polished to reflect my intent — because I care that I not offend (which is why my first two statements are so ironic). In short, I really do get Moses. Heaven would be kind to send me some kind of spokesperson, even though my little stewardship obviously doesn’t warrant it.
I misstepped again recently, even after elucidating in a discussion with writer friends the principles of why writing some things is unwise. I pondered about it this morning, asking the Lord why I wasn’t restrained from pushing the send button when I had clearly asked and waited for an answer.
I needed to learn something in the distraught hours of silence after.
Nephi commented that he was not powerful as a writer.
And now I, Nephi, cannot write all the things which were taught among my people; neither am I mighty in writing, like unto speaking; for when a man speaketh by the power of the Holy Ghost the power of the Holy Ghost carrieth it unto the hearts of the children of men.
Moroni mourned that he and other prophetic writers collectively, were not powerful in writing.
And I said unto him: Lord, the Gentiles will mock at these things, because of our weakness in writing; for Lord thou hast made us mighty in word by faith, but thou hast not made us mighty in writing; for thou hast made all this people that they could speak much, because of the Holy Ghost which thou hast given them;
And thou hast made us that we could write but little, because of the awkwardness of our hands. Behold, thou hast not made us mighty in writing like unto the brother of Jared, for thou madest him that the things which he wrote were mighty even as thou art, unto the overpowering of man to read them.
Thou hast also made our words powerful and great, even that we cannot write them; wherefore, when we write we behold our weakness, and stumble because of the placing of our words; and I fear lest the Gentiles shall mock at our words.
As someone who has loved to write since childhood, and who has gained a great deal of insight from what these two gentlemen have written, I’ve long scratched my head at these statements (not to mention developed an incredible curiosity to read the words of the Brother of Jared).
What is the difference between writing and hearing in person the same truth?
There was a recent flap over a local leader who shared a copy of his talk with a member of his congregation. A local paper antagonistic to the Church, which uses any example of poor judgment to make sweeping generalizations about our faith, picked up the story, which had by that time gone viral, and added its gleeful observations. The statements this Church leader made, written indelibly in binary, were being used by people from entirely different perspectives to justify their own positions. He wisely wasn’t returning any phone calls, poor guy.
We discussed the content of his talk in a group of writer friends, and agreed that it would be hard to know what issues he was addressing that were specific to the people in his stewardship, what the tone of his delivery communicated that we can’t confine to the written word, and what a listening congregant might have heard. We discussed the experience of Oliver, as he was corrected in how he should interact with those he led.
Behold, I say unto thee, Oliver, that it shall be given unto thee that thou shalt be heard by the church in all things whatsoever thou shalt teach them by the Comforter, concerning the revelations and commandments which I have given. …
And if thou art led at any time by the Comforter to speak or teach, or at all times by the way of commandment unto the church, thou mayest do it.
But thou shalt not write by way of commandment, but by wisdom;
We remembered the counsel recently reiterated that General Authority addresses to local areas should not be recorded or transcribed and circulated, and Elder Oaks’ locally given statement along the lines of “I’d like to know whether I’m speaking to the stake or the whole world,” and agreed that there are differing circumstances that require specific approaches, and those specifics will be spoken, not written. We are too given to extrapolating generalities from specifics to have such broad access to all these written words.
Even after that conversation, I acted on an inspiration to share a comforting insight with someone by writing it instead of going to her and sharing it personally. In the quiet, hand-wringing hours after, I thought of all the different ways that communication could have gone had it been in person. I might have spoken part of my words instead of all. I might have realized that some wounds must bleed out before they can be bandaged. I might have been inspired with additional comforts. I would have known how it was received. All sorts of other things could have been communicated: love, peace, solidarity, strength. It occurred to me that the Holy Spirit seldom delivers well-crafted letters to me, but instead gives them to me lines at a time, and waits for me to ask for more, tailoring the message to my reactions as it unfolded.
Why would I expect to engage in healthy communication differently than God does?
Now I realize that it is the function of the Holy Spirit to structure revelation in the mind of the receiver. I might struggle and refine, feeling the need to polish my thoughts so that they most perfectly represent what is in my mind, but committing them to writing restricts how they can be used by other people’s minds. The Holy Spirit will take words and combine with that person’s own experience, perceptions, and needs to create a magic bullet. It is not our business to restrict the workings of the Holy Spirit, which is laid out quite nicely by John:
But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.
When anyone speaks, people who listen by the Holy Spirit don’t just hear what they want to hear; they hear what God wants them to hear. They remember later, not from their notes but from their memory, what they need to know at that time. We are a culture that distrusts our gut, our memory, our changing perspectives. However, when we write, people must navigate our minds to find the truth for themselves, and it dances hazardously around priestcraft, where we set ourselves between that person and the Holy Spirit.
As an avid journaler, I am continually reminded of the changes in my perspective that occur over time as I reread old entries, and have tried to learn to write like Joseph — just the facts — and let myself interpret them at various times in my life according to the perspective of that time. It’s hard.
You can bet I sweat bullets writing this.
As a reader, you will have to navigate the shoals and undertows, rocks and open sea of my mind to find any kernel of meaning for yourself in these limited words. Still, I feel there is something there, some glimmer of an eternal truth, that perhaps you will see from your vantage point.
I’m exhausted. This morning’s thinking is certainly rewriting the way I use words.