Hey, my friends. Welcome back to Let’s Encourage One Another.
Perhaps this isn’t a secret to you, but… I am a big journaler. When I was student in school, it often looked like recording what had happened that day, and over time, it really became a place for me to process what I was going through and kind of sort it all out. Have you experienced that, too?
Journaling is such a powerful practice. Not only is writing by hand in and of itself something that helps us process and kind of unscramble the thoughts that are in our mind and even helps us remember things that are important to us, but journaling as a regular practice also helps us reflect on what we are learning and be more intentional about the way we want to live and the choices we make. As Trevor Hudson said, “We don’t learn from our experiences. We learn from our reflection upon our experiences.”
I don’t know about you, but there are a lot of times when I go through something and I just keep moving on, never slowing down to think about how it affected me or what I could do better next time or even just celebrating what went really well.
Like, if I’m feeling really anxious one day, I don’t always pause to consider why I am feeling that way and what I can do with it. I just keep moving forward. Or if one of my kids is behaving differently, maybe in a way I don’t like, or a friend is treating me differently, then taking the time to stop and actually think about what is causing it and what I might need to do to support them. And that’s really important.
But even for bigger seasons of life, where we are maybe struggling with depression or grief, sometimes even then, we don’t give ourselves the time and space we need to process—whether that’s on paper through journaling or even processing out loud with a friend or counselor. We can ask questions like “What am I struggling the most with today?” or “What might God be trying to tell me in this moment?”
It’s like how Rayna Neises said in our interview last week, how she would leave her dad’s house to drive back home and think through her time with him. What went well? What could she do better? What changes did they need to make? And she took time during her drive to reflect on her experience.
But even for those of us who are drawn to journaling, whether we are new to it or have been at it for years, there are still some obstacles and questions that come up.
- I don’t have time to journal.
- I don’t know what to write about.
- Writing by hand is hard for me. Is there a way to journal where I don’t have write it out by hand?
- I started journaling, but it’s hard for me to make it a regular practice.
- What if I don’t want anyone else to read it?
So today, while I can’t dive into everything there is to know about journaling and how you can practice it, I want to dive into those first two obstacles: I don’t have time to journal and I don’t know what to write about.
To do that, I am going to offer you four simple ways to start, or keep, journaling. My hope is that you’ll see there are literally dozens of ways to incorporate journaling into your life, and some really don’t take that much time. You can fit them into the tiny spaces of your day, with a 3-to-5-minute break, or even tack it on to something you are already doing. And as time goes on, we’ll address some of those other obstacles, too.
Diary vs. Journal vs. Reflection
Now, before we get started, I do want to point out the difference between keeping a diary, journaling, and reflection. Keeping a diary is really about documenting the events and experiences you are going through. You’re simply keeping a record. It’s usually quite matter of fact and objective.
Journaling is more about recording not just an event or experience, but also how you are processing that event or experience. For example, you write about how it makes you feel or you explore your thoughts and ideas surrounding it.
Reflection takes that one step further and you’re usually looking back at an experience—whether it was a long time ago or earlier that day—and describing the experience, how it made you think and feel, but you do so in a way that helps you learn from it. And it’s more about learning and growing from your experiences.
So with that in mind, these four methods I’m going to share with you today fall more into the journaling and reflection categories. We’re not just documenting. We are actually thinking and engaging with our experience.
Okay? So let’s dive into four simple journaling methods that you can start trying today, ones that don’t have to take a lot of time and that provide you with something to write about.
The first method is Bible journaling.
Now, when I say Bible journaling, a lot of you might think about creative Bible journaling, where people are drawing these beautiful pictures that represent a Bible passage or story in Scripture, complete with calligraphy or hand lettered verses. And while that is certainly a great style of Bible journaling, what I’m talking about is writing to actually engage with what you are reading in the Bible.
So for me, Bible journaling is really just taking notes as I am reading or studying the Bible. I’m underlining words and phrases that stand out to me. I’m writing questions or notes in the margins of my Bible. I specifically bought a wide margin Bible that allows me to do that.
