You might be asking yourself what possible good there be in keeping a journal? That’s a good questions. Let’s explore some of the possible benefits of journaling. There are at least three good reasons that I can think of right away for pursuing active journaling.
First, the activity of journaling helps us to organize our thoughts. This is very important. There are many burdens and concerns every day that flood our minds and hearts. It is easy to be overwhelmed by them. Part of the reason we get overwhelmed by our concerns is because they flood our minds all at once. The result is a sense of personal confusion and helplessness. One of the chief benefits of writing is clarity. When we write we are forced to organize our thoughts into clear categories. Writing forces us to think logically and clearly about the nature of our concerns and problems. We are forced to find the right words to express ourselves to ourselves and others. The practical value of this is to help us separate our problems from one another and deal with them one at a time. This makes everything we are going through seem more manageable.
This first goal of writing is to achieve a proper clarity on our problems. When we are able to get clarity on an issue, we can then get a proper perspective. We often blow things out of proportion and make mountains our of mole hills, because we don’t have a proper perspective on our circumstances. If we want to avoid overreacting or reacting in a wrong and sinful way to our circumstances, then we need to clearly understand them and have a proper perspective on them. In Psalm 60, David cries out to God, “O God, You have rejected us. You have broken us; You have been angry; O, restore us.” At the beginning of this Psalm, David feels rejected and broken by God in his anger. David recognizes his sin and God’s hatred of it. This feeling could have overwhelmed him. But at the end of Psalm 60, David realizes and confesses a beautiful truth about his God: “Though God we shall do valiantly, and it is He who will tread down our adversaries.” David recognizes both his failings and God’s goodness, even in personal defeat. David is able to do this in no small measure though the task of reflecting and writing. David’s songs could be considered David’s dairy or his journal, where he talks about his problems and his sins and his joys and successes and reflects on them in the light of God’s Word and his own reflection upon who God is. This and many other psalms are good biblical examples of writing for clarity and perspective.
The second benefit of writing or journaling is that it gives you a chance to be honestly self-reflective. Before we can be truthful with one another, we need to be truthful with God and with ourselves. This is why in Psalm 15 God equates personal integrity with someone who “speaks truth in his heart.” David in Psalm 51 declares, “Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being, and in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom.” If it is our desire to be wise and to have God-honoring and open relationships with our brothers and sisters, which includes our husbands and wives, then we first need to be honest in our own hearts before God and with ourselves. Journaling helps us to reflect on our own behavior, thoughts and ideas in the light of God’s Word. It helps us to be honest with ourselves. There is no deception worse than self-deception. When we write/journal, we are probing our hearts for our motives, attitudes, and desires that we otherwise might not express or even realize exist. Only when we are able to discover and admit the truth about ourselves in the light of God’s Word will we be able to be open and honest with others.
Another benefit of honest self-reflection is the ability to accept others and see others as God does. How does seeing myself in an honest way help me to see others rightly and accept as Christ does? We need to see ourselves and our behavior in the light of God’s revelation. When we see ourselves in the light of God’s Word, as sinners who were loved and saved by the grace of God in Christ, then we can begin to see others the way God sees them too. Our judgmental attitudes toward fellow believes comes from seeing ourselves wrongly. We are not loved by God because we cleaned our acts up. We were loved by God while we were yet sinners (Rom. 5.8). When we realize that even now our best motive and desires are still tainted by the selfishness of the flesh, we can begin to have compassion for our brother or sister who sins against us. Our ability to truly forgive others is the overflow of a heart that knows itself and knows the forgiveness of God in Christ. Writing can help us to better see these things and understand how great God’s mercy is toward us who believe.
Finally, writing or journaling allows us to look back into the past and see how God has worked in our lives over time. Most people that I know don’t have photographic memories. Over time, the details of our experiences grow fuzzy and become subject to under- or over-exaggeration. When we journal, we are keeping a record of what God is doing in our lives. We can look back days, weeks, months and even years from now and see how God has changed us, resolved our conflicts, answered our prayers, and strengthened our faith. Many of the Psalms recall the wonderful works of God from ages past. Many of the psalms and stories of the Bible were written down to encourage present believers. When we journal, we are keeping a record of God’s personal dealings with us and with our families. When we look back on these records, we are able to analyze our situations with the benefit of hind-sight, understand better what God might have been trying to teach us in past circumstances, and learn certain lessons from our records that we can take into future situations. This is a great benefit to those who journal.
These three reasons, and perhaps many others, encourage us to write and journal about our thoughts and experiences. We need to learn to reflect biblically on our lives and circumstances. We need to learn to get inside of our own hearts, sort out and organize our thoughts, motives and desires and try to get a good perspective on them. We need this if we are to know ourselves rightly and work toward a biblical understanding of our lives.
How to Journal
Here are some helpful (I hope) tips for journaling:
- Tell a story. Try describing our circumstances as a story (a true one of course). Include dialogue (what people say) and narrative (what people do), just like you were writing a story.
- Make lists. it might also be helpful to list pros and cons or dos and don’ts. Making lists can be a helpful way of organizing your thoughts.
- Talk to God (Pray). You can use your journal to write your prayers to God from your heart. Be as honest on paper as you would be in the secret place of your heart.
- Talk to another person. You can use your journal to say to another person what you are having trouble saying to them in person. This can help you to better organize your feelings so that if/when you do talk to them, you will have already worked out on paper what you want to say to their face.
- Talk to yourself. It is healthy to talk to yourself and when you journal, people don’t look at you like you’re loony. Talk to yourself. Tell yourself hard things to hear. Ask yourself the hard questions and try to answer them as best you can. Comfort, challenge, rebuke, and encourage yourself by writing to yourself.
- Poems/Songs. If you’re the poetic type, this is a perfect place to write your poetry or songs.
- Reflect on a verse or on a devotional. This is a perfect opportunity to reflect on something you have read. When you read the Bible, you might take the opportunity to journal your response to a particular verse or passage. Write about how that verse spoke to you, how it challenged you, how it convicted or comforted you, etc. What do you think about it? You can do this same thing with devotional material or other things you read.