My first experience with journaling was of the "Five-year diary" variety. My brother gave it to me for my birthday. It was blue and had a lock and key that I found particularly intriguing. Apparently, I was expected to have such deep and interesting thoughts, my journal required maximum security. Soon, however, I found myself cheating. Friday would roll around, and I hadn't written anything for a week. Guilt! So I sat down at my desk, chewed on the end of my pencil and rolled the past week around in head: Let's see... Monday, I went to my piano lesson; Tuesday, we had tuna casserole for dinner; Wednesday...Wednesday... nothing much happened...and so forth. My five-year diary became a fill-in-the-blank taskmaster that quickly lost its charm. Finally the key went missing and that was that. Whew!
Blank books came into fashion in the '70s and a friend gave me one as a gift when I was expecting a baby. The title on the book was Celebrate Life. It was a good gift, and I used it to record some of my thoughts, worries, and excitement about the coming baby.
Soon after the baby was born, another big event occurred in my life: I became a believer in Jesus Christ. As a new Christian, I brimmed with wonder and love for the Lord, and a humble, spiral-bound notebook caught the overflow. It was not a diary of daily events so much as a place to think on and savor the Lord.
Just the word journal can evoke anxiety in some people. Don't fret. There is nothing to fear. I seriously doubt that your journal or mine will ever be published, prized, or used as evidence. Remember Captain Kirk on Star Trek: "Captain's log, Stardate 41153.7. Our destination is planet Deneb IV...." That was his journal -- just a record of what was going on.
The journal always reflects the personality of the journaler. I've observed three kinds of journal personalities: those who already keep a journal, those who want to keep a journal but are afraid, and those whose blood pressure tops out at the mere thought of keeping a journal.
At a conference recently, a woman sitting near me pulled out a beautiful, embossed leather journal and set it by her Bible.
"That's a stunning journal," I said.
She picked it up and held it reverently, "Isn't it? I think that's why I'm afraid to write in it."
I understood. The volume looked so important, it would seem a shame to write something common in it. My advice? Put it on a bookshelf and admire it. Then, buy a pretty spiral-bound lined journal at Target or Marshalls and a pen that feels good in your hand, and you're off and running.
Paper and pen can seem a bit quaint in this day of smart phones and tablets, but I have found great benefits in going low-tech. When writing, the words are experienced on multiple levels: mental, visual, and tactile. As you form the letters, you think about the words and have time to imbed them in your heart. Writing by hand requires a little extra energy, therefore, you are less likely to ramble and more likely to take time to crystallize your thoughts.
Seems that we either over-think or under-value this process, but keeping a journal is a way to chronicle our life in Christ -- both the baby steps and the long leaps. When we strive to comprehend a relationship with the God of the universe, a simple pen and notebook bring a down-to-earth way of drawing near to Him.
So, take an extra moment and think beautifully. Be free. No constraints. If you want to write diagonally across the page, do it. If you want to write one huge word on a single page, do it. If you want to write in code, do it. Draw a picture, write a poem, paste a photograph, or press a flower. Here is a small place in your world where you can do and say whatever you want.
That said, after 34-plus years of journaling, I'd like to pass along some stress-reducing tips for facing the blank page.
1. Start with reading the Bible. This is the launch point for all wisdom, hope, revelation, and relationship with God. You can read from Genesis to Revelation or Revelation to Genesis. Each day you could read a little from the Old Testament, Proverbs, Psalms, and the New Testament. If you're young in your faith, start with the book of John -- you'll be glad you did. It really doesn't matter how you do it -- but start your journaling in the Word of God.
In a word: Read.
2. In the late 18th century, American writers and artists flooded into Paris to learn and practice their art. At that time in our country's young history, there were few opportunities to study the great masters or learn artistic technique. The emerging artists set up their easels in the Louvre and spent hours everyday copying the works of the masters, thereby learning and absorbing their techniques.
I often start my journal entry the same way: I copy the Master's words. In my daily reading, a Scripture often jumps out at me and seems to speak right into my heart. I've heard from my Lord, and that is worthy of being memorialized! I copy it word for word.
In a word: Copy.
3. At this point, I take a moment to ponder the insight and see how it fully applies to my life. Then, I write about it. Sometimes I simply think about God and consider His goodness and sufficiency in my life. I ponder His presence in the miniscule and the magnificent. As a result, my cares strangely seem to fall into a divine perspective and realistic proportion.
In a word: Consider.
4. Have you ever read a verse from the Bible, sat back in your chair, taken a deep breath and said, "Huh?" It happens to me all the time. At that point, I open my journal and do a little deconstruction.
"For God so loved the world He gave His only begotten Son" (John 3:16).
the world (including me!)
By taking it apart, I see it differently and more clearly. Sometimes I notice a particular repetition in a verse such as "in Him" found over and over in the first chapter of Ephesians.
Journaling isn't rocket science, but isn't for the lazy either. By looking at the Word thoughtfully, you will grow in wisdom, understanding, and love.
In a word: Deconstruct
5. One of the easiest ways to journal is to write your prayers. When I articulate my prayers, I better understand my situation and often gain clarity. It's a wonderful thing to look back later and see how faithfully God answered those things I entrusted to Him.
In a word: Pray
Think of a journal as a servant and friend, not a master. Just as there is no blueprint for the relationships in your life, there is none for journaling either. Finding your own way will uniquely reflect your personality and your relationship with the Lord. Hopefully, it will bring a tangible quality to an intangible and eternal relationship.
I have a friend who gave his wife a gold charm bracelet when they married. Every time something significant happened in their lives: a vacation, a new baby, a promotion...he bought her a charm to mark the occasion. Her bracelet now jingles with special symbols of their life together. When you memorialize God's faithfulness in your journal, you will reread it and remember His answers to your prayers, His provision during lean times, His grace that spared you from disaster, or His faithfulness that preserved you through it. Hang them like charms in your journal -- a reminder of your life hid with Christ in God.
Laura Z. Sowers
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