Journal-Keeping

Over the past decade or two, journal-keeping has been viewed in some quarters as a spiritual exercise, right up there with Bible reading and prayer. I realize that keeping a journal can be very positive, just like gardening or exercise or baking cookies, but it is not a spiritual duty or the key to super-spirituality. In fact, it may very well be a snare.

Let’s consider the subject of journal-keeping first. If a person is writing about the birds they are observing or recording the weather patterns or tracking the garden blooms or listing all the books they have read and what they thought of them, then hats off to them and their journals. If a mom is recording all the funny things that her kids do or say each day, all to bless them when they grow up, well done. I have no beef with that. If a person wants to be a writer and commits to writing a stimulating piece each day to hone her writing skills, kudos! All of that kind of journal-keeping is as good as bee-keeping, which is very good indeed.

However, some folks have a different bent when it comes to their journal. They view it more like a diary, a place to vent, a means of uncorking or brewing over things and introspecting. They write down their inmost thoughts, desires, temptations, hurts, disappointments, and you get the idea. High-school and college-age girls can get started on this and fill pages with lonely, romantic blather. This is not healthy or wise.

Why do I think it isn’t healthy? Because many of these inmost thoughts, etc. should be ignored, not immortalized into safekeeping in a journal. Were you tempted to be envious of your best girlfriend? Ignore it and let it go. Were you downright envious? Then confess it and let it go. If you don’t want God writing these things down in His journal, don’t write them down in yours. Are you disgusted at how much your neighbor is imposing on you? Why on earth would you want to write that down? Are you feeling lonely and dejected? It would be healthier to forget about yourself and think about someone else. This kind of journal writing just gets you to focus on you, you, you and your feelings, feelings, feelings.

Second, spending hours reflecting on yourself is not wise.  Dumpster diving in your soul only makes you feel worse. The Holy Spirit’s job is to convict us of sin, righteousness and the judgment to come, and we should allow Him to do His work without interference.If you set aside time each day to write about what a worm you are, then you are not wise. God already knows it, you already know it, so why dwell on it? Set your mind and heart on things above!

When my kids were growing up, we told them never to write anything down that they would not mind someone (anyone) reading. That included notes at school (we taught them not to write them or pass them for others) or diary writing. How many times have we all heard horror stories of diaries being broken into? Notes being confiscated by the teacher? I believe it is wrong of parents to break into their kids’ diaries and read what’s going on unless there is strong warrant for it. Far better for parents to get their kids to talk to them rather than write it all down and lock it up in a diary.

But back to journaling as something spiritual. Some think of journaling as part of their daily spiritual exercise, and if they fail to do it, they feel they’ve flubbed up and backslidden. Some write down their prayer requests and the answers to their prayers. This can be good as long as it is okay if it falls into someone else’s hands. In other words, as long as the prayers are not too private. I can think of plenty of prayer requests that I wouldn’t want published.

Some may write down what their spiritual struggles are and how they’re progressing. Again, as long as it isn’t written in such a way as to focus on the struggle rather than on Christ, I suppose it could be valuable. If you write about what you are learning each day as you read the Word, then fine. I commend you. But don’t view it as an inspired assignment from God. Consider it a hobby, something you do for pure enjoyment. Don’t think that you are being super spiritual about it.

History has its journals of sinners and saints. Some, even some of the saints’, are atrocious. Whitefield’s journal, for example, has some great stuff in it, and some that I just can’t stomach. In fact, many years ago when I tried to read it, I gave up mid-way through because I couldn’t take reading about how well his preaching went or what a wretched sinner he was. I believe in his mature years he regretted publishing the journal, which means he was a better Christian than his journal represents. At least I hope so.

Some of David Brainerd’s journal is lovely stuff, but some of it is self-absorbed and super-pious. His work with the Indians was great; his work with the journal . . . not so much. The Puritans were big on self-examination, and I think they sometimes took this too far. As much as I admire them, I have had to lay aside some of their stuff because of their heavy emphasis on introspection, which can lead to doubt and unbelief. We don’t have to try to impress God with how sinful we are; He knows. We are to look away from our sins and look to Christ.

Think about the writings of St. Paul. He wrote for others, and those others are still being edified after all these centuries. He didn’t write pages about his inner feelings, but mentioned them in passing, to the edification of all. He didn’t gloat or fall into self-pity (or if he did, he didn’t record it for us). He didn’t go on and on about his wrestling with pride or lust. Thank God for that!

