Spiritual Journal: Ten Tips For Getting Started On or Improving Your Spiritual Journaling Habit
First of all, don’t let the title of this blog put you off. As Rob Bell says, “Everything is spiritual.” So even if you do not consider yourself a spiritual person, but you are interested in keeping a journal, then this blog is for you. Hopefully, by the time you reach the last page of your journal, you will have discovered that you are spiritual, after all. God has a way of sneaking onto the page when you least suspect Him, but you probably won’t realize until later on, when you have put some distance between your writing and yourself. Going back and reading older writing is like seeing your ideas from a third-person perspective. And the moral of this introduction is write, write, write! You will be glad you did.
1. Sometimes, when you are listening to music, watching a movie, reading a book, listening to a speaker, having a particularly interesting conversation, etc. something inside of you stirs, and you have this temporary bigger-than-life perspective. Don’t let that moment slip away. As soon as you are able, and preferably before you go to bed that night, write down your thoughts, feelings, and ideas. Even if it is only a few sentences. Do it. The inspirational moment will fade sooner than you realize.
2. Everyone has a story. Take the time to ask people questions. Write down experiences other than your own. Remind yourself of the diversity present in the human spirit, evidence of the creativity of God.
3. Write about the natural world. Something as simple as a bug can be used by God to demonstrate some deep spiritual truth. You don’t really need to go looking for the bug, it finds you, as long as you spend some time outdoors, away from the TV or computer. You don’t even need to venture far. Just go outside, wherever. Have a seat. Turn your cell phone off. Observe. Think. Ask God to show up. He always does, if you have eyes to see and ears to hear, you will know. For those of you who don’t particularly like bugs, another example is a flower, growing out of a brick wall. How does that happen? What does that mean? To me, it means HOPE. The sound of a bird like a siren warning, “Stay away!” The bending of a branch, heavy with fruit or a fat squirrel. See what you see, and write about it. God pays attention to small details, and sometimes we should practice doing the same.
4. Do something for someone else – volunteer work, mow you elderly neighbor’s lawn, give a construction worker a bottle of ice-cold gatorade, let someone in front of you in line. These things not only make the world a better place, but they give you something to write about that is right and good and happy, to offset the doom and gloom media bombardment. These are things to praise God about, whether you are the one doing or someone does something for you. Take the time to write down and remember, to thank God for preserving love and light and giving you an opportunity to practice living the life of Christ, to enjoy being alive.
5. I have my writing teacher, Ashley Inguanta to thank for the next suggestion: The Junkyard. What is the Junkyard? It is the final resting place for your index cards, sticky notes, napkins, printed emails, etc. God brings something to your attention, so you write it down wherever and whenever, but eventually, you are sure to collect these thoughts into one notebook. You can call it something other than The Junkyard if you like. On days when you open your journal and just don’t know what to write about, write a prayer to God, based on the information you saved in your notebook. For example, I wrote down “Office symphony (noise of computer clicks, copy machines, file drawers opening/closing, etc).” Comparing the noise of human activity to music, I am able to appreciate the idea that God created us not just to “be” but to “do.” We are meant to be little creators, imitating our Heavenly Father in the sheer joy of “let there be (fill in the blank)” and “there was (fill in the blank)” and we see that “it is good.” When we get satisfaction out of doing what we do to the best of our ability, it is a symphony in the ears of God. It is a way to communicate with Him in the ordinary, without really being all holy about it.
6. In Bible study and in life, write down as many questions as possible. Be willing to admit that you don’t have all the answers. You may never have time to find all the answers, but asking the questions is important. Don’t filter or censor yourself, either. I constantly ask God, “Why did you do that? Why do you allow yourself to appear so mean and angry sometimes? Don’t you care about what happens to those people?” I still don’t have answers to many of these questions, but by asking them, I am honest with God. I am not judging God, I am trying to understand God. He loves this. I hope that He will give me the answers this side of the grave. It would be nice to declare with utter certainty, “This is God’s reason for XYZ.” And everyone nods and has a collective a-ha moment, satisfied with the answers. Sometimes, I stumble upon the answer to a question I might have forgotten about, had I not written it down. In keeping a journal, you will begin to see a pattern of your questions and God’s answers. Sometimes there are months or even years worth of pages that separate the question from the answer. But it is so satisfying to know that God does not just ignore our questions, or always say “No.” Sometimes He says, “Wait.” And then He shows up later, with answers you never would have guessed way back when you asked the question. It is through this process that I have learned to think BIG. I used to ask God questions about my church, and His constant answer was, “You are not thinking BIG enough.” I had no idea what He meant at the time, but now I do. I was asking questions on behalf of a small group of people, when I should have been asking questions on behalf of the whole world. Anyway, think BIG. Ask hard questions. Expect answers. Be patient. Trust God to know what you are capable of hearing/understanding during each season of your life.
7. Sometimes (not very often) there is just too much important stuff happening all at once, that writing it all down seems impossible. During these times, use bullet point or brief synopsis to highlight what matters. You can always go back later and elaborate. There was a period of several months where God was so busy doing so many amazing things all at once that I grew weary of journaling about it all. My hand literally felt like it would fall off, and I was staying up half the night to put it all on paper. I am very glad that I did, because what was going on during that time is crucial to a very wide audience – this information will eventually become a book. God keeps closing the door to this book every time I go to write it, though. So I am just waiting on Him. Anyway, if God is really wowing you, and you don’t want to forget who, how, when, what manner, etc. just write enough to trigger your memory later.
8. Set goals. Here, I am preaching to myself. I have been sporadic in my journaling lately, because of being busy with school and keeping this blog going. A very realistic goal even for a busy person, is to write once per week, even if it is only one paragraph. As a writer, one paragraph is a near-impossibility for me. But telling myself “just one paragraph” helps me to actually sit down with pen and paper and DO IT. If you get good at once per week, you can reset your goal to twice per week or every other day. Eventually, you will find yourself in the habit of writing each day, sometimes more than once per day.
9. Write your dreams, if you can remember them. Sometimes God communicates through dreams. Don’t get all hokey about it, assuming that every dream has some deep spiritual meaning, though. Dreams are the subconscious way of sorting through the sensory input of each day, along with emotional states, and other psychological concepts which I will not explore in this blog. We are created in the image of God, and God does not sleep. Whatever happens in our skulls during the wee hours of the night, can be equated with some aspect of being created in His image. Perhaps God allows us to defy the boundaries of time, space, and matter in our dreams just so that we can have a playground for our imaginations. Who knows. But it certainly doesn’t hurt anything to record dreams until we figure it out, right?
10. Do your homework. Research spiritual matters. Keep a record of what you find. The Reign of God is like a treasure hidden in a field. God has all kinds of wonderful discoveries planned for you, but you must participate in His divine game of “hot – hotter, cold – colder” to locate them. You have to be student, and He your Teacher. You have to be the patient lying on the couch spilling your guts, and He the Doctor, helping you sort through your feelings. You have to be the detective, picking apart what religious leaders teach, separating the little bits of truth often encased in worthless error, and He is the Spirit of discernment in you, showing you the difference, the magnifying glass to help you see the clues that otherwise go unnoticed. Don’t be lazy; use your journal as a record-keeping tool to inventory spiritual evidence and follow up on spiritual leads.