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An invitation to journaling

Nine reasons journaling is a great practice.

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“Oh, that my words were recorded, that they were written on a scroll.” Job 19:23

“Journaling is paying attention to the inside for the purpose of living well from the inside out.” Lee Wise

I recently read Fergus Fleming’s superb recounting of Arctic exploration between 1845-1969. Named the best book of the year when it was published, Ninety Degrees North describes the courage and resilience of explorers who ventured into the high Arctic seeking to reach the North Pole. Most of the accounts were of passionate explorers trapped in their ships on ice floes, languishing in bitter cold for months and eating literally anything their stomachs could digest. Almost all failed in their quest to plant a flag on the earth’s true north. What impressed me about the book was that it relied upon the personal journals of the brave few who ventured into this brutal and dangerous frozen world. Fergus’ book was written from the journaled narratives of bold adventurers like Elisha Kent Kane, Charles Francis Hall and Robert Edwin Peary. 

While reading about these explorers and their journal entries, I became curious about the journaling habits of other historical figures. I discovered that Mark Twain, Leonardo da Vinci and Winston Churchill, among many other famous figures, were dedicated to journaling.  Although journaling is present among notable characters, many common folk journal too. For example, Indigo has an entire section in their store dedicated to supporting people who journal. What I learned from my reading of Ninety Degrees North, and from my brief Google search on famous people who journaled, was that for all of them it was a significant personal and professional benefit.

Regrettably, I started journaling late in my life. I wish someone had shared with me the incredible transformative benefits of this accessible practice. As a disciple of Jesus, journaling can be an incredible instrument for spiritual formation. Today, I journal daily, and I employ a wide array of different formats. Sometimes I record events of the day, sometimes things I’ve learned, ideas, quotes, insights or dreams. My journal bears witness of stories, poems and prayers. There are also pictures, drawings and memorabilia in my current journal. Simply put, journaling is a life-giving, revelational and directive enterprise in my world.

With all that being said, here are my nine tangible reasons for journaling:

  1. Journaling is a means to tell your unique story. Journaling allows me to discover my voice and tell my story. There is no one like me, living a life no one else can live. Why not record and share it? American singer-songwriter Lucy Dacus wrote, “A journal is your completely unaltered voice.” My journal serves as a testimony of my experiences as a disciple and a record of the work of God in my life. The personal accounts in my journal unfold a real-life, real-time story only I can convey. The collective entries in my journal have my ‘stamp’ on them; they are my story told my way.
  2. Journaling records personal growth. Journaling enhances my self-understanding. Here is an opportunity to record how my life is being lived and how I’m reacting to life circumstances. It helps me gain insight into the strength and growth areas of my constitution. By simply putting my current sentiments to paper, I am given the opportunity to consider a change in thinking or behaving, and as such, mature, develop and grow. A journal helps me see the evolution of our soul through the words inscribed on its pages.
  3. Journaling fosters remembering. Too often we allow the day to slip by without taking time to genuinely reflect upon what experiences we encountered. There is so much significance in the common movements of our day which I can capture in words. As disciples, Scripture counsels us not to forget the work of God in our lives (Psalm 63:6; 77:11). Journaling permits me to record the faithfulness of God, his blessings and help. And, as a result of outlining God’s movements in my day, I reap insight, wisdom and an attitude of gratitude.
  4. Journaling aids in prayer and meditation. My journal bears witness to matters and people I have brought before God—prayers of praise, requests for help, appeals for intercession. For me, journaling puts prayer to paper. Journaling also allows me to detail answers to prayer which become a testimony of God’s grace and working. Additionally, journaling helps me in spaces of meditation, both in allowing me to clarify in writing what to focus upon and then to record what word I receive from the Holy Spirit. In this latter vein, Christian author John Piper writes, “Journaling is a way to be a good steward of the Spirit’s illuminations.”
  5. Journaling pauses life. In his book Seeking What Is Sacred, Ken Gire writes: “When we journal, it’s like taking a Polaroid of some moment during the day that has caught our attention. Only we do it with words instead of with film. But like that film, what we have looked at often develops right before our very eyes as we’re writing, revealing things we hadn’t seen before.”  Gire’s sentiments are insightful because I too find journaling allows me to take a hiatus from the rush of the daily grind and focus on the moment. It fosters personal mindfulness. Journaling helps me to soak in ‘God’s good time.’ It transports me from a movement of seconds, minutes and hours to one that transcends the clock. Here I am simply abiding with my Abba Father. Journaling quiets my spirit allowing me to experience being the beloved of God and gain a Spirit-led perspective about my current place in God’s purposes.
  6. Journaling helps with discernment. When I need to make a significant life decision, journaling about it has proven to be invaluable. In detail I jot down pros and cons, options, questions, ruminations and, of course, what I’m hearing from the Holy Spirit. I also add meaningful Scripture into the mix; texts that offer guidance and wisdom. Journaling is a source of sifting and revealing, an advantageous part of my on-going decision-making matrix. It is one way I abide by the counsel of Scripture: “the prudent give thought to their steps” (Proverbs 14:15b).
  7. Journaling improves mental health. I was quite surprised by the breadth of study that has taken place regarding the mental well-being of those who practice daily journaling. According to psychological studies, journaling reduces anxiety, stress, worry and depression. It is a powerful medium for emotional catharsis (venting). Journaling aids in cognitive and emotional processing of difficult life experiences; it helps individuals gain healthy perspective while moving them to a positive level of acceptance and coping. Anne Frank wrote, “I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.” For me, there has been more than one difficult experience in my life in which journaling has helped me to move from hurt to health.
  8. Journaling fuels creativity. Poems, prayers, sermon themes and article ideas have all sprung from my practice of journaling. My journal even has some crude sketches of places I’ve been. In some sense it is doodling with a purpose. There are pages in my journal where I have fastened pictures I’ve taken or personally impactful sayings written out on wonderful backgrounds. Because I have a penchant for sunflowers, I have a picture of Vincent Van Gogh’s 1888 painting, Sunflowers. I am constantly amazed how exercising some expression of artistry in my journal triggers other creative ventures. Journaling is for me both an expression and catalyst for personal creativity.
  9. Journaling improves one’s writing skill. Finally, journaling has enhanced my writing craft. I have a long way to go to be a consistently good writer, but I am a better one because of my journaling practice. I purposely use a pencil for journaling because it allows me to erase and rewrite entries. I am constantly looking for better ways to articulate something I’ve penciled in my journal. For example, I will write a poem and let it sit for a couple of days before returning to it with a fresh set of eyes and new ways of expressing the sentiments I wrote earlier. In short, I can testify that journaling has made me a better communicator.

Someday, when very little remains of me save some distant memories and photographs, perhaps my journals will offer my descendants some glimpse into who I was and what I loved. Maybe some of my entries will give insight, encouragement and wisdom. Maybe they will inspire another disciple of Jesus to keep the faith or to live boldly for the Lord. Only God knows such things and so I will leave such purposes of my journal with him.

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