I kept journals in high school, but I became embarrassed by their content and threw them out. I wish I had kept them, embarrassing as they may have been, for a window into my teenage mind. I made notes from my devotional time for years, but stopped for two main reasons. My writing took up much more time than my reading, and I felt I needed to be listening to God in His Word more than writing my thoughts about His Word. Plus I had stacks of small spiral notebooks that I wasn’t sure what to do with. I rarely went back through them, so I figured they had served their purpose, and I threw them out, too. The closest thing I’ve had to a journal in recent years has been my blog.
But lately I’ve been reminded of the value of writing in connection with our time in God’s Word. Writing helps us process thoughts, and writing helps reinforce and make those thoughts permanent.
About this time, Michele’s review of Journaling for the Soul: A Handbook of Journaling Methods by Deborah Haddix caught my eye, so I asked for a copy for Christmas.
Deborah shares that journaling in the only way she knew it seemed like too much pressure and took up too much time. But as friends shared with her a variety of journaling methods, she hit on one that resonated with her and enhanced her time with the Lord.
Deborah shares several benefits to journaling. In addition to the ones I mentioned above, journaling can help us engage with a text of Scripture more than a cursory reading would provide, “moving you from reading for information to reading for transformation” (p. 13). Journaling enables us to slow down and focus, “documents what God is currently teaching us” (p. 16), “provides a record of our spiritual growth, one that we can look back on as a reminder of God’s persistent work in our lives” (p. 16). And journaling can be a tool to speak to our loved ones and others. The Journals of Jim Elliot profoundly affected me when I discovered it as a young adult.
Deborah has amassed a multitude of journaling methods. Some are written; some are more artsy. Some focus on prayer, some of self-reflection, some on meditating on one particular text, some on on working through a particular passage, some on gratitude lists or prompts.
Deborah recommends that we “start small and keep it simple” (p. 21). First we need to decide the purpose for which we want to journal and then assess which method fits within our interests and talents. She also advises that we evaluate what we’re doing periodically and decide whether it’s working or whether we need to change. She emphasizes that journaling should not be a source of pressure or driven by perfectionism. One of the best pieces of advice, and new to me, was the recommendation of leaving space for an “insight line” at the bottom of the journaling page – when we read back through our journal entries, we can add a line or two about how we’re doing with whatever we wrote about, whether we’ve grown or are still struggling, ways the Lord answered prayer, etc.
I found, as Deborah predicted, that not all of the methods appealed to me. One that did was Inductive Study Journaling – reading through a passage and jotting down our observations (what it says), interpretations (what it means) and application (“How does God want me to live in light of the truth of His Word” [p. 52]). Another was the Spiritual Markers Journaling, taken from the memorial stones Joshua was instructed to gather and set up as a reminder to Israel of His working among them in Joshua 4:2-7, something like the Ebenezers I listed a while back. She has a couple of pages on Truth Journaling developed by Barb Raveling. I’m more inclined towards journaling through a passage of Scripture than responding to seemingly random prompts, though the latter has its value as well. I’m considering a variation on the bullet method. I often read from more than one source, and it’s amazing how often they intersect. I’ve thought of just writing a sentence or two from each source each day.
Of course, some people’s minds work differently. A man in our former church was speaking on a particular topic, and in his presentation he shared some “doodles” he had made during a recent sermon. They weren’t art in the sense of being enhanced by frills and flourishes, but he had just arranged the words of a verse or quote from the sermon in a way that illustrated its meaning just by how it was arranged. I wish I had a sample to explain it. I could not have done it in a week’s worth of thought and effort, much less in a quick few strokes while listening to a sermon. His mind worked in such a way that his note-taking took that form. Some like to study a passage not by outlining and highlighting but by verse mapping (some examples here, here, and here). Some take it a step further with art journaling, like Robin Lee Hatcher’s examples here or Karla Dornacher‘s. I’ve seen some examples of art journaling where the illustration covers over the Scripture itself, which, in my opinion, seems to be exalting it over the words of the Bible. To me, some of these types of methods would work best with one verse, whether meditating on it and/or trying to memorize it.
I’d add a word of caution with some of the more artsy methods. There’s a difference between coloring a verse as a hobby, a method of relaxation, etc., and engaging mentally with the text while drawing and illustrating it. I wouldn’t use coloring a verse as my whole time with the Bible. It does take thought and effort to engage with a text to determine the meaning and the best way to apply it. If drawing and illustrating it does that for a person, that’s fine.
So there are any number of methods for engaging with the Bible text in a way that helps us understand and apply its meaning. Deborah has done a great job detailing the reasons for and benefits of journaling and finding examples for just about every personality and mindset.
When I asked for a copy of this book for Christmas, somehow I ended up with two. So I’d like to share one with one of you. If you’d like to be entered for a drawing to win this book, just leave a comment on this post. A week from today, Feb. 27, I’ll collect all the comments here and use random.org to draw a name. (I’ll take all the comments on this post as entries for the drawing unless you let me know that you don’t want your name entered.) In addition, I must have a way to contact you: if you would, leave your email not in the comments but in the form underneath where you place your name. If you are commenting from a WordPress account, your email fills in automatically with the email associated with your account. And, due to shipping costs, I am only able to ship to the US.
Do you journal? Do you use a particular method?
Update: The giveaway is now closed. The winner is Kathie!