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The Discipline of Journaling

Why Mapping your Private World can bring your soul into focus – Genesis 35:6-7

by Gordon MacDonald   – Reprinted with permission of the Leadership Journal (LeadershipJournal.net)

When I started journaling it was because I needed a “friend,” and I wasn’t doing well with the human kind. I had passed through several weeks of high stress, the kind young pastors are never ready to face. I’d ignored the need for spiritual refreshment; I’d neglected the family; I’d allowed myself to become overwhelmed by the problems of people. There I was, one Saturday morning, crying uncontrollably in the arms of my wife.

It was a scary moment and gave me a taste of the ’empty soul’. This must not happen again, I thought. It came to me that writing each day in a journal would press me to deal more forthrightly with my emotions, with my spiritual state (or lack of same), and with the meaning of my life. I was not disappointed.

Journaling Defined

What was my journal’s purpose? A journal—at least in my book—is a dialogue with the soul. It includes a record of events, but it also attempts to expose the significance of the events. What is God saying through this? What am I learning? How do I feel? What are the principles that ooze from these events?

Beyond that, I wanted the journal to be a story of my own journey and the journey (as much as possible) of those closest to me. The high and low points of my marriage are in the journals. Our children and grandchildren will one day be able to go back and recapture the salient events of their lives as seen through a father’s eyes. They will know how much I have loved them and how proud I am of their life choices. Often I have used my journal to pray and worship. Here and there are the indications of spiritual breakthroughs. And the journal has preserved vivid memories of the most remarkable (good and bad) moments of life.

What Journaling Produces

When journaling is done regularly, several things become possible:

  • The invisible and the ephemeral are forced into reality. Once feelings, fears, and dreams are named, they can be dealt with, prayed for, and surrendered to God. They come under control, no longer existing in a way that pollutes the soul and the mind.
  • Learning experiences are preserved. If I record and reflect on the experiences of each day, I add to my base of wisdom. Things usually forgotten or lost in the unconscious now, like books on a library shelf, wait to be tapped when parallel moments arise in the future.
  • Memories of God’s great and gracious acts are preserved. “Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered and make sure that Joshua hears it,” God said to Moses after a great victory. As Israel wandered through the wilderness and experienced God’s providential care, he had them build monuments so they could remember. One day, I realized that my journal writing was a memorial to God’s sufficiency.
  • I can chart areas where I need most to grow and mature. As I look at journals of 30 years ago, I realize I have struggled with the same knot of issues throughout the years. The good news: the steps I took in the early days as I wrote of these issues turned into disciplines. And today, while issues remain, my “overcoming” rate is substantially higher. I wouldn’t have spotted many of these issues if I’d not written about them day after day.
  • It brings dreams alive. As ideas have flooded my mind over the years, I have written about them. Putting them into words helped me to discern the foolish ideas and develop the good ones. Many things I’ve done in the last few years had origins I can find in earlier journals.

—Gordon MacDonald; excerpted from our sister publication LEADERSHIP Journal, © 2004 Christianity Today International. For more articles like this, visit LeadershipJournal.net.

Discussion:

  1. Have you ever kept a journal? Was it a positive or negative experience?
  2. What appeals to you most about keeping a regular journal? What appeals to you least?
  3. Which of the products of journaling above seem the most beneficial?

Challenge:

We would like to challenge all of our readers and followers to join us in resolving to journal for 40 days starting this coming Sunday, November 11th, through to December 22nd.  More details to follow in our next blog on Tuesday, November 6th.

Pictures of journals we found on-line that have inspired us:

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