I always say I’m not a journaler, but I just typed an update on the computer in a journal file that I’ve kept faithfully since 2009. And, if you dug around in the recesses of my basement, you’d come across boxes of notebooks I’ve been writing in since 1977. So, am I a journaler? I guess I am.
Where’s the breakdown? I think the problem is that when I think of journaling, I imagine a diary, something people cherish and update daily. I tried that as a child, but I had little success. My life was just not that interesting. I tried again when my life finally did get that interesting, those diaries had to be burned!
We need a new idea of journaling that includes a broader definition. Here’s mine: Journaling as a spiritual practice is any way of keeping an account of the work of God in your life. If that is true, I am a journaler.
Eight years ago, I took a spiritual direction class that included the book, “Journaling As a Spiritual Practice: Encountering God Through Attentive Writing,” by my professor, Helen Cepero. As part of that class we did the journaling exercises set out in the book and after the class, I continued. The difference was I only wrote in this journal once a month when I was on my silent retreats. I have continued this practice for eight years now, but never really thought of it as journaling because it wasn’t a daily practice. Still, over time it has become a record of the work of God in my life through the tremendous experience of the last eight years. It counts!
What about the boxes in my basement? When I was eighteen I arrived at college as a newly minted Christian. I didn’t know anything about being a believer so I found the first mature looking Christian I could and asked how to go about growing my faith. She suggested that I find a spiral notebook and divide it in half. In the first section, I was to read the Bible and when something stood out to me, write it down. In the second section I was to draw a vertical line down each page and use one side for writing out my prayers and the other side for writing the answers to those prayers. This was very doable and I’ve been doing it for forty years. I don’t often go back and read the old ones, but the idea of having boxes full of forty years of answered prayer is very encouraging. It counts!
So, how do you make journaling work for you? I think a journal can be as different as the person writing it, or drawing in it, or painting in it, or placing photographs in it. I’ve seen some people who cherish their journals and go back often to re-read them. They are modern day examples of memorial stones that people of ancient times set up to mark a spiritually significant event. Some find writing too cumbersome and prefer to draw or paint. I have a friend who does a photography blog, which is very much a way to journal. It counts!
What’s stopping you? For the next two weeks, try a journal of your own design. Find a way to make it work for you. The point is to record the work of God in your life. Maybe it will be a purely mental journal, or a list of bullet points, or some kind of fitness tracker where you note significant aspects of your workouts that have filled your soul tank. Think outside the box – or in this case the notebook.
*For more on spiritual formation exercises, check out my new book, The Retreat: A Tale of Spiritual Awakening.