You absolutely should not journal.
I can’t even believe I’m telling you that right now because I’m a firm believer, advocate, fan, evangelist and supporter of the practice of journaling. But I don’t think you should be.
Let me rephrase that: I don’t think you should be.
Here’s why: There’s no “should” to journaling.
My friend Lisa pointed this out to me recently. I asked her if she’d read my recent post about morning rituals and she replied that she’d read it and that she had a bone to pick with me.
“You said everybody should journal,” she said.
“Yeah,” I replied. “And?”
“Jesus didn’t journal.”
Clever, Lisa, I thought. He did write in the sand, though. Just sayin.’
It was only later that I realized that the “Jesus didn’t journal” line was a quote from the book The Me You Want To Be, by John Ortberg; a book I had recommended she read. Irony noted.
This little interaction messed with me for several reasons. As I said above, I’m a big proponent of journaling. I’m also one of Lisa’s mentors for her speaking ministry: I’m supposed to be the one guiding her, so that was awkward for a minute.
Also, I had just scheduled a post about journaling on my editorial calendar and had already purchased a couple of beautiful journals as giveaways. I’d scoured the internet for quotes, made notes, done the research.
The research was compelling
Studies suggest that journaling can strengthen the immune system, drop blood pressure and help you sleep better. It improves memory and problem-solving skills, facilitates healing and eases symptoms of asthma, rheumatoid arthritis and IBS. It’s also helpful for PTSD and working through grief.
Journaling helps you de-stress and cope with depression and anxiety. Forbes quotes Dr. Francisco Cruz, lead psychiatrist at Ketamine Health Centers, FL as saying, “Once journaling becomes a daily habit, the amygdala begins to register journaling as a safe zone for personal growth, healing and reflection.”
If it makes my amygdala happy, who am I to argue?
If you want to really amp up the benefits, try gratitude journaling. Literally brain-changing (therefore life-changing.)
Then there are the spiritual benefits
My friend Becky writes, “I am so thankful to have this written record of God’s faithfulness through it all. I find it hardest to journal during the difficult times but that is when it is most helpful. I keep my journal open and my pen in hand when I study the Word and I write my prayers in my journal. It is so amazing to go back and see how He answers—I ways I could have never imagined.”
With all the mental, physical and spiritual benefits (I took pages of notes and barely scratched the surface) why am I telling you that you shouldn’t journal?
Because Lisa was right. Journaling is a practice, not a rule. If I say you should journal, I’m implying you must, or ought to; that it’s your duty. It’s not. For Christians, journaling is a spiritual practice, but it’s not the only spiritual practice. I’m not better than you because I write in my journal.
“True spirituality does have rules. But the rules are God’s, not humanity’s. The rules are rooted in the sufficiency of Christ. They are the pathway to freedom, not a road to bondage. They produce the fruit of selfless obedience, not the selfishness of rote legalism.” David Jeremiah NKJ Study Bible.
Like any spiritual practice, it’s an easy slide from devotion into legalism. I write about this here.
It can also lead to pride. Self-righteousness. (I love to journal. So should you.)
The other danger is that journaling can lead to an overly-introspective state or rumination on negatives.
Morning Pages, the practice of twenty minutes of daily stream-of-consciousness writing promoted by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way, became that for me. While cathartic at first, after a while it turned into a nauseating daily rehash of all my woes. Even I got sick of it. Now that I think about it, maybe that’s the point, though: self-awareness leading to change.
C.S. Lewis said that he kept a journal until he was converted. Then when he became a Christian, he realized that it was making him preoccupied with himself, so he stopped journaling.
Wring about journaling after his wife died, he also said this, though:
“But what am I to do? I must have some drug, and reading isn’t a strong enough drug now.”
My journaling journey has had it’s ups and downs as well. There have been times in my life that I couldn’t even bring myself to open my journal. But I come back to it, mostly because it makes me feel alive, more connected to God and because the practice has changed me.
Here’s why I love to keep a journal:
It’s my personal dumping ground for crappy thoughts
Seriously, some of the things I write in my journal should not see the light of day. (Note to self: burn the journals before you become senile.) Are you shocked? Don’t be. I’m a sinner. A sinner who journals.
