The Art of Journaling
“How can you draw close to God when you are far from your own self?”
Augustine, Confessions (ad 500).
If you've been following along with my story as I've shared through my podcasts and blogs you'll know that the past three years have been trying for me physically. A few years straight of chronic, undiagnosed illness meant I couldn't tour like I had been nor record any new music. Vocally, I'm still on that same journey. It still hurts to sing and I honestly don't know when that will return back normality, if ever.
Over these last five years I've relied heavily on what is now a foundational spiritual practice for me, journaling. During these years I've escaped to cafe's first thing in the morning before anyone else settles in, sat with my espresso, and spent anywhere from 45 minutes to two hours long pouring out my prayers and thoughts to God. Faithfully, He would always respond to me in the quiet. It was there I got to know both God and my own self in a way that other spiritual disciplines had never quite touched.
In the hope that it may in some way become a tool added to the belt of your own spiritual practices I thought I'd share a few of the ways that journaling has transformed me as I've committed to it over the years.
Journaling is a creative act
What's beautiful about journaling your prayers and having conversations with God is that if you'll allow yourself to be honest, you may find yourself using language and being more vulnerable than you are when you're speaking or thinking your prayers in the quiet. Journaling requires time because we must think in unison with the speed in which we write. We're connecting hand with heart in a particular way that allows us to employ language and emotion that we otherwise may not.
journaling keeps a record of what we may otherwise forget
For me, I felt that as I scribed my prayers on paper both God and I could look back at them, acknowledging the joy or hurt that I had now physically manifested. They sit on my shelf today. Some of them go 11 years back as a witness of what I've asked of God and how he's faithfully responded to my longings. I can look at those many books and see God's faithfulness to me through 10 years of depression and 2 years of chronic illness. That record strengthens me.
journaling expands our creativity
I'm sure there's some neurologically proven science around this but journaling has improved my songwriting, my communicating, and has often been the core generator of insight that come out in these blogs and podcasts. What I feel the Spirit speak to me there genuinly challenges me to think down paths of thought I never otherwise would have ventured. Some life changing revelation has come to me through a black ballpoint pen as I've sat in the front window of my local cafe.
journaling can help us discover our true selves
It's possibly something that you learn to submit to with age because my purist younger self would never have acknowledged this, but we truly do come to God through the lens of ourselves. Journaling helps us to come to know our own thoughts and feelings more truly. If we include conversation, confession, repentance, psalm and quarrel with God in our journals we can get on a vulnerable roll that may even surprise ourselves. If you're an external processor you'll find this to be hugely helpful. If you process internally, you'll find that it brings rest to your busy mind.
Which leads nicely to my next point...
Journaling can decrease anxiety
I can't tell you how many times I'd woken in a heart racing panic over the years with the temptation of freaking out, only to come to absolute peace after a good honest journal with God first thing. In fact, when I first started working for myself I found having no office or certain structure to my day hugely anxiety inducing. Setting a goal to journal every day for at least half an hour first thing in the morning allowed me to process my feelings healthily, bring rest to my racing mind, and draw clarity to my soul for a fruitful day ahead.
So, if you've never journaled before and you don't know where to start here's a few beginners tips.
four easy steps to get started
1. Start your entry with, "Good morning Father" and allow whatever come's next to flow.
2. Don't share it with anyone. This helps you to keep honest and vulnerable. I find as soon as you imagine sharing your entry you'll subconsciously edit out all your most valuable rawness with God.
3. Include a combination of self-reflection, thankfulness, present longings and all kinds of questions. Don't pretend like God already knows what's going on with you, tell him
4. Listen and respond. Listen for God's voice whispering to you as you go. Recognize that sometimes the Spirit will be moving through your processing, other time's he will have a response to your questions with a scripture, a song lyric, a picture or a wave of feeling. Note what you feel from him then don't leave it there. Ask him about it more, press in for more detail and elaborate.
So, go forth and prosper!
And here's to that beautiful process of discovering the you within and the God without.