I rarely go anywhere without my backpack, as you may have noticed. What’s in it? It usually contains my Bible, my soprano recorder (easier to pack than a guitar), a Clif bar (not always a Taco Bell nearby), various office items, a copy of Our Daily Bread (devotional), a book to read, a WV map, and my journal. It makes for considerable heft, but for me they are essential; let me partially explain why.
The Word teaches me how to relate to God and man; the journal is a record of how that unfolds in my life. Reading the Word and writing words in a journal are both spiritual disciplines; the two together form a powerful duo in my spiritual growth. Like any spiritual discipline, one doesn’t appreciate its value until you engage in it. When you first start writing, it will be basic like: “I ate, I slept, I saw a movie, I made four phone calls, I read my Bible.” Hardly great literature, but the quality of writing is not as important as the discipline of doing it regularly. Length is not as important as ingraining the habit.
The obvious connection is to record my Quiet Time, what the Word and Spirit of God are saying to you. The next area is to write my prayers. Writing doesn’t quench passion, it sharpens it. I start to see prejudices, how “me-centered” I sound, and if I am writing about the things of God or God Himself. Journaling prunes the mind and exposes my spirit. It is not a history, rather a recording of my views; it is subjective, not objective. It has expanded over the years to include a daily review of the previous day, a record of folks I saw, decisions made, quiet time notes, who I’m mad at and why, prayers, musings, diagrams, original ideas, book reviews, movie reviews, whatever is occupying my mind. Diagrams, symbols, and crude drawings seep into the entries.
On a higher plain, sermons and songs emerge from a seed thought, a verse, a prayer. On a mundane level, journaling is a sometimes painful but always useful revealer of my flaws as a grace-covered sinner. I spew, pour out rage or sorrow; sometimes the pages curl up as a flurry of emotions flow out. It is a repository of ideas (what if . . .; why did I say . . .) Often things I was ready to wage war over are reduced to barely worthy of a skirmish, especially as I review what I said, meant, wish I had said, etc. and realize I may have been wronged, but usually I am more in the wrong than I thought. Fantasy feeds on the subjunctive (could, should), but life is lived beyond it; the journal helps me distinguish between them.
Accessibility is key to recording certain moments: sermon outlines, quotes from books, decisions to make, they all go in there. Better to write before a thought is gone forever (Francis Bacon once said, “If a man write little, he had need of a great memory”). I have “journaled” over 30 years and have over 65 volumes and counting. Why do I keep them? I can go back a day, a year, a decade, and see not a record of the event, but how it affected me. I can see if my prayers are stuck in a holding pattern, if I am asking the wrong questions, if I have truly let go of something or am harboring feelings by their repetition. No one reads my journals except me so I can be brutally honest and unvarnished. When I retire I may digitize them and write memoirs for my wife and sons, and leave them as a legacy after I die (Ps. 102.18). It can be a fancy Moleskin or a Mead notebook from Walmart; either way I encourage you to journal so we can learn to “not think more highly of ourselves than we ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.” (Rom. 12.3)