My suggestion is this: if you have a journal for your eyes only, then destroy that thing. Get rid of it. Burn it. Be done. If your kids have journals that could cause them extreme embarrassment, then encourage them to do the same thing. And start disciplining yourself to record more edifying material. Then your descendants can treasure what you leave to them. Write each page for others, not to glorify yourself, but to show gratitude to God.

Finally, if you’d like an example of this kind of writing, take a look at Anne Bradstreet’s journal. She left her poetry and a collection of pithy sayings for her children (at her son’s request). For those who love to write, use the habit of journal-keeping to edify others. Don’t embarrass yourself or them by over-sharing.

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70 thoughts on “Journal-Keeping

  1. We just finished reading Eustace’s journal in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader; hilarious example of chronicling bitterness!

  2. I checked Femina tonight for “meat”. Another wise, godly post. Thank you so much for sharing, Nancy. I have seen quite a few times where someone will publicly share a “private” prayer to the Lord that they had written in their journal.

  3. SO spot on. Someone should have tacked this to my forehead when I was a teenager. It reminds me of a song I heard in Taco Bell several hundred times — “Feelings, nothing more than feelings…”.

  4. Along those same lines, I’ve been known to say on more than one occasion that I’m so glad Facebook wasn’t around when I was a teenager. When my sister-in-law asked me why, I said “One word. Angst.”

  5. Thanks, Mrs Wilson. I had one of those horror journal break-ins – where someone read my journal wherein I was processing a situation in which they were a major feature. Not fun! I never journalled in the same way again, or as ‘religiously’ but always felt a little guilty about it. Thank you for helping me let go of the little mite of guilt I’ve felt about this!

    In Him

    Meredith in Aus
    (PS. I may even go and destroy the old ones – once I locate them!)

  6. Hi Nancy!
    I think you make some excellent points in your post. I do use a journal, and its main purpose is to remember God’s abundant grace upon me and the miracles He’s blessed me with as in Psalm 77:10-12.

    “Then I thought, ‘To this I will appeal:the years when the Most High stretched out his right hand. I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will consider all your works
    and meditate on all your mighty deeds.’ ” Psalm 77:10-12

    I love reading back through my entries and remembering God’s provisions. My journal is typically very general in terms of my struggles and focuses more of prayers for wisdom, direction, and sanctification along with praise to God for His many, many blessings. :-)

  7. This is refreshing. Lately I’ve heard “journaling” mentioned as a spiritual discipline along with Bible reading, memorizing, prayer, etc., almost as if one cannot be a “good Christian” without journaling. And I wanted to say, “Where in the Bible are we commanded to do that?” I used to jot notes down about what I was learning in devotions, but I seemed to spend more time on writing than reading, so I stopped. I think it can be good as an aid to remembering what we learned, or a means of processing or thinking through it, or as a testimony for posterity, but it is not a must.

  8. What wonderful wisdom especially in the age of Facebook, Twitter, blogging, ect. I can’t even number the many times that I’ve cringed when someone has overshared in such a public way.
    Thank you again. I love this blog!

  9. Excellent piece of advise! Thank you for addressing this topic.

    I keep a journal because it has helped me to be more disciplined in my Bible study. I write all kinds of things, prayers, quotes, things I learn from here and there (so I might even write about this article on it today ;)) but always, knowing that every one in my family can come and read it.

    I will be sharing the link to this article.

    Blessings,

  10. This is very very good Nancy, and it requires some meditating. No, not the narcissistic introspective kind again. :-) Just honest thoughtfulness as to how to best apply this in all situations, including blogs. I’m always checking with Geoff to make sure that I’m not writing anything he’s not comfortable with. I need that accountability and I’m SO grateful he provides it. There have been a few times when I thought something might be borderline, but because he and I both thought it served a greater good we went with it.

    I think the key here is the focus being Christ. It’s good to remember that in this area as in all other areas of our Christian walk, we must give grace. Grace for ourselves and grace for others. :-)

  11. “We don’t have to try to impress God with how sinful we are; He knows.” It’s funny how, when God is blessing and sanctifying us, we think the spiritual thing to do is to ignore His grace and focus on the work we still have to do. I’d imagine it causes God to breathe a very patient sigh.

