When I first learned what it meant to keep a diary, my idea of writing was making squiggles. Still, I wanted a journal and my mom indulged me with a flowery pink one. I quickly filled it with doodles and scribbles that I would interpret for my family. My next diary came when I had discovered how to pen real words, but still had a lot to learn about spelling. In round, childish letters, I covered those pages with stories about play dates, Sunday school, my pet, my Christmas list and what I had for lunch.
From first grade onward, I always kept a diary of some sort. By junior high, the books had evolved from records of my life’s events to collections of my deepest thoughts, fears and dreams. Journaling went from a wordy scrapbook to a necessary way for me to process life.
It may not be for everyone, but if you’ve been thinking of starting a journal, here are three reasons I recommend it. Since they all happen to start with the letter R, I like to think of them as the 3 R’s of journaling.
1. Release. When I go too long without a journal entry, my thoughts pile up and make it harder for my brain to work. Putting all those jumbled ideas on paper helps clear my head. The other night, I scrawled two dozen pages with a hodgepodge of feelings. Even though the situations I wrote about didn’t change, my personal feelings did once they found a release. It doesn’t matter if it makes sense- in fact, it probably won’t. But there’s something freeing about pouring all your bottled up emotions onto the pages. Keeping a journal means you don’t have to keep everything inside.
2. Reflect. After all the emotions are in ink, I can sift through the mental clutter to find what’s important. Thesaurus.com lists “deal with” and “examine” as synonyms for reflect. That seems appropriate to me. When I journal, it’s not just about spilling my heart. It’s about sorting through the heap of emotions and information, and using it to learn about myself. It’s not a comfortable process. It requires me to be raw and real, which sometimes makes me squirm. A lot of the time, I don’t like what I see. Messy handwriting aside, those words force me to admit what I’m afraid of; what I’ve fallen short in; what I desperately desire. Examining all of that, though, gives me the power to change it. By writing and then reflecting, I’ve been able to recognize my thought patterns, potential growth areas, and also my past successes. Keeping a journal keeps me accountable. In turn, it helps with self-examination and discovery. Journaling is about honesty, which is the first step to growth.
3. Remember. While journaling is a tool for change, it’s also a great way to record it. I love pulling out my diaries from a year or six years ago, and reminiscing over them. It amazes me to see how far God has brought me. I especially love reading the entries where I wondered how things could possibly work out, but looking back, I can see the Lord’s hand at work. Keeping a journal is like keeping a record of your life. And even though we all have things we’d like to forget, our experiences make us who we are. My old entries remind me of where I have been and give me hope for where I am going. Keeping a journal allows you to keep your memories preserved.
Do you keep a journal? If so, what other reasons do you have? If not, what reasons might make you consider it?
Whether you’re new to keeping a journal or have been doing it for years, here are some prompts to get your journaling juices flowing!
- Past, present, or future: Which one would you prefer to be living in right now? Why?
- If you could master one character trait (such as honesty, loyalty, generosity, etc.) what would it be? Why?
- Define love.
- Define friendship.
- Did you ever have an imaginary friend?
- Who are your closest friends? What do you value about each of them?
- What could you do to be a better friend? (I think this is the one I’m going to write about tonight.)
- What is something you feel God is teaching you?
- List three of your proudest accomplishments.
- Write about what makes you feel successful, or what would make you feel successful.
- Write about a time you felt you had failed. (Note: Failing does not mean you’re a failure. Just thought I’d mention that. 🙂 )
- What is confusing you right now?
- What are you completely sure of?
- Who are you? Describe yourself in five words.
- List five words that are the opposite of you.
- Your seven best qualities are…
- Your three worst qualities are…
- How do you respond to stress?
- What usually stresses you out?
- Do you like to think about the future?
- What are your top two interests?
- If you could make a career out of anything, what would it be? (doing nothing doesn’t count. 😉 )
- How do you spend most of your free time?
- Are you good at keeping track of time?
- What was the last thing you lost?
- Have you ever felt lost, or been truly lost?
- Are you good at making decisions?
- What was the last difficult choice you had to make?
- Is it harder for you to be gentle or honest?
- Define loyalty.
- How trusting are you?
- Has anyone ever broken your trust?
- Who do you trust most?
In case you’d like to keep this list with your journal, here is a printable version for you to download. Let me know which prompts are your favorites or if you can think of any additional ones!