To me, journaling seems to have a bit of a bad rap. When you say the word “journal,” what comes to mind? I think of angsty preteens with fuzzy, pink diaries and feather-tipped pens scribbling away about their first crush or that horrible thing that so-and-so said at school today. Journaling almost seems petty – trivial.
However, coming from firsthand experience, I can say that it’s anything but.
I have journaled off and on again since I was ten years old. I originally started because I was in foster care: not only did my dad want me to record everything that happened, but I had nobody to talk to and I was lonely. I carried that journal with me everywhere.
I started up again the following year during my second bout in foster care. This time, the habit stuck, even after we were returned home.
The older I got, the less I needed to rely on journaling. But in recent times, I have gone back to it and I have discovered a bit about the underrated practice – and myself – along the way.
- Journaling is cathartic
“Journal writing is a voyage to the interior.”
For me, journaling is the freest form of expression. It’s the only place where I can truly admit what I am experiencing, knowing that no one will judge me. I am still teaching myself to let go more, to delve into those thoughts and feelings that I usually ignore – the ones I don’t want to put a name to. But whenever I do? I feel nothing but relief.
Don’t be afraid to state in your journal, in no uncertain terms, what you’re feeling or going through. It has an immediate cathartic effect that will help you to make peace with whatever life is throwing your way.
2. Journaling helps you make sense of what seems senseless
“Writing is the only way I have to explain my own life to myself.”
Often, when I’m journaling, I find myself writing, erasing, and rewriting as I go, trying to capture the exact feeling, the exact emotion, trying to recreate every altering moment, every twisted thought and half-formed fear. Putting an exact name to the feeling or to the situations that I experience was, I used to think, just another symptom of my raging perfectionism. Now I know better: what I’m really doing is trying to make sense out of what, to me, is senseless; every time I erase, every time I rewrite, I am understanding more and more about myself, about my troubles and fears and pains, about the people that feature in my life and the experiences that we share.
Why is it that this happened? Why did it make me feel this way? Journaling will help you find the answers to those questions.
3. Journaling is a form of praying
“This is what you do when you journal. You are recording God’s grand, epoch-spanning redemptive story as it unfolds in your limited, temporal sphere of existence here on earth. Your journal has the potential to record the continuation of the Holy Spirit’s work in our world!”
Adam L. Feldman
Did you know you could write your prayers down to the Lord? Write down your hopes and dreams, your pains and fears, and be open and honest – with Him and yourself. Not only does this increase intimacy between you and the Lord, but it’s a great way to keep focused and not get distracted. I don’t know about you, but I often struggle with not getting distracted in my thoughts when I pray. Praying aloud – even if it’s in a whisper – helps, but when I’m alone inside my head, my thoughts wander. Writing down my prayers is a focused, deliberate conversation with God and seeing the evidence of the state of my heart does two things for me:
- Forces me to acknowledge those areas about myself that I would rather close my eyes to, i.e. selfishness, pride, pettiness, etc.
- Gives me a play-by-play of what God is doing. I love reading back old entries and seeing the areas where God has caused me to grow or the things He has answered prayers about.
Pour out your heart to the Lord and watch Him heal you. One day you will look back and read an old entry and think, “wow, I remember how horrible that was! It’s amazing how God brought me out of that place.”
4. Journaling is a way to record memories
“These handwritten words in the pages of my journal confirm that from an early age I have experienced each encounter in my life twice: once in the world, and once again on the page.”
Terry Tempest Williams
Your journals can become the chronicles of your life – they are your unpublished memoirs, if you will. Cameras can’t capture everything, and there is something very priceless about reading over old journals, recalling and acknowledging the different chapters of your life story. Based on what you write, you may even choose to share your journals with someone someday; maybe a daughter, maybe a spouse. It will provide both you and them with an unfiltered glimpse into the past. And your heart.
Journaling is the evidence of a life lived. Record all those moments that you don’t want to forget; you’ll enjoy reading them over again someday.
5. Journaling helps you heal
“These empty pages are your future, soon to become your past. Twill read the most personal tale you shall ever find in a book.”
Sometimes the things we go through seem almost too painful to put into words; we’d rather repress it than face it head-on. We all have our different coping techniques, and repression has definitely been high on the list for me. So I don’t always feel like journaling. In fact, when really horrible things happen, I’d rather not acknowledge it – even to myself. For example, I’ve been avoiding writing about a certain experience in a my journal for several weeks now. Last night, I finally confronted it in my own way, and I felt freer afterwards.
You don’t have to force yourself to write down what is too painful to express, but you might be surprised by how you feel after getting it out. Working through each phase of the grieving process is a part of healing, and writing down your thoughts as you go through your trials will help you in accepting your circumstances.
6. Journaling is synonymous with self-discovery
“Often as writers, we are surprised by what we learn about ourselves. It runs counter to what we’ve thought about who we are. But it is closer to the truth.”
To journal honestly is to take a good, long look at yourself in a mirror built for souls. I used to struggle with truthfulness when it came to journaling. I’d rather have been lenient, painting myself as the victim of life’s circumstances, a damsel in distress. I shielded myself from my own bitterness and anger. But, with time, I realized that I would rather give an exact representation of my thoughts and feelings than have to face them later – the hidden shadows in a sentence made of sunshine.
The truth is, we’d rather not face that we are shallow, mean, resentful, and silly. But how else will we grow? The Bible teaches that we must confess our sins before we can be forgiven and made new. To confess means to acknowledge. And acknowledgment happens naturally when you journal. You are forced to see yourself for what you are. You come to understand yourself.
Through journaling, you will grow and you will change. Embrace it. It’s all a part of the process.
7. Journaling is a safe place
“And so I just kept writing to myself.”
My journals are like a scribe’s record of secret closet meetings. The Bible speaks about the secret place – a place where you are alone with the Lord, a place where you find His presence. My journals are the essence of what that secret place means to me. They see the worst of me – they see my frustration, my anger, my bitterness – and still, empty pages remain, waiting to be filled. My journals also see what is most fragile about me, the hidden wounds that no one but the Lord knows of, and I can trust that it will remain that way. There’s no one but me and God there.
It’s an escape; it’s a place to run to – a place that doesn’t exist within the crowded walls of my home. It’s where I pour out my heart with only God as my witness.
In our lives, we are often faced with terrible challenges and bitter truths. Journaling provides a safe place where you can express what you’re going through.
I hope this entry inspires you to keep a journal!
“Why, then, do I set before You an ordered account of so many things? it’s certainly not through me that You know them. But I’m stirring up love for You in myself and in those who read this so that we may all say, great is the Lord and highly worthy to be praised. I tell my story for love of Your love.”
Augustine of Hippo