Writing down my judgmental, angry, anxious thoughts helps me to see them for what they are; to repent and move forward in forgiveness and grace. Otherwise, I’d become bitter and eaten up with ulcers.
It helps de-clutter my mind
Writing helps me to process all the racing thoughts and enables me to focus better. The quote by E.M. Forster rings true for me: How do I know what I think until I see what I say? Answer: I don’t. Journaling helps me think better.
It’s a safe place to experiment creatively
I’d never call myself a poet or an artist, but in my journal world, I can be whatever I want without apology. The pictures I draw and poems I write are childish, sweet, sometimes dark, whimsical and silly.
It’s where I have conversations with God
It’s one thing to talk to God but telling someone that He talks back will get you some strange looks. But He totally does.
I thought I was weird and the only one who did this until I attended Writing For Your Life Seminar last spring and keynote Barbara Taylor Brown spoke about it. We connected during the break and chuckled about how incredibly funny God is in our journal conversations with Him.
Besides being funny (even sarcastic at times, but maybe He’s just mimicking me) He is tender, intimate, to the point, forgiving and the world’s best encourager.
Sometimes incredible things happen
It’s not uncommon to get insights while journaling, but once in a while, amazing things happen. Like the day in 2007, when I wrote an entry that changed the way I looked at journaling forever.
It began like this:
“The dirty water of our current lives is swirling down the drain. The plug has been pulled and only God can keep us from getting sucked down for good.” (Drama, much?) I was angry, and thought God should know. It took me five pages to get it out of my system.
Finally, the pen nearly out of ink, I broke down and asked for help.
“Raise up an army for us, Lord.” Immediately, the tone of my writing transformed.
As if someone was guiding my pen, I began to transcribe a battle scene. There were two warriors –one wounded, the other giving comfort and aid, pleading, “Just stay alive. Stay awake. You’re going to make it. Help is coming.”
It was like watching a movie: “God using one to breathe life into the other; tapping drops of water on parched lips, gently daubing the forehead with a soft, wet cloth, carefully lifting the effects of the battle until the face was recognizable once more.
The news spreads that the enemy has been held back. Help has arrived. Reinforcements deployed. Supplies make it through the enemy lines. Medications are distributed. A victory song rises through the ranks.”
What was that? I thought, as I laid down my pen. I don’t write fiction.
Re-read your journals
Fast forward nine years. On September 30, 2016, my husband, Roger had a massive pulmonary embolism and cardiac arrest. The doctor’s didn’t expect him to survive, but he did.
One evening after a long day at the hospital, the Lord nudged me to look through my old journals; that was when I rediscovered the journal entry I’d written back in 2007. I was shocked at the familiarity of the story. When I read it to Roger, he literally dropped his jaw. What I had unknowingly written in my journal all those years ago turned out to be a prophetic, play-by-play synopsis of Roger’s health crisis and the days afterward. God knew. He had supernaturally girded me for the spiritual battle that was ahead.
So, am I saying you should journal?
Yes, if the Spirit leads you to journal, I think you would find it to be an amazing blessing. It’s a way to understand and to tell your story (and God’s story) but it’s not the only way to do that. There’s freedom here.
Listen, I get what my friend, Lisa was saying: I was being bossy. I never realized how bossy I can be until I reunited with a childhood friend who quickly announced that I hadn’t changed a bit.
“How’s that?” I asked.
“You were bossy then and you’re still bossy!”
Friends, I’m not the boss of you. Sorry if I come off that way at times. I get that journaling isn’t everyone’s cup of tea and I’m not going to force it down anyone’s throat anymore. (I might try to whet your appetite, though!)
What I will encourage you to do is find a spiritual practice that helps you to engage with the One who longs to engage with you.
It’s all grace, friends.
There’s a giveaway!
I’m giving away a gorgeous hardback Lemome journal. It’s my very favorite! (If you don’t journal, this would be a perfect gift!) Choose your color: a gorgeous purple or cognac brown. To enter for a chance to win, leave a comment HERE ON THE BLOG POST. To earn an extra chance to win, subscribe to my blog or share the post on social media. Winner will be chosen at random Sunday May 19.