I journaled regularly when I was a teenager, but I dropped the practice when I got married–just about the same time I actually began to have something of substance to journal about! That was a mistake. I missed out on the joy of writing (and later, reading) my motherly dreams as I carried each of my children, of recording their entrances into this world and my transition into motherhood, of documenting the funny, precious, priceless things they said and did as they grew up. I missed out on the opportunity to document my 17-year journey of criss-crossing America on a motorcycle, my impressions of the vast and varied landscapes that I traveled through, and the beautiful array of people I met during all those travels. I missed my chance to record my initiation into air travel (I took my first flight at the age of 30) and after that my baptism into cultures outside the U.S. as I began traveling regularly to other countries.
I have had a rich, rich life—but, sadly, there is a huge gap in the written version. This is one of my greatest regrets.
Journal the Sorrows
In 2000, I went through a major trauma, and I did not record the “stages of that journey” either. Had I known that it was going to culminate in a major life change, I’m sure I would have. This is one of the reasons I try to stay consistent with journaling now; I don’t know what events, circumstances, people, and/or places may be weaving themselves into the significant tapestry of my life.
Had I been consistently recording my journey back in 2000, I am certain I would have made some personal discoveries that would have brought me to a state of peace in the midst of the trauma much sooner. Though the outcome would not have been different, the process of journaling would have given me a broader–almost objective—perspective of my situation. In general, journaling helps me see “the big picture;” it helps me arrive at correct conclusions much more quickly than when viewing my options through my thoughts alone.
Fortunately, shortly AFTER the climax of ‘the trauma,’ I did begin to journal again. It wasn’t something I planned to do or was advised to do; it just happened. I was struggling one day, and I knew I had to get myself together. I gathered up my Bible and notebook and went to a quiet little coffee shop, found a table tucked privately in a corner, and I began to write. The words flowed, it seemed:
“I am not a victim…”
To this day, I am still amazed at the power those opening words immediately had on me. I had not articulated that statement before. It came from the recesses of my soul, from my spirit, no doubt. I wrote a few short paragraphs, mostly declarative statements based on the Word of God, and then this conclusion:
“I am confident of this: I will see the goodness of The Lord in the land of the living.”
That simple, quiet event in that nondescript coffee shop was a turnaround for me. That was the day my healing began.
After that, I journaled regularly. It was like therapy, like having someone to talk to at all hours of the day or night; a place to work honestly, brutally, through my thoughts and emotions. My journal was far more than a record of events; it was my brain, my emotions, in writing. It was a way to thoughtfully interact with God, like praying on paper.
In The Other 90%: How to Unlock Your Vast Untapped Potential for Leadership & Life, author Robert K. Cooper writes regarding journaling:
Write it down. The act of writing about an experience has been shown to release negative emotions and create heightened ability in dealing with adversity. Research indicates that those who write about traumatic events for 20 minutes a day for 4 consecutive days have significantly more robust immune systems and report less distress than the people who did no writing.
I totally get that! Journaling was definitely a factor in my healing.
I was still journaling when I met my husband, Steve. I’m thankful that that part of my journey is recorded! Soon after we married, though, I quit journaling again. In some ways, I guess the absence of journaling was validation that life was normal and healthy. I chose to live it rather than write about it. However, in hindsight, I realize now that that is a mistaken point of view. The journey–all of it–should be documented to some extent.
I started getting back into journaling last year. I started very simply, recording the highlights of my day just before I went to bed: what I did, what I learned, what I was going to do the next day (See A Productive End-of-the-Day Ritual). Soon, I expanded it beyond that and began–again–recording in more detail the stages of my journey.
Journal the Joys
I have found journaling to be the BEST way to work through problems and to process internal conflict. But it is also a great way to document the joys of life. For instance, I took a spontaneous walk one Fall afternoon to enjoy the colors at the peak of their glory. It was an amazing experience! I was so moved, I wrote a blog post about it (see Mindfulness), but that post was actually the “public view” of my personal journal.
This past weekend, my two youngest grandsons had their first basketball games (they are 6 and 8). It was a delight to attend this event and to watch them hustle their little hearts out and to be part of the cheering crowd when they each scored a basket.
The day after the game, Shepherd asked his mother if his team won. Misty informed him that she didn’t know because no one kept score. Shepherd was highly offended. No one kept score??? He wanted to know why. Every game has a winner and a loser.
Misty tried to appease the up-and-coming allstar with reason. “We just want you to have fun playing the game… It doesn’t really matter who wins; it just matters that you learn to play the game and that you have a good time and that you learn to be a good sport…”
Not convinced, Shepherd responded indignantly, “Actually,” (yes, he really said ‘actually’) “sometimes you win because you work hard” (which, of course, should be acknowledged in the score).
Now where do you record something that beautiful if you don’t have a blog? In your journal, of course!
Journal Life Lessons
Not only is a journal a place to bear witness to the good and beautiful in your life as well as the tragic and traumatic, it can also serve as a sounding board for your ongoing “life study”—whatever it may be. As I’ve shared often, I am a fan of good books. I most always have a book going, and sometimes, depending on the types of book, I may be reading two or more at a time (this is rare, but it does happen in certain circumstances).
I have only recently discovered the benefit of using my journal as a place to debrief about what I am reading. I may state my personal exceptions to the premise of the book (like a critic) or the highlights or my favorite concepts or how I plan to apply what I read. Last year I read a very lengthy biography about Teddy Roosevelt. It didn’t seem appropriate after all the time I had invested in it to just pack it up and rush it back to the library. The read was a “long journey,” and it had to somehow be commemorated.
I located a couple of anecdotes that had made me laugh and recorded those. Now, they’re saved for my posterity. In the midst of the serious, the mundane and the joyful journal entries, there are now some snippets interjected from an arduous read (at times) that give testimony to my quirky sense of humor as much as to my love for reading.
Along the same lines, a journal is a perfect place to process and feedback on teaching from church, school, seminars and training classes, etc. If it was worthy of the time you spent sitting there, surely it is worthy of capturing more thoroughly and internalizing!
If you’re not already in the habit of journaling, I suggest you start very simply by taking five or ten minutes at the end of your day and following some form of the “simple” journal that I started with and wrote about in A Productive End-of-the-Day Ritual.
If you’re ready to move on to something a little more detailed, I can recommend the Day One app which allows you to “illustrate” your journal with photos, tag your entries for easy searching, save to the cloud, and even share certain entries if you choose to. It has other cool features like noting your location and the current weather at the time of your journal entry. The main drawback is that it is only available on Mac products: iPhone, iPad or Mac computers. And it is not a free app. It’s one of the few apps I’ve ever paid for, and I’m glad I did.
There are many other digital journals out there, so if Day One is not for you, you have lots of options. You might enjoy EverydayMe, which not only serves as a journal, but automatically records every Facebook and Twitter post that you make, as well.
Do you journal? If so, what is your main purpose? To process through difficulties, to record the joys, or to just keep a written record of life? Do you ever journal about what you are learning in books and/or teachings? Please leave a comment. And if you have a digital journal you can recommend, please share that in the comments, as well.