A review of Journaling for the Soul by Deborah Haddix

Practical Help for Journaling as a Spiritual Discipline

Among the assorted ranks of those who practice journaling, you can record me in the column labeled “intimidated.” Observation, application, and interpretation of my reading primes the pump, but never are my entries particularly stirring or insightful. My pages are scattered with partial outlines, first and second drafts of biblically-inspired poetry, and lists of questions alongside scribbled notes from podcasts and commentaries. Add to these the assortment of written prayers and rants (what Madeleine L’Engle would have called “tirages”), and it’s clear that my journals are not a great example of why anyone should start journaling as a spiritual discipline.

Or maybe they are?

Author Deborah Haddix decided a long time ago that “formulating thoughts, getting them into words, and putting pen to paper simply required more energy than [she] wanted to expend,” and so journaling was just not for her. However, when friends began to share their experiences of deep spiritual growth and communication with God through the discipline of journal keeping, she began to listen and decided to give it a try.

She learned that journaling is not nearly as narrow as she had thought. Rather than staring at a blank page, she found freedom to use drawing, paper crafting, photography, and even decorative lettering as an expression of her heart to a God who is NOT in the business of putting His children in ill-fitting boxes. The result of her discovery and the fruit of her learning process is Journaling for the Soul (Nourish the Soul), a handbook of journaling methods that goes beyond pen and paper and invites readers to span the spectrum of spiritual disciplines in their walk with God.

Soul care is a crucial (and over looked) element of self care, and it takes time and a level of commitment to focus on engaging with God in relationship. Investing the time to cultivate that interaction is an invitation to slow down, to replenish, and to exhale.

Slow Down

“Slow me down, Lord,” is the prayer I bring to the table almost every day when I open the sacred pages and begin to seek the “wonderful things” promised there.  For a successful and satisfying experience with a spiritual journal, Haddix recommends baby steps in the beginning. Give yourself permission to try new methods and also freedom to discard any that do not help. For example, since crafting is something I do with my grandson these days, it would get in my way during my quiet time. I’m not likely to try vision boards or mapping, because for me, the words themselves are what speak to my heart. For me, dealing in images feels like work, but I have creative friends who thrive in that medium. With that in mind, there is freedom to work within our God-designed personalities and preferences.

Replenish

The last thing we need when we come before the Lord is a sense of panic that we’re already behind or that we have failed. Keeping a journal is terrific for accountability, but even this can get in the way of meeting with God. Deborah’s advice is to move forward without giving up or being weighed down with the idea of catching up. While consistency is always the goal, failure should not be allowed to cast a shadow on the new day and the new mercies God is offering.

When you open your journal, send the art critic and the editor out of the room! Perfectionism will trip you up every time, no matter what method of expression you’re using. God will not deduct points from your journal-score for each coffee stain or misplaced scribble.

Exhale

One of my favorite parts of journaling is looking back at the lessons and insights from the past, and Deborah has made the excellent suggestion that, going forward, I should leave space on each page for writing an “insight line” when I return to an entry, an opportunity to record fresh thoughts on the same topic, new lessons, or ways that old reflection is still working its way out in my following life.

While I have tended to connect journaling with the discipline of Scripture reading, it is also a tremendous help in the disciplines of prayer, Bible memorization, and meditation. Several pages of fun lettering and decorating ideas prime the idea pump while lists of questions get the ball rolling for self-reflection.

A journal is a tool and maintaining it is a means to an end:  deeper communion with God. It should not become the main thing, but rather a means for documenting the main thing, which, of course, is a living and active relationship with God. When I read The Journals of Jim Elliot, I was amazed at how much mundane (and even sort of bombastic) wool-gathering there was in its pages. “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose” is Jim’s brilliant statement of a spiritual principle, but, rest assured, he did not spout such riches on every page — and neither will we. Our journals are home base to the space we create to be with God, and we will be wise to take lots of grace in our stumbling steps toward intimacy with Him.