For example, I am currently studying the book of 2 Corinthians. And in the margins of chapter 11, I have these things written:
- In verse 2, Paul writes that he is jealous for the Corinthians, while so often, I feel jealous of someone. So in the margin, I wrote, “Jealous of vs. jealous for.”
- In verse 4, Paul writes about how the Corinthians were putting up with whatever someone told them without considering whether it was true or not. So in the margin, I wrote, “What am I putting up with?”
- Also in verse 4, Paul highlights how the Corinthians were hearing about these things—it wasn’t the truth about Jesus. So in the margin, I list out those different things: “Different Jesus, different Spirit, different gospel.”
- And then in verse 14, Paul talks about how Satan can disguise himself as an angel of light, and I write, “A scary thought—How do we know the difference?”
You can write in your Bible itself, if that feels okay to you, or you can grab a separate notebook and write in there. I have gone back and forth between these two, and I’ve learned that for me, including it right there in my Bible is easier and that also means it’s there for the next time I read that passage. I can see my questions and notes and remember how God was speaking to me through that Bible verse.
One specific form of journaling that I would include with Bible journaling is Scripture writing. This is especially helpful if you feel like you don’t know what to write when you journal. Just pick one or two verses from your Bible reading or Bible study that day and copy them onto another sheet of paper.
This could be in a special notebook, a line a day journal, or even in your planner. In fact, that’s what I often do right now. There’s a spot in my planner where I can write down a Bible verse for the day.
If you want to learn more about Scripture writing, I actually have a class called Scribe, where we look at the men in the Bible who served as scribes, who hand-copied the Scriptures, and we take what we learn from them and apply it to our own practice of Scripture writing today. You can grab that in our shop at lovedoesthat.org/shop.
Okay, so Bible journaling is one great way to get started with journaling. Another is starting a gratitude journal.
You know, 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (NLT) tells us to “be thankful in all circumstances.” And Psalm 92:1 (NLT) says, “It is good to give thanks to the Lord.”
I know that in difficult seasons, it is harder for me to be grateful, yet I also know that there is always something to be thankful for. I just need to call it to mind. So creating a gratitude journal invites me to do that, to write down what I’m grateful.
And it’s more than just a general feeling of thankfulness, but literally listing specific things I’m thankful for. There is power in naming them, in remembering them.
And really, it’s about seeing the good things that God has given to me and thanking Him for them. I don’t want to overlook the blessings He provides. And that’s really easy to do when life is hard or busy. So by slowing down and identifying where I see the good, I’m really identifying where I see God.
While it’s easy just to list “my family” or “my home,” I do try to be as specific as possible. So I might write something like, “I’m thankful for my friend praying over me today on Voxer.” Or, “I’m grateful my husband prepared supper tonight when I was feeling so tired.” And of course, I use their actual name when I write it down, but just to give you an idea.
Again, this is something I currently do in my planner, but you could also have a special notebook just for listing out things you are grateful for. You can list three things every day, or just list until you can’t list anymore. It’s entirely up to you. It usually only takes a minute or two for me to do this, yet it can make such a big difference in my attitude that day.
So we have Bible journaling and gratitude journaling. The third way is to journal through the Daily Examen every night.
I talk about the Examen back in episode 4, and different ways you can practice it, so if you want to learn a bit more about it, go back and listen to that. But essentially, it’s a sort of reflection you do at the end of your day to see where you can see God working, see if there’s anything you might need to confess, and set your intention for the next day.
The traditional parts of the Daily Examen go something like this:
- Recognize God’s presence
- Review the day with gratitude and thankfulness
- Choose one part of the day and reflect more deeply upon it, talking to God about it and asking for His insight
- Respond to whatever God brought to mind
- Pray, looking forward to tomorrow, knowing God will be there with you
You’ll see that gratefulness is a part of the Daily Examen, as is intentional reflection. It gives you the opportunity to walk through the day in your mind and ask questions like, “Where did I experience joy? What troubled me today? Where was I afraid?” And then you can bring those experiences before God and see what He has to say about them.
