If you’ve followed my blog, Twitter, or Instagram for any length of time, you’ll probably know by now that I’m a rather committed journaler. I started my first journal when I was 15 years old, wrote sporadically for a few years, and have journaled consistently for the past seven years. I have 27 filled journals on my shelf (I just counted), which means I started my 28th year in my 28th journal. Kinda cool. 🙂 I had a friend email me awhile back, asking about my journaling habits, and I thought I would share my response here.
I want to become the woman who is consistently writing her thoughts and feelings down in order to evaluate her heart. I want to become the woman who is thankful in all of life’s circumstances because God enables me to see His hands working. I’ve journaled in the past, but never consistently. Any advice on how to become this type of woman— who slows down to cultivate gratitude, and evaluate her heart? How often do you journal? I think the expectation for me to journal everyday is unrealistic. How do you know when to journal? Only when emotions are rising? Or do you make a schedule, so you can cultivate it into becoming a habit?
My friend asked some good questions about becoming a more thoughtful, consistent journaler. I’m certainly no expert on the subject, despite years of practice. Let me start by saying that every person is different— journaling is not some magic solution to heart problems that suddenly transforms a person from emotion & frantic, to calm, steady, & trusting. Journaling is a good habit, but may not be the best habit for everyone. And that’s okay.
It’s like running. For some people, running is a great stress-relief. It’s a good, relatively inexpensive way to exercise, it can be a fun hobby, it can be a great way to spend time with friends, etc. But it’s not for everyone. Some people have asthma, and running makes it hard for them to breathe. Some people have weak backs or knees, and running can be harmful for them. For others (I used to be one of these), it’s just not enjoyable— instead of a stress-relief or enjoyable hobby, it’s a dreaded chore, a bit of drudgery, something that they do because they’re “supposed to,” or because other people find it good.
Journaling is like this. For some people, it’s a great way for them to process through life, it helps them slow down and savor moments, it’s therapeutic. For others, it’s exhausting, dreaded drudgery. And that’s absolutely okay. There’s no law that says you have to journal in order to actually love life, or that journaling is necessary for maturity. It works for some, not for others. So don’t feel the pressure to do it just because I love it. for me, it’s the best way for me to keep tabs on the warmth of my affections for Jesus Christ. It’s when I have pen in hand and Moleskine in front of me that I can most clearly see the problems going on inside my heart. For that reason, I journal at least 5 times a week.
So if you want to develop the habit, here are some things that have helped me:
When do I journal? // I journal nearly every day. I do my quiet time in the morning with my journal open, and usual start each time with the Lord by journaling. I write a quick update on life, questions I’m asking, challenges I’m facing, etc. before coming to the Lord. Then I record verses that speak to me, quotes from books or devotionals that I read, etc. Sometimes I’ll journal again later in the day (on rare occasions), if there’s something else I feel I need to process through. Every two or three weeks I’ll set aside a chunk of time on a weekend or day off to spend a concentrated amount of time writing. On average, I write 1-2 pages per day (one-sided), though on busy days I only write a paragraph or so.
How do I journal? // A few notes:
I journal to God, as if it’s a letter or a written-out prayer. This keeps me from going into that downward-spiral of selfishness that can happen when I simply record my own thoughts.
- I just keep one journal. I used to keep different ones for different uses (prayer journal, sermon-notes journal, Bible study journals, etc), but I found that a) I couldn’t keep up with/keep track of so many different journals, and b) all of those things are a part of what shapes me and my thinking, and change me into the image of Christ. It’s so much more simple to keep them all in one book.
- If I’m journaling through an issue or writing about a pain, discouragement, or hardship, I make a point to always end with truth. I do my best to not let myself end on a “depths of despair” note. I’m not always consistent in this, of course, but I do my best to “verbally process” by writing, and then address lies and find Scripture or truth to address that. Peace if possible, truth at all costs. — Martin Luther
- Someone once challenged me to always read God’s Word with pen in hand— to be an active participant in the reading, not just to skim the words. Take notes, mark down thoughts about particular verses, copy key verses down, etc.
Why do I journal? // I journal during every quiet time, and when I feel the need to process through something. I’m a verbal processor, but learned a loooooong time ago that sometimes processing with people can be unwise (either for them or for me, or both), so journaling has become a key way that I think and process through things.
My biggest motivation for consistency is a core belief that God is actively at work in my life. I don’t think I’m anyone remarkable, so I don’t necessarily feel that I need to write things down because I’m worth remembering— but I do believe that God’s work in me is worth recording. He is SO kind, and faithful, and tender, and generous to His children, and I need to remind myself of this on a regular basis. Writing helps me remember. Also, if the Lord ever gives me children, I want to one day hand a stack of journals to my struggling 16-year-old daughter and let her read through. I want her to know that her mother was a confused girl like her, who just wanted to love Jesus, but didn’t always know how. I want God’s faithfulness in my own life to bless those who may come after me.
I think that the woman who slows down to cultivate gratitude is the woman who believes that God is worthy of the time, worthy of the praise, and desires to orient her entire life around humble thankfulness. That’s not easy to do. I don’t think that I do that well. But I’m trying. I used to keep a one-year calendar in my room and regularly wrote down “gifts of grace” that God gave me. Reading Ann Voskamp’s blog, “A Holy Experience” helped me with that. And this list of questions from Donald Whitney has helped me with regular evaluations.
What do you use to journal? // I discovered rather early on that having a good journal and good pens makes all the difference in the world in my consistency. If I have the right journal and pens, I want to write all the time, because the experience is pleasant. If the journal pages are the wrong weight or texture, or the pen skips, etc, it’s not as enjoyable, so I don’t want to write as often or as much.
Things that annoy me:
- Spiral-bound notebooks. The spiral gets in the way of my hand.
- Tight-bound notebooks that don’t lay flat. I can’t write smoothly.
- Thin pages that let the ink show through from the other side.
- Super textured pages, because the pen doesn’t glide well across the surface.
- Plain pages without lines, because I like my lettering consistent in height, and straight.
- Pages with lines too close, because it makes me write smaller than I naturally do.
- Thick-point pens. I like fine-point (but not too fine).
- Ball-point pens. I like ink that flows well without requiring me to put too much pressure on it.
- Felt-tip pens, because it feels like I’m dragging something across the page. Also, they force me to hold the pen at an unnatural-for-me angle.
- Pens that skip, leak, or dry out too quickly.
- Pens that don’t sit well in my hand.
Okay, that’s an honest confession there— I’m a journaling snob. But hey… I do it a lot, and I know what does and does not work for me.
How about you? Do you journal? What are some ways that you stay consistent?