People keep lots of kinds of journals.
In faith contexts, we hear about prayer journals, gratitude journals, Bible study journals… These are all fine and good, but my quest has always been to discover how a journal serves the soul's replenishment and nurture. How the practice of journaling contributes to Soul Health. Which certainly includes prayer, gratitude, and maybe even Bible study.
But for some, maybe many, it turns out that journaling has become a drag. I’ve learned this truth: some people love to journal, some people love to hate to journal.
Let’s explore this topic from a few different angles, to help us get perspective on why we might want to start jouraling, keep journaling, or even give journaling another chance. By learning the origins of the term itself, and the history of those who keep journals, we might increase our willingness to give this core practice another look.
Ever wonder what the origin of the word “journal” is? It’s actually related to another word we use a lot in the personal growth space: "journey". Both derive from the french word, Jour… for day. Aa “journey” was the distance you could travel in a jour; in a day. A journal became the place you’d would record the significant events of that day! A similar parallel exists with the late 16th century Latin word for day, dies, and diarium which refers to a daily record, or a “diary.”
And historically, who typically keeps journals? Hint: it’s not just 13 year old girls. (no shade on 13 year old girls here!).
Historical figures like Lewis & Clark, or whaling expeditions that sought to discover new worlds, or even scientists like Charles Darwin or even today (think "New England Journal of Medicine")…. what do they have in common? They're all explorers. They are people who pressed into uncharted territory, physical or otherwise.
But still, why do they keep journals?
Explorers and scientists alike are disciplined in the practice of recording their observations, surprises, discoveries, and detailed descriptions of the terrain they're passing through… which, if you're moving in circles could come in handy!
Those who value their observations along the journey realize it would be devastating if they lost the value of their ground-breaking observations, simply because they couldn't remember. And who could remember everything? No one.
While in my senior year at Cornell, I took a Field Biology Class and heard a quote from my professor that I’ve never forgotten: “the weakest pencil is better than the strongest memory.”
How does this relate to us? We're moving into uncharted territory, too. There are things you and I see along the journey of life that are very much worth noting. There are lessons learned that deserve to be recorded for future benefit. And once we notice them, we can even intentionally respond to God in those moments.
We are explorers as well… but the domain of our uncharted territory is called THE FUTURE!
Every day, every moment.… the second-hand keeps ticking. Maybe you're in a season of life where you wish it could just slow down so you can squeeze more love and life into it. Maybe you're in a season where it can't go by fast enough… you're living in "someday, I'll…". Or maybe you're stuck in a season of the past that can't ever come back. Through grief or loss or trauma of some kind, perhaps you’re living more in the past than in the present.
But no matter what, that second-hand keeps ticking.
The cold hard fact is that you're moving into the future. And I would like to suggest that your life, your future, has GREAT VALUE. I want to challenge you to LIVE IT. Like Robin William’s character in Dead Poet’s Society, I want to stand behind you whispering, “Carpe Diem.”
Just like famous explorers, we note our discoveries… record our observations… ask our questions… express our true selves. Take note. Consider. Listen. Ask God to speak.
The Book of Psalms is a book of prayers… one of the things we can’ help but notice is the wide range of human emotion expressed there... sadness, hopelessness, joy, triumph.
Below are some prompts to support your journaling practice... take whichever ones serve you! Use comments to add questions or ideas that help your journaling practice. We’d love to learn from you as well.
At the beginning of a new journal, I often take time to write five to ten words that describe the facts about my life right now: as if I just came over this mountain ridge to discover a vista called TODAY, and before going further, I’m looking first at the ground you're standing on right now. Where am I? What’s true of my life today?
Where are you now? - I'm a mom, I work with close friends, my youngest son is heading to Australia in a few weeks…
Then look back at your list… circle those words that represent things you’re currently grateful for. You may find yourself adding a few words!
Then as you reach for a journal in the midst of ordinary life, use it to reflect on whatever is current in your life. And in the midst of those circumstances, reflect on the deeper significance. Why do those things matter?
Other good questions to consider are these:
what has my experience of God been like these last few weeks?
- Could be words like rich and free, or rushed but precious, or even scattered and dry… but whatever the truth has been lately, write it down.
Make a list of things that you’re grateful for these days
I’m grateful the days are getting longer again
I’m grateful for the nudge I’m getting to lean into what’s next
I’m grateful for the beauty of the natural landscape
And lastly, an important part of journaling is to name some specific desires you have. It’s good to bring those to God in prayer as well. What might those be for you?
I desire a stronger connection with God
I want to feel more grounded, or solid, in my identity
I want a greater sense of hope for my ministry and future
A journal can be the inviting safe place to actively, intentionally explore your interior world, to explore relational dynamics, explore your relationship with God, and explore your future.
Value your journey into uncharted territory!
Pick up a journal, and WRITE for Your SOUL!