My first writing professor was a short stocky man who didn’t like religion and wore a Harley Davidson leather jacket to class. Even more so, he was bald with a white goatee and his signature move was honesty. He didn’t believe in sugar-coating life. Honesty was the only thing that made for good writing–even if the truth hurt. Despite all these eccentric quirks, his teachings changed not only my writing, but my life.
One day my professor pulled out a small book from his bag. It had a black cover and the pages looked yellow and worn out. “So… does anyone in here use a journal?” He asked. Not waiting long for our class’ response he mumbled, “Hmm… that’s too bad.”
He continued to explain that his journal was his sanctuary, the place where he found safety and calm. He wrote down all the experiences that inspired him, all his thoughts, and most importantly his struggles. It was the place where he processed the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of life.
“Don’t be fooled.” He warned us, “This isn’t a diary. It’s a secret weapon, a tool for your success… for your happiness.”
Immediately after class I drove to the bookstore and bought my first journal. Ten years and five journals later, you’ll find my own worn-out journal in my backpack. So whats the big hype about journaling? What can it do for you?
Here are five reasons why you should start a journal today.
KEEP YOUR BRAIN HEALTHY
It’s one thing to want to pray more. It’s another thing to actually sit down and do it. And even when you do, there are an endless number of obstacles and distractions. So often I walk into the chapel and sit there with my brain scrambled. When there are 10,000 things going on at the same time it’s easy to get overwhelmed in prayer but if I write my prayer — things are different.
Writing down my thoughts and prayers force me to focus on one thing at a time. My brain automatically tries to process a bagillion things at a time but working through my thoughts slowly on paper puts my soul at rest.
FIND PEACE & CLARITY
Journaling might be weird and even painful at first but the fruit of that struggle is peace and clarity. Writing my thoughts slow me down enough to remember that God is with me through it all. Moreover, it reminds me that God’s plan is bigger than the one I’ve drawn up in my head.
Journaling always seems like a burden but every time I begin my prayer this way, I find myself more peaceful with a greater sense of clarity and direction.
CREATE EVIDENCE OF GOD’S PLAN
I’ve been journaling for almost ten years and every now and again I find myself randomly reading my old entries. I’ll open it, turn to a random page, look at the date, and it’s as if I am reading my own biography. There was a time I spent two hours reading the whole journal because I was in awe of the ways that God worked with me through my doubts, pain, and fears. Some pages even had teardrops that bled into the ink.
My journals are evidence that I have been through some tough times in my life but even more so, it’s proof that God has a plan for us and that our suffering is only temporary. My prayers and my letters to God are all hard evidence that things get better. In fact, they get more than better.
Document your current prayers and your struggles and be amazed at the ways God works in your life over the years. Write it down so that you can be living proof of someone who has died and risen with Christ.
ALLOW GOD TO BECOME A REAL FRIEND
Have you ever noticed how difficult it is to chat with a stranger? Even when you have good intentions and genuinely want to start a conversation, sometimes there is a natural awkwardness that comes with the task.
Every now and then, I experience this in my prayer. When I pray, I go through the usual and polite routines (sign of the cross, thank you for…, protect this person, etc…) but then I find myself at a loss for anything meaningful to say. There are times when I go so long without praying that God becomes a stranger to me.
Over the years, I’ve discovered that keeping a consistent journal creates a history of your relationship. Think about this. The best conversations I have are with my best friends and it’s because we have a history of things to chat about. When I see them I can’t help but ask them how their week was, how their job interview went or how their vacation was. There is a certain ease to the friendship because of the countless memories we share together. My best friendships require a continual act of checking up on each other.
During difficult times, I never demand that my friends fix my problems. I simply appreciate they are with me because their presence can ease the pain. The same goes with God. Spiritual journaling is yet another tool that creates relationship history. Its draws us deeper and deeper into friendship with an infinite God who thirsts for our attention.
Almost all of my entries begin with “Dear Lord” and conclude with “Until next time…” You, of course, can and should find your own way to speak to God but these entries give us opportunities to continue the conversation with ease rather than being at a loss for words like we so often are.
The intimacy level of your entries is all up to you but I would encourage you to write as if you are on a mission to fall in love.
WRITE FOR YOUR GRANDKIDS
I have a distinct memory of being at my grandfather’s funeral. We were surrounded by loved ones, picture boards, slideshows, and even poetry about the generous life that he lived. But even after all the the stories, I wish I could have heard about his life first hand. I wish I could know the young disciple that he was.
It sounds silly but another reason I journal is for my future grandkids. I want them to know that I, like them, was a real person, with real struggles, challenges, and sometimes hopeless situations. But through it all, it was Christ who transformed my life into something worth living.
Spiritual journaling leaves a trace of our struggle to be holy. If we seek Christ worthily, our lives can blaze a pathway to Him and our written prayers can be a way for us to share in each other’s journeys.
IT’S NOT MAGIC–IT’S JUST JOURNALING
When I was nineteen and at the beginning of my spiritual journey, I found myself with no where to go on Valentine’s Day. In my loneliness, I drove to an adoration chapel. I knew of a church that had perpetual adoration and it calmed my soul to know that I could spend Valentine’s day feeling wanted, accepted, and deeply loved. That day I spent over two hours writing, praying, listening to music, talking… hanging out.
Looking back at my entry, I didn’t receive any quick fixes. I was still single after walking out of the chapel, the drama didn’t disappear but I left hopeful that God had a much bigger plan for me.
Journaling isn’t a magic trick. It’s a style of prayer that brings us closer to an intimate friendship with the divine. It’s a powerful tool that leads us to surrender to His mysterious plan rather than frantically praying for a quick fix to our unending, litany of struggles.