How Does a Person Keep a Journal?
Having a definite time each day for writing in the journal can be very helpful. For me, that time is early in the morning before Charlotte (and Jamie if she is home from college) awakens. With a cup of coffee, an open Bible or a thought-provoking book and my journal, I am ready to begin the day.
At one time, I used college-ruled, spiral-bound notebooks. For several years I have been using bound notebooks (clothbound notebooks containing about seventy-five pages of blank, ruled paper). Most entries fill somewhere between one and three pages.
On one occasion someone said to me, "I am keeping a journal but I don’t know what to write." The entries might be varied; after all, the journal is for the writer and not the writer for the journal. (In other words, make the journal useful to you. You are not doing this for anyone else.)
There are a number of approaches that could be taken which might be helpful on any given day.
- One entry might be the reflection on the events of the day and their meaning in light of one’s faith commitment.
- Written prayers can help a person express to the Father some of the deepest longings of the heart.
- A written prayer list can bring to the awareness the situations and people who weigh heavily on the writer’s heart.
- The journal can be a place where sins are confessed and repentance occurs before God.
- There are times which a person may just wish to write freely, reflecting on the past and God’s intervention in life.
- From books, the daily newspaper, and other periodicals certain poignant quotes may jump out at you. The quote can be copied as well as some reflection of how this quote interacts with your own thinking.
- In the journal one might describe a conversation with someone else or something that happened earlier in the day. Feelings that were experienced during and after the conversation can be described. These feelings might range from the affirmation received in a conversation to a feeling of intimidation and shame.
Absolute honesty is very important. We write to reveal ourselves to the Lord. Henri Nouwen kept a spiritual journal during his first year at L’Arche, a community in Toronto for adults who experience severe mental and even physical challenges. The journal reflects his move from serving as a professor at Harvard University to working with these adults in a very different environment. Nouwen displays his disarming honesty when he writes on Saturday, March 15:
I love Jesus but want to hold on to my own friends even when they do not lead me closer to Jesus. I love Jesus but want to hold on to my own independence even when that independence brings me no real freedom. I love Jesus but do not want to lose the respect of my professional colleagues, even though I know that their respect does not make me grow spiritually. I love Jesus but do not want to give up my writing plans, travel plans, even when these plans are more to my glory than to the glory of God.
(Nouwen, The Road to Daybreak, pp. 147-148)
Finally, in keeping a journal, we are seeking more than self-awareness or self-discovery. As Christ-followers, we want to do something with that self-knowledge. That is why we seek this self-knowledge in the context of our repentance and God’s redemption. This activity of God in our lives is the thread that binds the days and weeks of our journals and lives together.