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.

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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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A Year of Orthodoxy

It may have been my footsteps, or perhaps it was a slight disturbance in the breeze — imperceptible to me, but enough to set off a flurry of motion and a rustling of black feathers in the bare tree branches. The birds rose as one, and then, without hesitation cut to the north and rose higher, perfectly synchronized, beautifully fluid.

How did they know?

Who decided on that sudden change in course, and how did she communicate it? 

On that same walk, I was puzzling over a “situation” with our house. Furnaces, roofing, windows, and doors have come and gone in the past 24 years of life on this country hill, but this time the jarring news from the carpenter is that there’s a problem with the foundation. The repairs needed will not add a whit to the beauty of our home, but are, nonetheless, essential for its health and stability.

A Foundation of Orthodoxy

And thus, together, our family-fixer-upper and those well-choreographed birds played a role in setting my direction for 2018 and in helping me to choose a focus word for the year:  Orthodoxy.

Orthodoxy is not a path to lock-step uniformity in which we all move as one, but it may result in a harmonious unity that is freedom itself and is beautiful to behold in the Body of Christ.

Orthodoxy is the foundation to everything. It governs the way I understand and interpret Scripture; my comprehension of God and His ways; and even the practical application of Truth in my homeschooling, dish-washing, laundry-folding, floor-vacuuming, Bible-teaching, and blog-writing life.

There, under the clear, blue winter sky, I decided it was time to return to G.K. Chesterton’s classic book, Orthodoxy, which has been on my Kindle for a couple of years (and which I’ve started multiple times and then stalled).

With nine chapters and 239 pages in the edition I have, that will mean reading and interacting with approximately 20 pages or around three fourths of a chapter per month, and it is likely that I’ll be reporting on that pondering here in this space. If you’d like to join me on this year-long journey, you are most welcome, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts along the way.

From his vantage point of the early 20th century, Chesterton described his book as a “slovenly autobiography,” so his quirky personality will, apparently, be evident in his writing. Orthodoxy is not an apologetic work, but rather, a collection of Chesterton’s musings as he attempts “an explanation, not of whether the Christian Faith can be believed, but of how he personally has come to believe it.”

The Anchor to Orthodoxy

Of course it is, ultimately, the Word of God which anchors us in Truth and in right thinking. To chart my progress in this at the outset of 2018, I’m making a fresh start with two brand new journals, both my gratitude journal and my all-purpose-catcher-of-random-thoughts having filled up by the end of 2017. Reviewing entries from past years is always either an encouragement or a rebuke, and I need both from time to time.

A Year of OrthodoxyTherefore, I was happy to discover Deborah Haddix’s Journaling for the Soul. Her handbook of journaling methods is a thorough and very accessible resource for anyone who wants to embark upon the exercise in soul care that journaling has become for me.

Deborah urges her readers to loosen up and enjoy the process of putting the pen to the page. This was reassuring for me because a few years ago I started keeping one journal for just about everything in an effort to live a one-piece life. So if I have an answer to prayer that I want to remember, an insight from my reading of the book of Jeremiah, or a great quote from a podcast, I scribble them all into the same pages. It’s also where I maintain a list of all the books I’m reading. Therefore, when I re-read journal pages, it’s enlightening to note all the different things that were feeding into my thinking at the same time.

One of the challenges I’ve heard women express about journaling is that they want to record their thoughts about prayer and Scripture, but they either don’t know where to begin, or they run out of steam at some point and abandon the discipline. Journaling for the Soul provides a collection of methods and approaches that can serve as an encyclopedia of options. I recommend that anyone who is not sure how to proceed just work their way through the book and try each method until they find an approach that resonates for them, and feel free to change as needed. List-makers and chart-lovers may gravitate toward inductive studies while creatives may find that color coding and verse mapping work well for them.

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.

Deborah Haddix offers words of encouragement to us all as we drill down into orthodoxy in 2018:

“Stay with it. Journaling for the Soul is a discipline that requires perseverance. When its newness wears off, when you don’t feel like it, when you are going through the ‘hard,’ press on. Ask God for His help and strength and energy to keep going in this worthwhile endeavor.”


This book was provided by the author in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Photo by Rowan Heuvel via Unsplash

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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.