The Power of Naming Our Experience

May 13 / Kimberley Mulder
It had been a year and five months when all the grief of leaving friends and possibilities behind in Wisconsin siphoned through the funnel of time and effort and doused her with despair. Life was NOT what she had hoped it would be. It was boring and overwhelming, stimulating in all the wrong ways. She felt like a square peg in a round hole, which hurt. The tears trickled fiercely on her flushed cheeks as she slumped forward with the weight of it all, finally giving in to the feelings she'd kept at bay with her positivity and hard work. "I miss Wisconsin. I miss Mary. I hate living here. I hate my boring job, and I wish I could be somewhere where they'd take what I actually have to offer, not just what they need. I'm so tired of trying to fit in!" She watched the wind slice through the trees outside as she wiped her eyes and blew her nose. When she turned back to me, her sorrow was clearly in her eyes, no longer hidden from her or me. She no longer seemed reluctant but alive, surer, albeit in pain. She had come home to her truth.

The act of naming felt reality is a powerful experience. It gives form to something shrouded, pulling it into relief so we can see its shape, touch its curves, and hold it close. Somehow, having a name for something helps us in our knowing, gives us a handle, and helps us recognize what is present. It is the emergence of intuition into language and consciousness. Naming something for what it is when we've been unable to—because of evading a hard truth or awareness just hadn't grown into the knowledge yet—feels like gravity finally took hold and pulled the rain out of the fog. We could be the one who finally admits, "I am an alcoholic." Or, after years of draining ministry, "My spirit is broken, and I want out." Alternatively, we might be naming "This job makes me feel alive!" Or "I really want this!"

The kind of naming I'm talking about is when we find the words that express in a resonant way what our truthful experience is. This happens when we are able to ignore or shrug off the narratives (our own or others) that tell us how or what we should be feeling and really sink into our own actual experiences. Reality dwells here: God dwells here. 
Ronald Rolheiser, a Catholic priest, writes, "Putting proper names to what is happening inside our experience is the place where we can read the language of God."

There's a story in Luke that demonstrates how God values this honesty. (Luke 24:13-35)Two disciples were walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus after Jesus' crucifixion. Jesus joins them on the road, but they do not recognize him. Why would God withhold his presence? Did their incredulity and grief blind them? I suspect it was at least partially for Jesus to invite them to tell their story by asking, "What has happened?" And so, they unfold their experience of his story to him. He listens and answers by placing their experience inside the larger story that God reveals through Jesus. Their hearts "burned within them" as they walked and talked, which I imagine as a way to describe the resonance of truth coming to the foreground, of Spirit within Spirit reading the same experience together. For Cleopas and his friend on that dusty road, Jesus' inquisitiveness helped them form words that revealed the shape of what
happened in their lives, which then freed them to see the stunning truth of where they stood in the larger story: witnesses to the risen Christ!

And that is the power of naming: finding yourself in relation to God. You meet in the truth of your inner experience, where God is waiting. From there, you can walk together into God's transforming, freeing ways.

Kimberley Mulder
Kimberley Mulder is a spiritual director and writer with an MDiv and Spiritual Direction Certificate from Portland Seminary. Companioning people as they wrestle and explore the particularities of their lives within God's is an honor and joy.  
A Canadian transplant to west Michigan, she works with the team at the Dominican Center in Grand Rapids hosting spiritual formation programs, retreats, and spiritual direction. The outdoors is always calling her name, you can find her hiking, skiing, gardening, and taking pictures anywhere outside of four walls (some of which make their way on to Instagram @writerkimberleymulder and Facebook @kimberleymulderwriter). 
Online, her presence and practice is hosted at