Sometimes we need to confess a sin. Maybe we treated someone with anger or indifference, and God brings that to mind and we feel that godly sorrow that’s talked about in 2 Corinthians. So we repent and ask God to help us make things right and to change our hearts and behavior in the future.
While some people practice the Daily Examen just as a sort of mental review, actually writing down your answers can provide you an amazing testimony to how God is working in your life. And this can be a practical way to start journaling, because it gives you the questions and also kind of sets you up for a routine of journaling every night—though if you miss a night, please don’t let that mess you up. Just pick it up again when you can.
Finally, there is a guided journal.
Using journal prompts or some kind of guided journal can be so incredibly helpful, especially if you are experiencing something like grief or anxiety, because there are guided journals specifically geared toward that issue. You can answer just one question or you can set a timer and go through as many as time allows.
Again, the big issue for a lot of us is, “I don’t know what to write.” Guided journals provide good, often deep questions for us to consider. Things we wouldn’t necessarily think to ask on our own. There are so many that are available, but I will share a couple of examples here.
First, Emily P. Freeman has The Next Right Thing Guided Journal. I know many of you follow Emily, listen to her podcast, and have probably read her book, but her guided journal is split up into different months and seasons and allows you to reflect on specific aspects of it, like what questions you are carrying with you that month or what gave you life that month or what drained you that month.
Another guided journal is The Daily Kairos. These journals are fantastic, especially if you want to explore Bible journaling, gratitude journaling, and/or prayer journaling. They have spots for all of that, and it’s a really great way to see how God is showing up in your life. In fact, there’s a spot at the end of each day that asks, “How did God reveal Himself to you today?” along with a couple of other questions, so it invites you to keep an eye out for Him, which is something I often invite my spiritual direction clients to do, as well.
You can also grab my grief journal prompts for free at lovedoesthat.org/griefjournal. I offer 30 questions you can journal through, and I also put them into a daily spread and weekly spread to show how you can use the questions as a regular practice. For example, a couple of the questions are, “What truth do I need to cling to today?” or “What places have been hard for me to visit?” So if you are in a season of grief, I really encourage you to grab that.
So there you are: four simple ways to start—or keep—journaling. Methods that don’t have to take a lot of time and that provide you with something to write about: Bible journaling, gratitude journaling, using the Daily Examen, and using a guided journal.
Now, I know that many of you are drawn to journaling or process through writing. That’s why you’re listening to this podcast episode, right? But maybe lately, it has felt a little lackluster or dry. Or maybe you start up with good intentions, but have a hard time creating a routine.
Back in January, I offered a workshop called 3 Ways to Encounter God on the Pages of Your Journal. If you happened to miss that, I have made it available for you to watch. Just go to lovedoesthat.org/journalingworkshop to get access. It is about 30 minutes long and I walk you through specific ways you can invite God into your journaling process so that you hear what He has to say to you.
And be sure to come back next week, because we are actually going to dive into this even more as I chat with Elizabeth McCravy, host of the Breakthrough Brand podcast. She shares about how she incorporates reflection and journaling into her life. We talk both big picture “why do you journal” as well as the practical, everyday “what does it look like for you” and what it looked like during a couple of important seasons in her life. And I’ve got to tell you, it’s a conversation you don’t want to miss.
Okay, that’s all for today, my friends. Until next time…
- Scribe Bible Study and Workshop (Scripture writing)
- Free Grief Journal Prompts
- Journaling Workshop: 3 Ways to Encounter God on the Pages of Your Journal
- Emily P. Freeman, The Next Right Thing Guided Journal
- The Daily Kairos Journal
- Episode 4: Spiritual Practices to Help You Learn to Hear God’s Voice
QUOTES AND BIBLE VERSES:
- “We don’t learn from our experiences. We learn from our reflection upon our experiences.” (Trevor Hudson)
- “Be thankful in all circumstances…” (1 Thessalonians 5:18 NLT)
- “It is good to give thanks to the Lord.” (Psalm 92:1 NLT)
INTERESTED IN WRITTEN SPIRITUAL DIRECTION?
I’d be honored to walk with you through a difficult season and help you discover God’s presence and work in your life.