When God meets us over True Words and makes good on His promise to reveal “wonderful things” to us when we open our eyes, a spiritual journal is a record of that miracle.

Many thanks to the author for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you,

Michele Morin

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase Journaling for the Soul (Nourish the Soul) simply click on the title within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

More on Spiritual Disciplines

If this post has piqued your curiosity about the journaling life and ways to deepen your walk with God, be sure to check out these related posts:

David Mathis refers to the spiritual disciplines as “Habits of Grace,” and that is the title of his book which organizes habits of grace according to three broad principles by which one may walk in the path of God’s grace:

  1.  Hearing God’s Voice;
  2. Having His Ear;
  3. Belonging to His Body.

Then, Enjoying the Truth by Keith Ferrin offers tips for becoming a more consistent and effective student of the Word.

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular content delivered to your inbox. Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging communities on a regular basis. They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week. I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

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Michele Morin

Michele Morin is a teacher, blogger, reader, and gardener who finds joy in sitting at a table surrounded by women with open Bibles. She has been married to an unreasonably patient husband for nearly 30 years, and together they have four sons, two daughters-in-love, two grandchildren, and one lazy St. Bernard. Michele loves hot tea and well-crafted sentences, poems that stop her in her tracks and days at the ocean with the whole family. She laments biblical illiteracy and advocates for the prudent use of “little minutes.” She blogs at Living Our Days, and you can connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.

78 thoughts on “Practical Help for Journaling as a Spiritual Discipline”

  1. Beautiful post and thank you, for making me realize my journaling may not be perfect, but is a record of a perfect God who meets me perfectly every day. I needed to know that this morning. Blessings, friend!

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  2. I love journaling, but I love even more the idea to give yourself grace if you miss a day or it doesn’t look perfect. God loves us just as we are even though He works with us to improve, and the same holds true with our journals. I like your reminder that a journal is just a tool and not an end of itself.

    I also love what you said about soul care; and when I read the words “slow down, to replenish, and to exhale,” right then I felt a sigh of relief. Am I the only one to feel a longing to do just that? I want to be fruitful and produce … but some days, it’s just not in me and that might well be a signal there’s a soul care deficiency.

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    1. You’ve spoken a whole pile of wisdom here, Jerralea! And I’m guilty of pushing, pushing, pushing, so these disciplines that encourage stopping to take notice of the state of my soul are so crucial!

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  3. Journaling has always been most effective for me when I’ve used it as a form of prayer, beginning each entry with “Dear God.” It’s then that I can open my heart in that intimate way we do when we write a dear friend a letter. I like what you said about slowing down. When we do this, we are able to hear our words through God’s ears (in a sense). Many times I have come away from a situation, perhaps hurt feelings in a relationship, and realized that it was me who was being unreasonable. This is a wonderful post, Michele!

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  4. I used to journal quite a bit during my quiet time, but felt like my writing was taking up more time than my reading, and therefore the proportions were skewed the wrong way. Plus I had a stack of filled spiral notebooks that I never looked at again and didn’t know what to do with.

    But writing does help me think through issues and reinforce the truths I have read, so I have often considered taking it up again. I was thinking, too, of Jim Elliot’s journals as I started reading your post and what a blessing they are. I read somewhere about a bullet style journal, with not long trails of thought but a brief recording of what was learned that day, and I have thought of trying that.

    I love the idea that the journaling can take any number of forms. And I especially love the idea to leave space for future insights. I remember Jim Elliot ranting a bit about weddings in his (how we overdo, overspend for them, etc.), and Elisabeth writing later (I think in Let Me Be a Woman, to her daughter) that he probably would have mellowed on that over the years, especially when it came to his own daughter’s marriage. We all grow in our opinions over the years, strengthening some, realizing we were off a bit in others.

    Thanks for sharing this resource! It’s setting off a number of ideas.

