“I'm going to start calling you Belle (from Disney's Beauty and the Beast) because you go through books like nobody else I know!”
That's what my husband tells me when he sees me reading for what seems like hours at a time. Although I haven't dedicated as much time to reading in recent weeks as much as I would have liked, I do like to read quite a bit. Like most readers, I have my list of favorite authors that I go back to more than others: Ted Dekker, Max Lucado, Mark Batterson, and A.A. Milne, to name just a few. But the series of books that tops the list of favorites (other than the Bible) is a set of one-of-a-kind hand-written books: my Journals. This collection of wire-bound books chronicles my passions, frustrations, disappointments and joys for the past nine years, from the summer of 2001 to the present day.
Why would someone nowadays keep a hand-written journal? Isn't keeping it on a disc or online good enough?
It seems technology changes every day. I was in our church library with over 1,000 books recently, many of which are over 50 years old. Among the shelves was a set of vinyl records – 78 RPM speed. Unfortunately, I cannot enjoy them because technology has advanced to where the media on which they are recorded is obsolete – not many people still have record players in this age of iPods. The electronic storage media of choice changes every couple of years (remember the 5 1/2" floppy disc? Or Super-8 projectors?). The technology of ink-on-paper has evolved much more slowly. Documents that were written by hand or printing press hundreds of years ago are still readable today, and will likely be readable in the future.
What makes my journal my favorite book?
It's not just a “dear diary” kind of book. Other than a record of my personal history, these volumes are my prayers and conversations with God. I frequently gain insights that help me to make decisions because it forces me to slow down and listen to how God is trying to lead me. Other times, I sit down with my journal and pen, and start to write. Next thing I know, God takes control of the pen because I don't know where these words being written down are coming from.
But I don't just write for the sake of filling up pages and leave it at that. I go back and read my journals from time to time. When I do, I can see how God answered a prayer, or see in retrospect that if God had answered a particular request the way I wanted, it would have turned out disastrous and I am thankful that He said “no.” I see how my life has changed over the past months and years. And I can also go back and see that if I was complaining about a circumstance that I'm still complaining about today, I'm stuck in it and not moving forward. It enables me to see that I need help to take steps in changing those circumstances and move forward in my life.
How to start your own journal
Keeping a journal is not a complicated process. The key is to make it something that is enjoyable and user-friendly.
Choose a book that you will be comfortable writing in. You don't have to spend a lot of money on a leather-bound book. You can use a spiral notebook from your local dollar store if you like. And choose a pen that doesn't cramp your fingers. Sometimes you find yourself writing more than you thought you would be.
Many people like to have a set time and place to journal. You can write anywhere, any time, as long as your circumstances allow. (I don't recommend writing while operating a vehicle or heavy machinery. I'm just saying ...) As for me, for journaling about more serious issues, I like to go to a local cemetery. Some people might consider it creepy or weird. But think about it – you're in a private park, where it's OK to do some things that might not be accepted in other places. You can become emotional or talk out loud with no living soul in hearing distance, and no one will think you're crazy.
As for what to write in your journal, there is only one rule: It's YOUR journal. YOU are the writer. You, and you alone, decide what goes in it and how often. You decide who you are writing it for. It can be a Gratitude journal, where you write down five things you are thankful for each night before you go to bed. It may be a prayer journal, where you write down names of people and their needs that you pray for. I know one woman who keeps two series of journals that I am aware of: a personal journal, and a journal from her to her son, in which she has recorded things she wants to share with her son when he is older – thoughts and events beginning from when they decided to adopt a child, continuing to today.
As for what I write in my journal – ANYTHING GOES! After all, I am the author – I decide what goes in! I sometimes use a Bible study method called “SOAP” and apply it to my journal writing. Here's how you do SOAP journaling:
S = Scripture. Read a passage of Scripture. Write down a verse or two that stand out.O = Observation. What is the meaning of this passage?A = Application. How can I apply this to my life?P = Prayer. Write a brief prayer, thanking God for what you have learned.
Don't let the words just sit idly on the pages!
There are many times in the Bible where God tells His people to remember the things He has done for them. Reviewing your journal periodically will help you to recall how God has worked in and through your life, and help you to see that, even though He seemed distant at the time, He was walking right there along side of you.
And share the inspired stuff! God also wants us to tell others what He has done for us. If you feel comfortable sharing something that you might feel is too good to keep confined to your journal, share it. You don't necessarily have to hand your journal to a total stranger to have him read it. Email your insights to a select group of people you think would appreciate it. Or, be bold and post it to your Facebook notes. By sharing you can allow God to use you to touch someone else's life, maybe even make their day. For example, it might be something you learned while SOAP journaling. If you had not written it down, chances are you might not have remembered it, and the other person's blessing would be lost.
Allow journaling to become an ongoing process. Before you get to the end of one volume, make sure you have a spare blank book on hand. Just because you run out of blank pages your journal, it doesn't mean that your life is over!