You’ve seen ‘em: the artsy writer types with black-rimmed glasses who sip coffee and hunker down in dark corners of coffee shops, pen in hand, writing contemplatively inside a hardback journal.
When you think about creative writing or journaling, you either think of that scene, or your little prepubescent sister who writes about her flavor of the week in her little pink diary with the miniature lock and key. But journaling is not just for the literary creative types or just a rite of passage 13-year-old girls engage in under. Journaling is a mature spiritual discipline that can greatly compliment spiritual growth.
Whether it’s used as a place to keep track of prayer requests, write poetry or Scripture, or just a place to write out fears, struggles, hopes and goals, a journal is a safe place to record and explore your deepest thoughts.
Yet, one rarely hears another Christian say, "You know, I was writing in my journal the other day about the faithfulness of the Lord, and I just …" Christians tend to stress the importance of only prayer and Bible reading, but few accept journaling as a daily spiritual ritual. But some Christians do journal. Those who do find it a great exercise that strengthens the other disciplines in their life like prayer and Scripture study.
Alison, a 30-year-old Christian female keeps what she calls "a gratitude journal." "Every night, before I go to bed, I write down at least five things for which I’m thankful to God for that particular day," Alison says. "Sometimes it is something everyone may easily overlook—like being able to breathe without a machine, the ability to drive, God’s protection, sunshine, etc."
This daily exercise keeps her mind focused on what’s important in life. "It keeps my days in perspective," she says. "It also helps remind me that every good thing comes from God. I often go back and read old passages to lift my spirit when I’m down."
In her book, God Whispers (Relevant Books), author Margaret Feinberg writes about the benefits of the private nature of journaling: "A journal can become a sacred place," she says. "Mere blank pages are transformed into a site where you can record the most intimate parts of your soul. A place where you can travel with your deepest thoughts and confessions. A place where you can slip off the mask of who you are supposed to be and slip into something more comfortable: who you really are."
In Spiritual Journaling: Recording Your Journey Toward God, Richard Peace says journaling pinpoints areas in which our faith needs help: "It focuses mind and heart on the issues of growth with the aim of discerning what God is doing in one’s life. By using a journal, we come in touch with our cutting edges of growth, those areas where questions exist or where there is need or longing. These are areas where the Holy Spirit seems most active."
Peace says journaling can serve as a cross-trainer for other spiritual disciplines: "Journaling is also an aid to other spiritual disciplines," he says. "Writing down your insights is helpful in Bible study. Writing out prayers helps you to communicate with God. Creating a poem that praises God is an act of worship."
Not all feel writing a prayer is as effective as saying it. In response to an online poll on the subject of journaling, one respondent writes: "For me, there is a level of personal connection with God that is taken away when I write a prayer instead of talking it. I’m not sure why, perhaps it is tradition that has taught me that if I’m not making noise, I’m not reaching God. Whatever the case, that is why I don’t use my journal daily."
"It’s not a substitute for prayer, but a supplement to prayer," one female, Lee Ann, explains. "It’s a huge blessing to your prayer life because it helps you focus on what you want to communicate to God and really spend time thinking about it, not just rushing through a whispered prayer about it."
Alyson, a female twentysomething says journaling enriches her Bible study. "It helps me grow spiritually because I can remember thoughts and ideas that I have had during my personal reading time," she says. "It definitely enriches my Bible reading by applying and thinking out thoughts I have about Scripture."
But she says the greatest benefit of journaling is how it enriches her speaking and teaching at church. "It is an incredible resource. I have taught many lessons and given many testimonies based on things that I jotted down in my journal!"
Over time, a journal serves as a chronicle of spiritual growth as prayers, requests and needs are met and faith is strengthened. It becomes a recorded testimony. Stuart, a male who journals says, "[Keeping a] prayer journal helps me grow since I can look back to see if the changes that were ‘suggested’ actually took place. It’s frightening sometimes when I realize how certain issues have re-occurred many times. I also see how positive change can be when I look back and see the difference."
Additionally, he encourages others to keep a journal as a testimony to share with others down the road. "I encouraged a young lady this Sunday to keep one," he says. "She is finishing her first year of medical school, and I told her that her experience must be fascinating. I suggested that she could use her journal to write a book after the experience of becoming a physician."
If you’ve never kept a spiritual journal, or have given up on journaling, try these suggestions to see if your spiritual life could benefit from the exercise:
[THINK OUTSIDE THE LINES]
This allows you more creative freedom on how you fill (or don’t fill) a page. Feel free to doodle, write sideways or whatever. Creativity is the name of the game.
[FORGET GRAMMAR, AND I DON’T MEAN KELSEY]
Journaling is the single most informal form of writing. Don’t even write in complete sentences if you don’t want to. Jot down phrases, words, Scriptures or quotes. This is your personal journal, not your English project from college.
[OPEN DAILY FOR BUSINESS]
Visit your journal daily. Even if you feel you have nothing to write, read your past entries and mentally focus your thoughts on God.
[KEEP IT UNDER WRAPS]
Keep your journal in a safe place. A journal is most effective when you’re completely honest in your expressions. You’ll feel better able to candidly express your deepest thoughts and longings if you know your roommate or spouse won’t accidentally find your journal.
[ACCENTUATE THE POSITIVES]
Don’t focus on the negative. Some people only feel like expressing themselves in writing when they’re upset, angry or depressed. Don’t forget to spice up those pages with words of thanksgiving and praise as an encouragement to yourself and as a blessing to the Lord.
The discipline of journaling is serious business, Lee Ann says, and not a luxury or a superfluous exercise. "When I make the extra effort to articulate in writing my thoughts about God, His blessings and goodness, and my relationship with Him, it really requires serious reflection. And also, there’s something about looking at a tangible, visual account of all God’s blessings that really builds my faith. It’s a huge boost when I go back through the journal and see all of the answered prayer requests circled in red."
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