Over the years, probably on and off since high-school, I’ve kept a journal.
At times I’ve been consistent with this practice. I’ve taken dedicated time and discipline to write what I’ve experienced or felt about certain moments. Whether by typing or whether by handwriting I’ve dedicated time, notebooks, and files to exploring what is going on within. During certain seasons I’ve been able to write daily, expressing thoughts about the days just gone and reflect on how I’m understanding those experiences.
At other times, usually when the season is a hard one, I feel compelled to write. I feel compelled to make sense of what is going on. I feel compelled to discern what my mind and my heart is really saying.
You see, often through the exercise of writing, whether it be in list form or a more comprehensive essay, life can be made clearer. As I work through an issue, an experience, or a particular emotion, the ‘thinking on paper’ provides clarity.
Another aspect to journaling that I find helpful is the way it can become a spiritual exercise. A spiritual exercise centred around writing out my prayer for the day, the day coming or the day past, where I can be entirely honest with God.
Even within ourselves, we rarely take the time to really explore what is going on within our own hearts and minds. Through a journal we are able to explore those ideas, concepts, emotions, seasons, thoughts, issues, and pressures by patiently writing or typing our inner most thoughts. Between the pen and the page we are able to discern our own hearts and seek wisdom from above.
After more than 15 years of this practice, with a few breaks in-between, I’ve come to the conclusion that there is no right or wrong way to journal. In high school we may have been taught some form of formalised writing, and for some reason we carry over to our personal lives those structured ‘rules’ around how we are to express ourselves. There aren’t any rules for writing a journal, it is yours and you can do with it what you like.
As to reading old journals, it probably depends on purpose. I’m always nervous about re-reading something I wrote years ago. It’s like reading the ‘old me’, or at least taking a step backwards, realising how stupid and immature I was. I’m certainly nervous about it. But, for some of those more diary-entry journals it is worth being reminded of what I’ve experienced and gives perspective on the now. For example, I always find it interesting reading portions of my journals from my time in Lebanon, now over 10 years ago. Those entries can be a reminder of what I did, who I met, and what I was thinking at the time.
A little while ago I came across this post, talking about journaling as a pathway to joy. It highlights, for those of us who have a faith, that journaling can be a beneficial spiritual exercise, keeping our hearts and mind on the things of God. It talks about some of the similar things I’ve outlined here, but provides some good ways journaling intersects with our relationship with God. As the author points out,
“…journaling is a way of slowing life down for just a few moments, and trying to process at least a sliver of it for the glory of God, our own growth and development, and our enjoyment of the details”.
What about you? Do you journal? What have you learnt through it?