Why and How to Write a Journal

It seems like everyone is writing these days. Multitudes are expressing their opinions on the web. Texting is a worldwide phenomenon. Blogging is big, and, of course, it seems everyone is writing a novel or short story. But none of this is journaling. What exactly is journaling?

When I was young, the only people I knew who kept a diary or journal were teeny-boppers who wrote loopy letters with pink ballpoint pens and dotted their i’s with little hearts. But the practice of keeping a diary or journal goes back hundreds of years, with the earliest known example coming from Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius.[1] Visionaries from Leonardo da Vinci to Charles Darwin jotted down their thoughts and ideas. This art of recording thoughts and daily musings has been found to be beneficial for everything from keeping scientific notes to self-discovery through self-expression of emotions and ideas. We have greatly benefited from the journals of great men and women, learning about their struggles, aspirations, and accomplishments. Without journals, thoughts would remain disorganized and discoveries such as those made by Lewis and Clark would be lost. You could even say the gospels are journals of a sort.

Journaling can be for everyone, not just famous people or teenage girls smitten with rock stars. Without exaggeration I can say that my journaling has been a life-changer and maybe a life-saver. I first discovered journaling when I was in my mid-40s and sinking into depression. It was a safe place to spill out my uncertainty and desperation. In time the hundreds of yellow pages on legal pads became an eye-opening record that documented my slide into confusion and sadness.

What’s more important is that journaling became the pathway that God used to enter my darkness with his light and hope. Writing down only my thoughts grew to also be writing God’s thoughts about me and to me. He reminded me of scriptures that healed me and of His Spirit who would not leave me an orphan during those long and confusing months and years. You can see why I cherish my time of journal keeping and why I still do it almost every day.

Journaling is simple. It’s free. It requires no money for equipment or lessons. You can’t fail. You don’t need a partner and nobody grades you. You can stop anytime you want, take long breaks, and pick it up again whenever you want. All you need is a pen or pencil and something to write on. I started with legal pads and now do it on my computer.

Here are a few ideas that might help you get started.

  1. Keeping a journal is not for everyone. If you find out it’s not for you, no harm’s done and no need to feel guilty. If you want to give it a shot, I suggest doing it for at least a month to adapt to this new habit.
  2. Journaling requires solitude. It is private and if you have someone looking over your shoulder or questioning your work, you won’t feel free to express your honest feelings. If you’re always around people, find a secret place to be alone. Maybe a park or even the bathroom or closet.
  3. Journaling requires silence. Turn off your music, take out your ear buds, and turn off your phone. Don’t check your email, Twitter, or Facebook. If this is a challenge for you, then use a pad and paper and put away your computer altogether.
  4. Journaling requires time. Like any writing, the good stuff usually doesn’t come at once. Thoughts build on each other and you will be examining your motives, actions, and ideas.
  5. For Christians, journaling requires a Bible. Here’s where a computer becomes so helpful: you can instantly check references and look for verses of which you only remember a word or two. But be careful not to get sidetracked by ads, tasks, or the countless interruptions that electronics flood you with every second.
  6. Journaling is personal and for your eyes only. Grammar and spelling are unimportant. No one will see what you write nor should they. Because of this, you can spill out every last thought, dream, frustration, and emotion. This catharsis is extremely helpful

Going deeper

  1. Invite God into your journaling. By that I mean begin with a prayer requesting His presence and reactions.
  2. Allow Him the chance to comment. After writing a few sentences or a paragraph or two, I begin a new paragraph and wait for Him to speak. I then write what I believe He is saying. Of course this can be subjective. It never takes the place of what the Bible says. Even so, I believe you will find that He draws the good out and gently reproves sinful thoughts and attitudes.
  3. Read back through your journals and notice recurrent themes and issues. Are you making progress?

Above all, journaling is a voyage of self-discovery, a place to record spectacular things like epiphanies and God sightings and amazing things like hummingbird sightings and the blooming of a new rose. In this sacred space nothing is off limits and you will find that God is never offended no matter what you say.

I hope journaling will open your soul and bring you hope and light.

[1] https://www.fromthegrapevine.com/lifestyle/famous-people-who-kept-journal-albert-einstein-marie-curie-mark-twain-charles-darwin

No Troubles, only Joys

Calvin-and hobbes--transmogrifing machineI miss Calvin and Hobbes. I especially loved Calvin’s transmogrifying machine. Really just a cardboard box, he used it to change himself—and any other willing subject—into dinosaurs, worms, or chickens. No request was too extreme or beyond the amazing ability of the transmogrifying machine to whisk away your present trouble by transforming you into whatever life form that didn’t have those problems.

Lots of times I’ve wished for that machine. Oh, not that cardboard box, of course. But something that would zap away my problems, pain, or circumstances. Or at least change them a little.

Recently I had a dream about a mother who had many handicapped children, some severely. Several were in wheelchairs, others suffered from cystic fibrosis, paralysis, or Down syndrome. Overwhelmed with the both the number of children and the complexity of handicaps, I sympathized with her and said I was sorry that she had so many burdens. She looked at me with genuine surprise and said “I have no burdens. Only joys.” I can still see her genuine smile and radiant eyes.

I am captivated by the radiant joy of that dream woman with all of the children. She wasn’t just enduring the handicapped children; she was cherishing and enjoying them. Her joy came from inside, a deep artesian well. I have known real people like her, people whose spirits weren’t crushed by pain or handicap, but rose above it somehow. Instead of wishing for a transmogrifying machine to zap away their problems, they attain a new level of life, as though their problems become stairs to a higher plane of living.

The apostle Paul wanted to escape his troubles, too. He suffered with a recurring problem that was very painful. He called it his “thorn in the flesh.” When he begged God to remove it, God replied that, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:7-9). No mention of an easy exit.

Difficulties place us in a hallway from which two doors open. We can choose the door that leads us to God and a deeper understanding through the pain or we can take the door marked Exit which in reality leaves us wallowing with questions like “If only…” and “Why me?”

God’s goal is always to move us beyond the physical to the spiritual when true victory is won. God is eternally present. No victories are won in the past or the future. He is the source of overflowing hope, joy, love, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, perseverance, and goodness. Every day He gives me occasions for gladness and opportunities to draw closer to Him. Through pain he opens doors of opportunity to learn more about Him, to meditate upon His character, and to spend time with Him. Spending time with God is the greatest gift and the one we most often squander. It’s the gift nobody seems to want.