How To Journal

Plain and simple, journaling gives you a safe place to tell the truth of what you are feeling and thinking and a place to give them over to God. The real, unfiltered thoughts and feelings that you have, without judgment.

Read that part again, without judgement.

The point isn’t whether they are right or wrong.
The point is to capture them somehow.

I have been journaling for a long time. I did it some in high school, some in college, but it really started for me in 2010. I was stuck and I was at the end of my rope in a lot of different areas.  We all have our stuff. I did believe in God and I believed Jesus was who he said he was, so why was I stuck? Why was I so discontent? Weren’t we as Christinas supposed to be full of Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness and all that?

Why wasn’t that true for me?

I believe it is was because up to that point I had never really told God the truth of what I was thinking and feeling.

I remembered the verse where Jesus says that, “The truth will set you free.” It was John 8:32. I decided that at the very least I would tell him the truth of what I was thinking and feeling. I would then leave it to him to redeem the misguided thoughts and then amplify the thoughts I needed to share with others. (Romans 12:1-2)

So, I said, “God, I really have nothing to offer you. I am desperate. What I can do is get up early, read 1 chapter of the Bible and I am going to start writing exactly what I think and feel about it.”

That is how my journaling started. So, that is what I did for the first few weeks. I would read some of the Bible and write my thoughts about it, but then it started to morph into my general thoughts about a lot of things. My wife, my kids, my parents, work stuff. It all started to come out.

It was liberating.

Just the act of getting it out helped me process it and figure out what to do. I then heard someone suggest that each day we should ask God to be our guide and teacher. So, I started incorporating that into it. I would read, then write what I was thinking and feeling and then I would end with, “please be my guide and teacher.”

I was releasing all of my thoughts and giving them over to God to guide and teach me through them.

It has transformed my life and I can’t recommend it enough.

As I have researched this more I have found many different people that are saying the same thing. In a book called The Body Keeps the Score, Doctor Bessel Van Der Kolk says that:

“if you ask your editor to leave you alone for a while, things will come out that you had no idea were there. You are free to go into a…state in which your pen (or keyboard) seems to channel whatever bubbles up from the inside. You can connect those self-observing and narrative parts of your brain without worrying about the reception you’ll get.” He says that people, “who have written about both the facts and the emotions…had a 50% drop in doctor visits…writing about their deepest thoughts and feelings…had improved their mood resulted in a more optimistic attitude and better physical health.”

There is also a book called the Artists Way, written by Julia Cameron. One of her tools is The Morning Pages:

“Put simply, the morning pages are three pages of longhand writing, strictly stream of consciousness.” She says, “all that angry, whiny, petty stuff that you write down in the morning stands between you and your creativity. Worrying about the job, the laundry, the funny knock in the car, the weird look in your lovers eye – this stuff eddies through our subconscious and muddies our days. Get it on the page.”

As Christians, we are to seek first the kingdom of God and I want to let him know what I am thinking. I think this is all about getting all the petty stuff out of our brains and giving it to him for 2 reasons:

  1. He wants to be with us in our day to day.
  2. Once we get through all the petty stuff clogging up our brains we can actually hear what he is trying to tell us. We can hear what he wants to create through us. I want God to define my day before anyone or anything else has the chance to.

Here are the tactical steps I take:

I get up at 5:00 am.
I have a spot that I go to where I am very comfortable and won’t be distracted. I go here everyday.
Mark 1:35: Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.

I make a cup of coffee.
I have found coffee makes a huge difference in focus.

Music.
I put on my noise cancelling headphones and listen to something like this. It just blocks out everything else.

I then start by reading a book.
Something about God and our spirituality. Something that challenges and inspires. Soul Keeping by John Ortberg is a good place to start. Something that makes you feel something. Sometimes I read things I know I will agree with, other times I look for something that challenges what I think I believe. This get’s your brain going. If I just start out with the Bible, I often don’t get into a good mental state. I want to be in a good, inspired mental state.

Then I read the Bible.
I am much more focused on the Bible when I start with a different book first to let my mind wake up.
Psalm 1:1-3 – Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers.

Writing.
It can be handwritten or in an Evernote type thing. I like both now.
I start by writing “Good morning father,” because I remember Jesus saying to start your prayers with, “Our Father…”.

Then I just thank him for all the things that happened the day before. So many good things in our lives. And we often don’t take the time to think about all the good things that just happened yesterday. Big and small.

I then just tell a lot of what is going on my head. The truth. I write what I am actually thinking. What I am actually feeling. Good, bad, ugly, angry, sad, glad. If you feel nothing. Write that. It is for no one but you. If you can’t be honest with yourself and God, how will we ever be able to be honest with each other? My writing ends up being work stuff, home stuff, kid stuff, neighbor stuff, ideas come as I am writing about these normal life things.

Don’t try to seek ideas, just write. It doesn’t have to be anything.

Don’t judge your writing. The key is to follow what your brain is doing and write it down. Don’t try to write. Just write. Don’t overthink it.

If you sit down to “think of ideas” you won’t come up with any. This is just about processing. Don’t rush. And most likely no magic will come the first day. This is just giving God your first and about defining your day before it defines you. You will have ups and you will have downs, the key is to just keep doing it. Everyday that you can.

The more you do it the easier it gets There is no pressure to do anything here. Just write the truth of what you are actually thinking and feeling.

Let it go where it goes. If you start thinking about something upcoming from your day, just start writing about it. You don’t even have to finish the thought.

Prompts

I often get 2 kinds of responses:
One is, “Holy cow I am finally getting some clarity.”
The other is, “I am not good at it, it’s not working.”

My preference is for you to eventually get to the point where you an be writing what you are actually thinking and feeling about what is going on, but that is hard to do out of the gate. I have found that these prompts are good helpers to get people started.

Prompt 1
Write exactly what you are thinking about journalling. Write if you think it is going to be terrible. Write if you think it will be great. Just wrtie exactly what you are thinking right now.

Prompt 2
Write a letter to your Dad. You won’t ever have to send it. It is just for you. Tell him all the stuff you have always wanted to tell him. Good, Bad, Ugly, wonderful, grateful and just let it fly. No judgement.

Prompt 3
Write a letter to your mom. Same thing. Say all the things you have always wanted to say. What made you so angry with her when you were young. What did you love about her? Tell her in a letter.

Prompt 4
Write a letter to your leader. Doing the same thing. The good the bad the whatever. The truth of how you feel. Write it. Don’t filter. I know it is in there.

Prompt 5
Write about your life in 5 years.
Write out a typical day of what you want it to look like. Just let it flow. Don’t judge it.

Prompt 6
Write a letter to one of your kids or your future kids. What are you thinking and feeling right now?

Prompt 7
Write a letter to your kids about what you want for them today.

You don’t have to ever show these to anyone if you don’t want to.

I hope this helps. Thanks for putting your whole hearts into this life and work you’re doing.