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    1. I’m intrigued by bullet journaling, but I guess I have to read more about it to see how it would apply. My guess is that my day planner is also doubling as a bullet journal, because it gets every kind of list and thought poured into it.
      I’d be interested to know how you end up proceeding with your journaling!

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  5. Really inspiring post. It is so easy to get caught up with wanting everything to be “perfect” or to miss a day and feel like you’ve failed. Happens to us all but I guess the real test is whether you keep going once that happens.

    Take care,
    Hayley #ThatFridayLinky

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  6. I think because, as bloggers, we are so tuned in to technology, the idea of journaling on real paper with pencils is very appealing. I have never been a journaler. I was always too intimidated. It seems like just another thing to add to my already busy day, but your comment about using the journal as a tool to a deeper relationship with God made me reconsider. I actually entered school as an art major. The decorative lettering technique speaks to me!

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  7. I’ve had a journaling Bible for a few years now. I write notes on the side when the Lord has shown me something through His Word.

    More recently I am using the Well Watered Women Co.’s Give Me Jesus Journal which helps you to journal your Bible reading. And I must say, this has revolutionized my Bible reading as I gain even more insight. I recently mentored a new Believer who said that when she read the Bible it “read like Shakespeare” to her and she couldn’t understand it. I showed her the method that the Give Me Jesus Journal uses and she said it has opened her eyes to the Scriptures and she is no longer intimidated.

    I never thought about journaling as being a spiritual discipline, but indeed it is!

    Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Karen, I want to thank you for your presence here in the comments. Whenever you visit, I come away challenged by your example and your commitment to ministry. What a privilege God has given you to build into this new Believer’s life and walk. And my fear is that if many more seasoned believers were honest they would admit to the same Shakespearean feeling about Scripture, simply because they’ve never given their minds and their hearts enough opportunity to soak in the Word. This is a real heart ache to me, and it’s a blessing to me that you are doing something about it one person at a time.

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  8. I really love this post Michele. I like to read my Bible with a pen in my hand because it helps me to focus on what God is saying to me – that’s really the essence of what Bible journaling is about. What comes out of the pen – whether it’s a circled or highlighted word – a thought jotted down – or something artistic – and where the thought lands (in the Bible, in a notebook or journal, or on whatever piece of paper happens to be nearby) – is really less relevant than hearing what God is saying in that moment. I can’t trust myself to remember anything – my mind is full of fleeting thoughts – so Bible journaling truly is an invaluable spiritual “discipline” for helping me remember my precious moments with God!

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    1. Yes, I do my best thinking with pen in hand! And I just bumped into an Elisabeth Elliot quote on Facebook that challenges readers to put their notes into a journal rather than squeezing them into the margins of our Bibles. It keeps the passages fresh for a new read each time, un-influenced by the previous read.

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  9. Learning to write/journal in my Bible, in notebooks, etc. truly did help me make my way through the Bible completely. I started with GMG and wrote each scripture completely and then did the SOAP method. It helped to know where to start and then on from there. I only did that for a bid to start. I like the tip to leave a blank area for when returning. Going slow and reflecting on the words and drawing them out does help. I’ll have to check out the book. There are so many wonderful sites and people to see how beautiful they do journaling. I’m no artist so the words and trying a hand at calligraphy is the way I journal. Me and the Lord writing together. 🙂 Enjoyed reading.

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      1. GMG is Good Morning Girls. Haven’t followed them since 2014. The S.O.A.P. method is to write out the Scripture you’re following for that day, then write your Observations, then the Application (how you think it can apply or what applications is meant in the scripture), then Prayer. Growing up, I had been taught to revere the Bible and never mark in it so after I realized I wouldn’t be blown to smitherene 🙂 for my markings, off I went. I do keep one that I don’t write in, but feel the kids will someday, maybe, enjoy my noted up ones.

