Those words can cause a rush of panic for anyone, but for my twelve-year-old self with a bent toward anxiety, that statement completely rocked my world. And we weren’t just moving across town, either. This wasn’t even a move to a new city; we were headed across the country.
In an effort to help us sort through this big life change, my dad presented my sister and I each with a spiral bound journal with a winter landscape on the cover and a note inside: “For Jazmin, to record your thoughts, prayers, hopes, and concerns as we prepare to move.”
I’m one of those people that goes back and reads my old journals. I keep them all saved in a plastic bin and revisit them often, always eager to remember how God showed up and what I learned along the way. But that first journal, I don’t think I’ve gone back to read it, except once.
It’s hard to read. My raw emotion over the move in the middle of my middle school years is bluntly recorded with a lot of all caps writing and way too many exclamation marks (and not happy ones either). It’s not a pretty journal, but it’s a part of my story–a hard season when I was having to learn for the first time how to rely on God.
I doubt my dad knew what this journal would do for me in the long run. Yes, it served to help me process a lot of my emotion and fear during that first year in a new place. But it also connected me with God in a way I hadn’t experienced before.
In the pages of my journal, I felt the freedom to express every bit of ugly and joy, and over time it became a place of conversation with the Lord. It was no longer just about recording life events, but recording God’s faithfulness.
Since that first journal I’ve filled about two dozen notebooks of various sizes and colors with so many words and prayers. While I’m still prone to a heart dump every now and again, my journals have really become a place to connect with God.
In Joshua 4, we read about how Israel finally crosses over into the Promised Land after forty years of wandering in the desert. God parts the waters of the Jordan River and Israel walks across on dry land.
After everyone is safely on the other side of the Jordan, God commands Joshua to ask each of the leaders of the twelve tribes of Israel to carry a stone from the center of the river to the spot where they would camp (verses 2-3). These stones were set up as a memorial, a physical reminder of how God provided for them and parted the river.
I’ve long viewed my journals as memorial stones. They hold all of the prayers I’ve prayed, the ones God has answered and the ones I’m still waiting for Him to answer. They hold accounts of God’s provision. They hold timely words and affirmations from others, quotes that have spoken deeply to my heart, and Scripture passages I’ve committed to memory.
Those two dozen notebooks are a record of my journey and God’s faithfulness.
Wherever you are in your journaling–whether you’re just getting started or you’ve been doing this for years–your journals can provide the pace to set up your own “memorial stones” along the way. These pages can hold a record your story, your prayers, and God’s faithfulness.
Your journal can be a record of where you’ve come from and how you’ve see God come through.
How to journal
Here are three things to keep in mind as you cultivate the habit of journaling:
- Be honest. Real connection happens when you allow yourself to be vulnerable, even with God. Especially with God. Yes, He’s God and He knows your heart, but God is a gentleman and He won’t barge in without an invitation. He makes Himself available and gives you the chance to open up and share life with Him. There’s a verse in the psalms that often comes to mind when I sit down to journal: “Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us” (Psalm 62:8). Your journal is a safe place for you to seek the Lord and honestly pour out your heart to Him. Whatever you’re going through or feeling, none of it surprises Him. He can handle it. It may be painful and uncomfortable at first, but establishing this discipline will only serve to deepen your relationship with God.
- Be intentional. I’ve heard it takes twenty-one days to develop a habit. While you do not have to journal every day, it is going to take some purposeful planning on your part to cultivate this habit. Set a certain time each day or week to crack open your notebook and converse with God in those pages. I like journaling in the mornings when I do my devotional time. If you’re not sure how to start or what to write, start with writing out your prayers. Talk to God, just like you would if you were to sit down with a friend. Share about your struggles or what exciting things are happening in your life. Seek His guidance and help for yourself and loved ones. Ask Him questions, invite Him to make Himself known. Whatever you decide to write, be intentional with your time.
- Be open. As you open your heart to the Lord, be prepared to hear from Him too. Sometimes when I’m journaling or seeking God’s direction on something, words that aren’t my own will come to mind. It’s like God gives me a letter as I write those words in my journal. Remember that this is a relationship, a conversation. When you journal, take time to listen too and write down what you sense God telling you. He may poke at some painful things, but know that it is out of love and He’s okay with slow progress. Though it may be uncomfortable and even foreign, be open to having a conversation with God in the pages of your journal. If you’re being honest and intentional and pouring out your heart, you can expect God to show up and make Himself known to you too.
Opening the cover on my first journal has forever changed my relationship with God. So much so that when that familiar ice-breaker question is asked about what I’d save from a house fire if my family was safe, my journals and my Bible is almost always my answer.
These journals are my milestones, my markers, my account of God’s faithfulness. Though these experiences and lessons are hidden in my heart, I don’t want to lose the pages that hold so many encounters with God, words He’s spoken to me, prayers that have been answered, and struggles He met me in.
If you’ve never tried journaling, I hope you’ll take the leap and try it. Get yourself a pretty journal or buy a basic one and decorate it yourself, crack open that cover and just start writing. Open yourself up and see how God shows up and makes Himself known.
If you’re looking for some prompts to get you started journaling, I’ve got a downloadable list in my free resource library. You can signup here to get access. You’ll also be able to download Bible study guides, scripture cards, and other helpful resources.
Live in His love!