Journaling is one of those grindy habits that work along the lines of vitamins, push ups and flossing. The small little importants get bossed around too easily by the crush of the urgent, the hurry of the clock.
It’s not any new revelation that small efforts cumulated over time can reap rather amazing results.
When you take time to jot down a few thoughts in a journal from any one given day, it usually feels insignificant, like a waste of time. Especially in these digital days when we spend so much time reading other people’s words. You read over the words you’ve written and its easy to think that the events of that day aren’t noteworthy. That the stories you work to coax out don’t matter.
That just isn’t true.
Last week I dug out some old journals. The ones I wrote starting in January 2005. I journaled more than usual during that year, probably because it acted as cheap therapy during a year filled with transition, grief and decisions. Every page held memories that roll like a movie. I shared them with Todd and it was like we were right back in the stomach churning mess of those days. So many details. So many questions. So much wrestling. There is no way my brain would’ve remembered it all if I had not written it down.
I find myself telling friends this all the time, “You need to write all this down.” And for these very reasons.
I have found that journaling provides my soul with a two-fold gift, a small one for the NOW and a bigger one for the LATER. Writing out thoughts and rants, prayers and musings, helps sort out the chaos that builds up in my brain and heart at times. The challenges of the day can be so layered and complex that a few minutes of writing acts as a very healthy emotional release and a method of sorting through the madness. On slower saner days, a few lines of gratitude or simple description help pin down the beauty of the ordinary.
For the NOW, journaling helps slow me down and ushers me into a place that has grown to feel holy.
For the LATER, journaling serves to remind me of who I was and how God worked his Storyteller power within my life, story after story. Year after year.
These books are what I’d grab first if we had a fire. A weekly, sometimes daily habit led to something I can now hold in my hand. They are memory keepers.
This is why I believe in the cumulative power of journaling. A decade after our decision to move to Pittsburg, I’m able to pop open these journals and drink in the faithfulness of God. To read my words to Him and shake my head in wonder. They are not fancy and most pages look like a hot mess.
All the desperate prayers.
All the advice and verses given by friends.
All the quotes, the nighttime dreams, the “coincidences”.
All the lists of questions.
The activity and events and decisions with their corresponding doubts and fears are poured out with poor penmanship and no edits on to pages of a 98 cent composition notebook. A gift for the now. And after some waiting, a re-gift for the later.
I see that for some seasons our journals need to age like wine to allow the fermenting magic of perspective and time to work. Although I couldn’t see it at the time, I now recognize the theme of trust rising up off the pages and a variation of this conversation played out dozens of times:
“Dude, can we trust you?”
“But what about….?”
–Yep, got it covered. You have no idea how much.
“Really, really, really?”
–Let me remind you AGAIN why I can be trusted.
“Ok. But we are scared to death!”
“Ok…we will trust you….until you make us not trust you.”
–Fine. (You know its impossible for me to not keep promises, right?)
“How about we trust you just one day at time?”
–It’s all I ask.
Reading them now I see how journaling kept me grounded in the truth. It was easy to spot a lie when I wrote it out in black and white. It anchored me to the goal of trusting God in the storm and helped me weather the one day at a times. I’d write a verse out and ask myself…”Well, do you believe it or not?”…and decide I would for one more day and then take just another step forward.
10 years later we look back at how we powered on through that one season of change, all because he gave us just enough manna for the day and allowed our desire to trust Him to collide with his faithfulness. We were babies with arms lifted and he reached down and carried us. Carries us still.
Our life is just not about us. That’s what the stories in my journal pages tell me.
The Israelites set up stones after crossing into the promised land as reminders to their children of what God had done for them. Journals can work like stones of remembrance. As real memory for our lives, not a twisted half truth. They tell our truest stories…This is what was happening. This is how you felt about it. This is how God has proved himself faithful later in the story. And most importantly this is why you can trust Him in whatever new and scary thing you are facing on the walk today.
Your simple little words jotted down on paper can do the same for those you love who walk behind you. When they ask about a particular joyful or heartbreaking time, saying How did you do it? You can pull out a journal and read to them stories of the faithfulness of God. You can tell them the truth that YOU didn’t do it. God did.
Or…when you ask yourself….What was that all about? You have answers for yourself. Memories can twist into a false reality. We easily forget. Writing down in simple words, simple stories is a way to honor God.
They proclaim your remembrance by pointing to a time in history and declaring to Him: You. Were. Here.
And what a beautiful miracle that is.