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  10. I love prayer and Bible study journaling, Michele, so this was good for me to read because I want to understand some of the hurdles others face in this task. I’ll have to check this book out since it surely will help me as both a Bible teacher and Bible student. Thanks so much for sharing! I’ll be pinning!

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    1. Thanks for reminding me, Beth, that I want to pass this book along to someone in my women’s Sunday School class. I just think it’s such a great resource for people who are curious about journaling or who are trying their best but hitting a wall.

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  11. I like the way she says it is not the main thing but a tool to document the main thing. I see a lot of examples that look like it has become the main thing in many cases! Thanks for sharing at The Blogger’s Pit Stop!

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  12. Wow! I needed to read this post, and I think I need to read this book. I identify a little too strongly with this author’s feelings that “formulating thoughts, getting them into words, and putting pen to paper simply required more energy than [she] wanted to expend,” and so journaling was just not for her. Perhaps it’s time for me to follow in her footsteps and take a new look.

    Thanks for sharing this at Booknificent Thursday on Mommynificent.com!
    Tina

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  13. I’m not nearly as consistent at journaling as I would like to be and I sometimes feel like I want to find the perfect way to do it. And I fight with my inner editor much of the time. But even when I don’t journal for a while, I come back to it over and over. It is perhaps the greatest help to me in the area of prayer. This sounds like an interesting book. Thanks for always sharing good resources.

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    1. Oh, good–I hope that if you do begin journaling you’ll share your insights and success stories. Mine still look pretty rough, but I’m using mine more since having read Deborah’s book.

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  14. Dear Michele,
    Oh I love this ending statement that you made: “When God meets us over True Words and makes good on His promise to reveal “wonderful things” to us when we open our eyes, a spiritual journal is a record of that miracle.” I so missed my paper and pen time of journaling when RA first struck my hands with weakness. But He opened digital journaling, and stretched me with other simple art journaling methods too. I am so thankful that He is such a creative God, and is so willing to help us find ways to look for His miracles in our lives.

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    1. I had not thought of the impact of RA on your hands. So sorry this has been part of your story, and thank you for trusting God to help you “leap over the wall” in so many ways throughout the course of your RA journey.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Popping over from the link-up @ Soaring with Him…and so glad I did.

    Loved this: “Soul care is a crucial (and over looked) element of self care.” It’s so true–but often sorely forgotten.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts (and personal experience) on this important spiritual discipline.

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  16. I admit I’ve always wanted to journal. I’ve always wanted to create something I could look back on, (or better yet, my children and grandchildren), and see all the wonderful ways God worked throughout my life. But when it comes right down to it, I quickly lose interest. I cannot stay consistent to save my life! But I think that’s what blogging does for me. It creates a space for me to put my thoughts to “paper” and share God’s work in and through me. I admire the work of others who can beautifully journal their way through the bible. It brings me great joy! Maybe someday I will have more time to do so. But for today, I simply enjoy the creativity of others 🙂

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    1. I would agree with you that your blog is performing a similar service for you. And I am certainly WAAAAY more coherent on my blog (I hope!!) than I am in my journals, so it’s hard to say if anyone will ever bother to wade through all the deep weeds of those hand written pages.

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  17. In many ways I think of my blog as a journal of sorts. I don’t put my deeply personal prayers on line however and it would be nice to have a paper and pen journal for those.

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    1. I just heard from another blogger about how she was reading back over old posts and realized she was processing something similar once again in her spiritual life. We’re blessed to be able to journal as well as blogging.

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  18. I find that writing things down helps me focus. I tend to wander into all of the thoughts of today. Writing helps me pray with intentional direction. Great article!

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  19. Loved reading through the comments on this post Michelle – it wonderful seeing what your post inspired!

    Speaking of inspiration, thanks for sharing this wonderful book at Inspire Me Monday at Create With Joy. CONGRATS – you are one of our Featured Guests this week! 🙂

    Like

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