During the course of our time in India I’ve encountered several occasions where my perceptions of reality have not necessarily been accurate.
It’s been important for me to write down what I was feeling and experiencing so that when things calmed down, I could go over what happened with a clearer head.
There are plenty of other reasons for keeping a journal, but here are a few benefits I find to be the most useful and rewarding:
1. Journal to Reveal
My grandma used to always tell me: “It all comes out in the wash.” This is so true for journaling.
Journaling is a way of revealing and “washing out” what you’re thinking and feeling. It’s the time when all the dirt you hadn’t noticed before, gets rinsed and cleaned up.
That’s why, after I journal, I usually notice an immediate change in how I feel.
It’s not because the situation changed. It’s because I can clearly see which things are true, which things I have to accept, which things I need to trust the Lord in, and which things are out-right lies about me or the situation.
There’s no dirt or mucky emotions clouding my thoughts.
Once the lies are exposed and truth is revealed, I can start sorting through the issue a little deeper and try to come up with solutions.
2. Journal for the Record
“Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” – John Adams
Journaling is a great way of keeping the facts documented.
I’ve found some of my most insightful entries have been the ones where I was brutally honest and did nothing more than record the facts of the situation.
Sometimes all that may happen in my day are the boring, routine things. But guess what, boring and routine is boring and routine because it happens so regularly. And you just might need to be reminded of that if you ever find yourself in a place of discontent.
It also says in Jeremiah 17:9 that “the heart is deceitful above all things… who can understand it?” We have a tendency to look back and romanticize our experiences from the past or conveniently forget the negative details.
We even repeat phrases like “hindsight’s twenty-twenty,” or “coulda’, woulda’, shoulda'”; or “the grass is always greener on the other side,” out of lament for events in the past.
A friend of mine said it was for this very reason she kept a journal while she was here in India. If she ever began to regret or doubt her decision to leave India, she could combat her misgivings with the facts she wrote down.
Questions like: “Were things really that bad? Should have held on just a little longer? Did I quit too soon?” – can all be answered easily with the help of the facts recorded in a journal.
3. Journal to Reflect
This is the only benefit that can actually become detrimental if done alone.
As with most data, the more you have and the easier it is to make reasonable assessments. And so, many people recommend waiting at least a year (but in many cases longer) before you begin reflecting on the things you’ve written down.
Either way, whenever you do finally choose to reflect, it’s important that you get the Holy Spirit involved or that you’re in the presence of a trusted older brother or sister in Christ.
Practices like introspection and self-reflection are responsibilities that only a pure and holy heart can steward. Bill Johnson said this once during a sermon about introspection: “Has anyone ever gone deep inside their own soul without Jesus and come out encouraged?”
That’s a big “Nope!” for me!
Reflection should be just one more area of you life where you no longer see your past and identify with it, but you only see Jesus and His victory.
But without the honesty and wisdom of an outside counselor or mentor, it can sometimes lead to narcissism or create unhealthy attachments to brokenness from the past.
A mentor or an older spiritual brother or sister in Christ can be great people to get together with. They’ll give you honest feedback and offer you support or guidance as you share some of your journaled thoughts.
4. Journal to Remember
“Keep my commandments and live, and keep my law and teaching as the apple (the pupil) of your eye. Bind them on your fingers; write them on the tablet of your heart.” (Prv 7:2-3)
We may not be like the Old Testament Israelites, but we’re still prone to forgetting who we are, who the Lord is and what He’s done for us.
Displays of God’s power and love from past events, however incredible they may have been at the time, can get lost in the mix. But if I’ve written them down, they can be a great reminder of the faithfulness of the Lord.
There have been numerous other times when I’ve read back over an entry about really powerful dream or a “God-encounter” that I completely forgot about. And more often than not, the entry is applicable to the new season or situation I’m in, even though I had written it down sometimes several years prior.
Journaling serves as a reminder that when we’re in the lowest, most horrible places, and we can’t see or feel God, He’s still there. He never leaves us.
Pretty awesome stuff.
You can look at your journal as your very own book of Psalms or book of Acts: All of life’s challenges and victories are all just waiting to be written down, one entry at a time!