Dear God . . .
Michele Morrison explains why keeping a journal is vital in deepening her relationship with God.
Today, my journal became my bolt-hole.
I was working in my husband's office, putting together a catalogue with a deadline coinciding with the copy deadline for this article. Christmas shopping days had shrunk to single digits. Family were phoning with arrival schedules. My stomach was churning.
I moved aside from the computer, made a coffee and gratefully opened my journal, grabbed a pen and began to write my praises to the Lord. Oh, what joy! What relief! How quickly the exercise restored sanity and peace as I focused on my Lord and Saviour and began to praise him.
Then a few abbreviated lines of anxieties. A worry shared . . . who better to share with than Jesus, the Lover of my soul? What a confidant! I was back to praise before I knew it.
Turning to my Bible study, I read about Lot and the destruction of Sodom. I considered the fleeting nature of the material world and the unchanging nature of God, and I became very aware of his presence with me, in that tiny office, as I wrote my journal. His words to me bubbled up and spilled on to the page, inspiring faith, promoting peace, reassuring me with his love and giving birth to joy. I lingered and listened, drawing near to the heart of my Maker. Oh, just to rest there and hear the heartbeat, steady and dependable. I was back to praise.
I have been a sporadic journalist for years, and today's experience highlighted the place of journaling as a centring ritual which takes me straight into conversation with God.
A Christian journal details a believer's walk with God. It demands honesty, and therein lies some of the relief: there is no need for stiff upper lips or pretence. This is not a piece for publication, but a private interchange between believer and God. It also demands circumspection, as there is always the possibility of others reading it. Note your anxieties briefly or, if there is potential for hurt, not at all.
A journal is not an exercise in self-discovery but in God-discovery, though, in true Christian paradoxical fashion, in knowing God you are better able to know yourself.
Why write it all down, though? Many people enjoy an intimate prayer life on their knees or in a comfy chair. Well, there are no templates for developing a deep relationship with the Lord. Some people's temperaments are more suited to meditating with pen and paper, than, say, on a dog walk.
Although God never issued an 11th command, he did repeatedly tell the Israelites to write down his instructions. He knows our feeble memories. How often is the answer to prayer accepted as a natural unfolding of events, stealing from us that spine-tingling joy of recognising the hand of God in our affairs? If we don't notice his signature, we will never develop the thankful heart of Jesus. In another respect, we can be victims of selective memory, where we forget God's guidance and reproof as it pleases us. We need to write these things down.
The discipline of journaling allows time and space for the Lord to be heard, for a dialogue to develop and for a relationship to grow. It enables me to listen. I find that when I have poured out my heart over a specific concern and waited patiently on the Lord with poised pen, he often responds with a word of prophecy which speaks to the heart of the problem. As I ruminate over a Bible verse or passage, the Lord opens it up to me and applies it to my present circumstances. It can be illuminating, comforting – or even uncomfortable.
A good friend who has been an inspiration to me, and has kept a journal for years, described her routine.
"Every day I write a few lines of praise," she said, "followed by a brief list of my anxieties. I don't write them all down: some are just between me and the Lord. Then I study my Bible. I follow the lectionary, which gives readings in the Old and New Testaments and the Psalms. I meditate on what the Lord is saying to me in these readings and record it."
No wonder she has such a fruitful ministry!
Another friend uses the discipline primarily during times of stress, when she is desperately seeking guidance on some particular problem, and cites a boost to her faith as one of its great benefits. As she looks back at her journals through the years, she is excited to see how faithfully the Lord has answered the cries of her heart.
A few years ago, at a particularly harried time in my life, I devised a slightly different approach to journaling, and even wrote a (still unpublished) book about the method. I was concerned about the way many of us rarely notice the Lord's activity in our lives, and how the resultant ingratitude stunts the growth of our faith.
A failure at maintaining a daily discipline, I decided instead to set aside a weekly slot in which to consider the question, "What has the Lord done in my life this week?" I drew up a one-page form. Divided into three sections, the top gave room for noting down prayer requests, leaving space for future notations of the answers. The second altered the focus to consider what the Lord had done in my life during the past week, in terms of teaching, challenging, growing fruits of the Spirit, and so on. The final third left space for what the Lord had done through my life during that week, encouraging me to note opportunities he'd given for me to share my faith either verbally or in action. How had God made a difference through me in the past week?
I maintained this discipline for a season, and found it wonderful for seeing at a glance how God was active in my life. It also made me more alert to opportunities to witness. I'm back to journaling again, though, because, while that exercise was perfect for my life then, I'm more a prose than a bullet-point person!
Like me, you may sometimes struggle to maintain the discipline, but the most costly investment is your time, and God rewards such sacrifice.
May journaling become your bolt-hole too, your trysting place with the King of Kings.
- Make the exercise a pleasure, not a chore, by setting the stage carefully. Choose a special place. Pour yourself a cup of coffee or tea, light a candle, play praise music, close the door and ignore the phone.
- Set aside a regular time during which you feel relaxed and un-pressured, and make every effort to keep the appointment.
- Follow a regular plan of Bible reading.
- Get a quality notebook which suggests importance, preferably one with a hard back.
- Don't worry about writing great prose: think of it more as writing a letter to a loving friend, lingering with him long enough to hear and record his letter back to you. It may help to start each entry with a salutation: Dear God.
- Approach your journal with faith: count on his being there, and he will be. Abraham had to step out in faith, as did Moses, and Joshua, and they were all met by a God excited over that first step. Be prepared to be swept off your feet by your loving creator.