The Power of Words to Heal

(Originally posted on

Words can function like an x-ray machine. They can reveal what is inside of us—our thoughts and emotions—and identify what is broken.

In this way, words help us heal from our pain.

When we name the pain in our souls, we bring it out of the darkness and into the light. Then, seeing our pain for what it is, we can address it appropriately.

This is the amazing power of knowing the words.

Consider the story of the woman indebted to a crafty imp. It was only after she journeyed through the woods at night and learned the imp’s name—“Rumpelstiltskin”—that she was able to be freed from the debt she owed.

While this may be just a fairy tale, it holds a certain measure of truth. We need to journey deep into the dark recesses of ourselves if we are to learn the name of the pain that dwells there. And when we learn the name, we find freedom and healing.

Robert Juarez, a mentor at Homeboy Industries and a former gang member, has walked this journey. He is living proof of how putting pain into words can bring healing to a broken and bloodied past.

Neglected by parents and growing up in a rough neighborhood, it was only a matter of time before Robert fell into gang life. As a witness to excessive death and violence, he didn’t expect to live past his 25th birthday. Therefore he gave himself over to sex and drugs and waited to die.

It wasn’t until he went to Homeboy Industries for rehabilitation that his life took a change for the better.

He speaks about that change:

I was able to see myself again. I started breaking down that façade and breaking through those layers and started to see the child that was hurt….My first class [at Homeboy Industries] was a creative writing class. And that creative writing class—it showed me words….And from then I was able to define my pain.

And just like an inmate when he serves a sentence and he’s released to the public, once I served that sentence and put that period on it, I was able to release it to the public. And a little bit of my pain was gone. And the more I did it, the less I felt that pain. It took me many years, and the journey doesn’t stop.

So it is with all of us. Many times we are at a loss for words when it comes to naming our pain. Yet the poetry and stories are inside us. It is only a matter of journeying within and pulling the words out.

The work may be difficult and many of us might not consider ourselves to be poets and storytellers. But this is why we undertake the journey in community.

Others have gone before us and learned the language of the soul. They lend us the words when we struggle to find them ourselves.

We rely on poets and storytellers to “see the despair and heartache as well as the beauty and miracle that lie just beneath the thin veneer of the ordinary, and they describe this in ways that are recognized not only in the mind, but more profoundly in the soul.”[1]

In this way, we learn the words together and hold power over the pain.

Can you think of a time when someone helped you put your pain into words? What was that experience like? Please share in the comments.

[1] M. Craig Barnes, The Pastor as Minor Poet: Texts and Subtexts in the Ministerial Life (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009), 17.

3 thoughts on “The Power of Words to Heal

  1. Marcia, thanks for sharing this beautiful post. “Others have gone before us and learned the language of the soul.” Poets and storytellers, we are all.


    • It IS a beautiful and thought-provoking post, Linda, but I didn’t share it. This one was reposted by Jason Link from his own blog, I believe. I know you can’t tell that from the title, so I may have to edit that for him. It’s lovely, isn’t it?


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