By Joan Bay Klope
People who keep journals have life twice.
— Jessamyn West, 1902 –1984
I have, my entire life, been enamored with the idea of journal writing. Yet, when I was a child, we owned not journals but diaries, instead. And when looking through an old box the other day, hauled down from the attic, I actually came across a couple of diaries tucked in a collection of childhood items. Both are lockable; only one has a key. That’s because there were secret things to write about; private thoughts and life situations to flesh out onto those lined pages. I certainly didn’t want my nosey brother to read my private thoughts!
And while too many of my childhood adventures are locked away somewhere in my memory, present but not easily accessible, I distinctly recall walking into the local Hallmark store to purchase a diary. That particular day I picked out a volume for me and a matching one for my friend Tedi whose birthday party I was about to attend. That’s what we did before personal computers and instant messaging. We walked over to a best friend’s house to lie on beach towels in the backyard and write down precious thoughts in matching diaries.
To this day I feel the pull. I love the idea of recounting, processing, day dreaming, planning, and building ideas on paper. But we no longer own diaries. These days we grab a journal or blog on the Internet. Fresh, crisp pages excite some of us; computer screens entice others.
There is something else I know about myself when it comes to journaling that both frustrates and disappointments me: despite my initial enthusiasm, I’m hopelessly inconsistent when it comes to long-term journaling. Both of my childhood diaries include a nice number of entries but even more blank pages. With no warning or fanfare I abruptly stop. A handful of adult journals only partially filled tell the same story: I’m a journaling dropout.
Until this week when I learned of an exciting approach to journaling that may prove more satisfying and keep a whole lot of us journal flunkies engaged over the long haul. The emphasis is not on recounting every detail of one’s life, but to bring together the idea of spending time each day reading in the Bible then reflecting through a simple writing process.
Do you want to journal but never seem to have enough time? Is there a deep longing in you to spend time reading God’s word but little understanding where to begin? One of the best sources is a selection of daily readings that will take you through the entire Bible in one year. Such selections are listed online as well as in Bibles and journals. A quick Google search can take you directly to numerous resources that will fit your style and schedule. I own both a Bible and a journal with daily readings that are easy to follow, but I find handwriting my thoughts to be terribly frustrating as I can’t write quickly or neatly enough. It’s most convenient for me to read a Bible selection then journal into a word processing program on my computer. I’m A-OK with the idea of printing my responses and placing them in a binder if I want to easily look back on what I’ve written or share my thoughts with someone.
The format for this kind of journaling is straightforward and workable. It includes four steps and is captured in the acronym SOAP:
If you’re reading through the Bible in a year, begin each day by reading the daily selection. Don’t focus on every detail but prayerfully ask God to make a verse or two stand out to you. Sound odd? Give it a try and be amazed. Asking God to reveal hope, challenge, information, insight, and more in a direct and personal way will present itself in scripture, every day, in surprising ways. If you don’t understand what you’re reading, grab a commentary, head once again to the Internet for additional information, of phone a friend. Then write out the scripture that stands out.
Next, stand back for a moment and make an observation. What do you think God is saying to you and others using that scripture? Why was it included in the Bible? What do you have to say about it?
Next, apply this particular scripture to your life. What is God saying to you? Is this a new idea or an old one you need to consider once again? What are you going to do about this idea? Might you rethink a dream? Rise to a challenge? Sink deeply in His love? Rejoice when it becomes apparent this is an answer to a prayer or a longing?
Finish by writing a simple prayer. Sketch. Write a poem. Strum your guitar. Take a walk. Knit and pray. Send a loving email. Design a card and mail it. Cook a healthy meal. Hug your child.
This is a life journal, after all. It’s about thinking and writing and living.