On the Journaling Life: 10 Years and Counting

I have been journaling for over ten years now. My first entry from 2010 begins with the ever-eloquent “Arghhhh!” of a furious thirteen-year-old. I was apparently enraged by my seventh-grade math teacher, though I’m laughing now at the incident. It is hilarious that such a minor grievance propelled me into one of the greatest blessings of my life: journaling. There’s a moral in that, I’m sure.

Each time I finish a journal, I flip through a few of my previous ones. There are nearly forty now, but I often know exactly which one I need to revisit; rereading specific entries often proves cathartic, insightful, or humorous. The shelves that I reserve for my journals have become a place of comfort, grounding, and reorientation. Regular journaling fosters a reflective mode of life that contributes to a greater sense of wholeness and meaning, as well as to introspective and intentional personal development. Ultimately, journaling as a rational, imaginative, emotional, and temporal activity is valuable not merely as a helpful human discipline, but, perhaps, as an innately theological endeavour.

Journaling is a holistic endeavour that integrates the whole person, as well as gradually reveals the narrative “arc of life.”

Journaling is not an isolated activity, but is instead central to a reflective mode of being that influences and is influenced by every facet of a writer’s life. It is a holistic endeavour which integrates the whole person, as well as gradually reveals what a beloved professor of mine calls “the arc of life.”

It may be tempting to abandon journaling because individual entries feel insignificant. Indeed, this fear of meaninglessness extends beyond journaling, contributing to heightened levels of anxiety and depression. Journaling, however, ought to reveal the opposite: that all of life is interconnected and that the mundane is meaningful. Certain entries may be far from profound, yet they represent the day to day activities and thoughts that generate the narrative arc of life and, through this, contribute to our own development.

Even my dullest diaries yet mark my movement through time, charting the trajectory of my life as a whole. Why is it so easy to post snapshots of daily life to social media stories, but so strenuous and tedious to keep a regular journal? Ironically, such “stories” vanish within twenty-four hours, whereas a journal testifies to the enduring effects of even the ordinary on our daily lives; although we crave the exciting and unusual, even passing thoughts may reveal something about ourselves and mundane memories may lead somewhere wonderful. Only in rereading the chronicles of my life do I see the masterful way in which various themes are harmonised, drawn together meaningfully and beautifully over time.

Less positively, but just as importantly, journaling helps make sense of misfortune and trial, both in processing in the moment and rereading after the dust has settled. I recently realised through rereading that a painful shock had actually been a long time coming. Although this was difficult to process, it reassured me that, despite my hurt feelings, this was not some random or senseless sorrow; rather, it constitutes another plot point in my unfolding life story.

My journals—in the evolution of my syntax, subjects, and even handwriting—remind me who I am and who I am becoming because they testify to who I have been.

Because journaling captures moments and represents the narrative of our lives, it is therefore integral to self-awareness, identity formation, and personal development. My journals—in the evolution of my syntax, subjects, and even handwriting—remind me who I am and who I am becoming because they testify to who I have been.

For instance, I noticed in my journal from two years ago that my tone had changed. My entries were less witty and joyful, even though I was writing about a seemingly-delightful subject. I see now, though, that I was not myself; happy as I was, my narrative voice had lost the “muchness”—the exuberant personality—that usually permeates my writing. Rereading my writing is like having a cozy chat with myself, and it often renews my passions and personality. In capturing me at my best and my worst, my journals reveal both authenticity and pretence, gently guiding me back to myself when I stray. Journaling and rereading is a way of building oneself up, of expressing and solidifying the best of one’s character.

As I reread, I am also faced with my inmost thoughts—often written in a moment of intense emotion—and am frequently convicted by these. Honest journaling has forced me to recognise my flaws more truthfully, and to confront my struggles while also celebrating the process of overcoming. Consistent and authentic journaling in this also becomes a way of confronting and correcting oneself. Indeed, my growing stack of completed journals testify to years of determined, ongoing growth, ever reminding me of where I began and cheering me onward.

Journaling is in itself a deeply theological activity, for it engages the created calling of mankind to name, order, and cultivate our lives as imaginative and rational beings.

The opening chapters of Genesis reveal God’s original act of creation, as well as provide a form for mankind’s own creative activities. Man’s first recorded words comprise a poem, a spontaneous love song expressing Adam’s delight in Eve. If this is not a case for spontaneous literary expression, I’m not sure what is! After all, scripture is punctuated by such instances of poetry—consider the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittus—which are inspired by moments of rapture and preserved in writing to provide the form for our worship.

Further, Adam is charged by his Creator to fulfil vocational calling which informs the pattern of our own everyday creative activities. Adam is called to name the animals and to cultivate the Garden of Eden, both of which require him to exercise his rational and imaginative powers. Naming the animals encourages Adam to make sense of his surroundings, to establish and order his dominion. Likewise, journaling is an act of “naming,” helping us to understand, organise, and construct our lives as personal narratives embedded within the grand narrative of creation and scripture.

Adam, appointed to work as a gardener, is also concerned with productive and beautiful development according to seasons of growth and harvest. Similarly, journaling—as with any well-stewarded activity or vocation—allows us to cultivate our lives toward greater fruitfulness as we move through time in the light of eternity.

Throughout the past decade, my journals have been companions, confidants, and confessors.

Perhaps we would all be more confident and, at the same time, more readily convicted if we took to journaling. Combined, my stack of journals testifies to my growth from a young teenager to a young adult. Since my first entry, I have been ever-grateful for the pages that bid me pray, lament, hope, laugh, and remember. Throughout the past decade, my journals have been my constant companions, confidants, and confessors. If nothing else, my dear Reader, I hope that this semi-rambling post will persuade you to take up your pen and take to the page; I promise it will be well worth the effort.

Perhaps I ought to thank my seventh-grade math teacher for unintentionally kickstarting my journaling journey and, with it, a more reflective, intentional, and, ultimately, theological way of life.

7 comments

  1. Loved this post. Now that I have journaled daily for 30 years I cannot NOT do it. I often say that my journalling is my brain dump, like uploading my thoughts and memories to my bound-book server (BTW, I will never move to an online journal). Today those books (one per year) is a treasure for me and my family. If our house ever catches fire, it’s the journals I’m grabbing. My wife can grab the old photo albums. Thanks!! Saw your mention on Challies.com. I will be sharing with others. Look for a photo of my journals on my little hobby blog. unstringingthebow.com

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful readership, Tim! Madeleine L’Engle has some delightful thoughts on journaling that you might enjoy. I’d recommend her memoir, “Walking on Water.” I’ll be sure to check out your blog as well. Great to connect with you!

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  2. Thank you for this article, Ryanne! Love: “Journaling, however, ought to reveal the opposite: that all of life is interconnected and that the mundane is meaningful.”

    At https://www.abcsconnection.com/ you can find how examples of some of the relationships we find in God’s big story can be woven into our ‘little stories’ knowing he is with us in every step. A guided, relational journal is also available for purchase there.

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      1. Glad you visited! I’d like to send you a guided journal. Would you please email an address to: karenwallace@abcsconnection.com ?

        The journal has lots of writing prompts in an abecedarian layout of words and phrases that you might enjoy.

        If you use it, like it, and share about it, you would be blessing the South Sudan Community Church ministry team (Cush4Christ at http://www.rpglobalmissions.org) financially since sales proceeds are sent there. You would be blessing me also, over and above your helpful writings, since it is on my heart to get the site and journal before the eyes of any who would benefit from them.

        Liked by 1 person

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