“Busy” is a worn-out word. It is as tired as I am. But it is my instinctive response to the familiar question, “How are you doing?” It’s like the Wheel of Fortune game show when they bring up a new phrase to solve and then give the contestants the most common consonants: R, S, T, L, N and vowel: E. “Busy” is a meaningless response. Sometimes, I say “busy” because I legit do not know where to start telling them how things are really going.
There’s so much going on at my house: start of a new school year, an out-of-town rehearsal dinner and wedding, an anniversary, a birthday, a major house project, big leadership decisions, and so many activities that Leslee and I look more like a pair of New York Center air traffic controllers on Thanksgiving Eve than we do parents. It is often very hard to sort everything out and restore order in my own heart. But I have found journaling to be a great help with that.
Since the beginning of summer, I have journaled consistently most days of the week. I have journaled very inconsistently for many years. But this summer’s experience has been a huge help to my mental and emotional health. I wanted to share a little about my experience journaling to encourage you to do the same.
Journaling helps to clear your mind. Simply writing things down allows you to get them out of your head so that you can focus on one thing. You can more easily assign priority to matters and focus on what is most important. There is also something therapeutic about seeing a visual list.
Journaling helps you to sort out what is going on in life. Sometimes what’s going on in life seems or actually is so confounding, that we can become lost without any sense of where to begin to untangle it all. In this mode it is virtually impossible to manage life well. We drift from the place of clarity and priorities, to fog and tyranny of the urgent. We are like rudderless ships in a category 5 hurricane. Worse, we retreat to victimhood.
The discipline of having to put your fuzzy thoughts into words and then sentences forces clarity. You can only write one thought at a time. This is good. You can separate facts from feelings much more easily.
Journaling provides perspective. When so much is going on in life, it is easy to lose perspective. It is easy to lose sight of direction and purpose. Over time, writing about what is happening in your life helps you begin to see patterns that you would otherwise miss because you are too busy to recognize them. When we see patterns, it provides some helpful perspective about what is really happening below the surface in our hearts. This includes our motives and our responses.
For example, I have begun to see how I tend to focus too much on what is wrong in life rather than what is right. Also, comfort and pleasure can be an idol for me, especially when I am stressed. I’m convicted by how I fail to remember who I am in Christ and focus on those riches when I am struggling most.
Pick a journal that you will enjoy using. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on a journal but get something you enjoy working with. Barnes and Noble and OfficeMax usually have attractive, affordable options.
Find a time block when you are by yourself and it is quiet. For me, that means early in the morning. I sit out on the porch (in the warm weather months) with a cup of coffee close by. I normally write before I read my Bible because it helps to clear my mind so I can focus.
Don’t force yourself to write a lot if thoughts are not flowing. Sometimes, all I do is write a few sentences, close my journal and move on after only about 30 seconds. Other days, I’ll write pages and pages for the better part of an hour. Just write what comes to your mind.
What to write. I sometimes struggle with what to write. I might just write down what I did the day before or I might write down my plans for that day. I try not to edit my thoughts choosing instead to let them flow naturally.
Sometimes, I write that the weather is cloudy and rainy and then in the next thought I write about something that happened and how I felt about it. Although I try to use good grammar, I don’t let that stop me from just letting my emotions go out through my pen.
Write for yourself. On the surface that sounds woke. What I mean is that the purpose of journaling is not to write a book, or a story about yourself for others to read. This is for you. Its purpose is to help you know yourself better so you can handle life better.
Read your journal. Reading your journal is uniquely revelatory. I find that I have re-read mine about two to three times since June. The benefits are huge and you’ll likely laugh at yourself. “Wow. I was really upset about that!” Or, “I hope no one ever reads that!” It is amazing how much easier it is to discern the patterns in your life when you do this.
It was once said, “Journaling is paying attention to the inside for the purpose of living well from the inside out.” Taking time to journal helps us evaluate what is really going on in our lives. It helps us know ourselves better and discern areas where we need to change. I recommend it.
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