I have tried and then failed probably 20 times. I distinctly remember the Fall of 1999, when I began the diaconate formation process, and hearing advice that I should keep a journal of the experience, that it could prove to be most illuminating. I still have that journal. It has maybe fifteen words written on the first page… and the rest is blank.
There is no scarcity of evidence of the advantages of journaling, in general. Many have studied and shown, quite convincingly, that keeping a journal has benefits. These include:
- Helping us to track patterns of thoughts and feelings so that we can better understand them and ourselves.
- Offering us a new perspective on our own lives, including how we have faced and solved problems in the past.
- Tracking our progress toward goals. Social scientists have shown that breaking our goals down into smaller habits and then recording our progress toward repeating those habits and accomplishing smaller pieces of a larger objective is essential.
- Creating an outlet for processing our emotions and dealing with complex or painful experiences.
- Generating discipline in our lives that can pay dividends in solving larger problems.
- Boosting memory and comprehension, as the act of writing down thoughts and lessons helps us to retain them.
I have seen others experience these benefits in powerful ways, yet I have struggled to reproduce them for myself. But that has begun to change over the past six months. I have started the process of keeping a regular journal and here is what I have learned so far:
- While I have failed several times at keeping a journal, I have always been pretty good at taking notes in school and at work during meetings. I have begun to think about journaling as simply taking notes about my life. Somehow, this has helped me.
- I stopped worrying about the medium for journaling. Fancy bound journals, cheap notebooks, computer-based solutions… whatever. Just pick something and start.
- Keep it physically handy. Jot down thoughts, questions and insights whenever the inspiration hits. Rather than having a specific journaling time, I instead am fitting it into the small gaps throughout my day.
- Have a set of cues handy that can help spark daily entries. Examples include: “What am I grateful for today? And: “Was I kind to others?”
But here’s the greatest and most impactful reason that I have begun to journal more successfully and consistently: I now consider it to be my “prayer journal”. We all have prayer intentions and are asked to pray for others on a regular basis. I began my prayer journal process by simply recording all these intentions. Then, during prayer, I look through the names and causes and it helps them to become more real, more present, to me. Additionally, when I read something that inspires my faith, whether from scripture, a homily, or a book I’m reading, I make sure to record that in the journal. As part of a daily examine, I ponder this question on those pages: “Where, when and through whom did I experience God today?” Increasingly, I am directing my words to God himself. The pages of the journal have become a record of our ongoing conversation. As such, when I am feeling confused or challenged, those thoughts and feelings are included as well.
I certainly haven’t arrived when it comes to journaling, but I have made good progress. I am beginning to see the benefits of incorporating this practice into my daily routine and as part of my prayer life. Perhaps, as we all work our way through the ongoing pandemic, this may be something you might consider trying as well. If so, let me know how it’s going and what you are learning. I’m curious…