  12. Hello! I’ve been reading your blog for awhile now and I thought I’d finally leave a comment. :)

    This post is so thought-provoking and convicting. I have kept a journal for years and years, very much in the introspective way, and there are certainly many things I regret writing. (I am in the process of reading them all aloud to my husband, and there have been many times where I’ve read very quickly to get past an embarrassing part as soon as possible! I like reading them to him, though.) But my overall impression of my journaling is that it causes me to reflect on God’s grace and sanctification. I often see ways in which He has quietly shaped and molded me, when I wasn’t even looking! I also find it much easier to discern and flee my sin when it’s staring back at me from a page in my own own handwriting. Things I might never have seen or repented of are highlighted when they’re in ink, and more than once my nighttime journaling has sent me down on my knees in repentance. Many times, a single entry has gone from a brooding, angry one, to a repentant one, to a gloriously happy one as I rejoice over God’s forgiveness.

    That’s not to say it has always been a good thing for me, but overall it has been positive. Now, being married and with a baby to care for, I don’t have the time to journal daily anymore – but this posting has convicted me that when I do, I should focus less on myself, and be cautious to dwell less on my sin and more on Christ. :) Thank you for the thoughts!

  13. I just heard about this blog and look forward to reading it. This line got me: If you don’t want God writing these things down in His journal, don’t write them down in yours.

    I agree with not writing down negative things about people. Only thing is, sometimes writing things out helps me process my ugly thoughts (especially since I don’t want to verbally process to other people) … so maybe I need a journal with perforated pages 😉

  14. I’m afraid I cannot agree with this article.
    Where in the Bible does it say to ignore our feelings? David must not have gotten the memo since a good number of his Psalms are basically him whining about how everyone treats him bad and how he wishes God would kill them. 😉
    Yet God saw fit to make that part of scripture. (And apparently not even as a warning ‘this is what you should not do’ part)
    Journaling is one way of being truthful with yourself. I am remembering a verse– I can’t remember the reference, sorry– about God “desiring truth in the inmost parts”. Isn’t this basically what we do when we journal?
    Denying or ignoring our feelings simply serves to make them go underground and they end up stronger.
    For myself, writing my feelings down helps me take a better look at what’s going on inside of me. Instead of reinforcing my ‘bad’ feelings it actually helps me to bring them to God so they can be truly dealt with.

  15. “Lonely, romantic blather” – Hah! That’s exactly what my junior high journals were filled with… I stopped after a little while when I realized that they were too embarrassing for me to even re-read myself.

  16. I find this funny……how is this any different than a blog? I find that many Christian’s blog about what bothers them about what other Christian’s do…….and why they think it is not “godly.” At least a journal is private. I have been journaling for years and it is a beautiful journey of the Lord’s sanctification in my life, it is a reminder of His faithfulness in my life…..in my children’s lives and how He works, not me.

  17. I think the connection some have made to blogging is really worth thinking about. Not that folk usually hang out their grubbiest selves for the world to read, but I’m sure we underestimate how much we reveal about ourselves – especially our sins and faults – in our words. We might think it sounds pious and humble but others see our pride or priggishness.

    My sons have a saying amongst their friends – ‘Too much information.’ I try to keep it in mind.

  18. Once upon a time (April 22, 2004, to be precise), Douglas Wilson posted this about his brand new blog. It delineates the difference between the problematic journaling (whether on paper or on screen) his wife describes above and the sort of journaling (whether on paper or on screen) they have both exemplified so well over the years through their blogs. The diagnostic question for all verbal expression, whether written or oral, is this: Is it glorifying to God and edifying to others? If yes, carry on. If not, knock it off.

  19. Thank you for this post!

    I have been an off-an-on journal keeper. I have journaled too specifically, and made bad relationships worse by it. I have become even more bitter at others by writing about their shortcomings. I have also been discouraged by seeing failure after failure in a particular area recorded in my journal. I have often felt guilty when I don’t journal or feel like a better Christian when I do.

    On the other hand, I love to write, and (like others have commented) I have benefited from certain entries about how I’m growing in my understanding of God’s Word…”lightbulb moments” so to speak. I can see God working in my life and changing me, and that is exciting to see.

    So…I’ll keep journaling. But I WILL stop and repent of my self-righteousness before the Lord, thinking that journaling will somehow make me more acceptable in His sight. I’ll repent of the way I have turned it into a way to linger at the alter of self. And I think I’ll write with one of your sentences in mind: “Write each page for others, not to glorify yourself, but to show gratitude to God.”

  20. A journal is a tool, nothing more nothing less. Like all tools it can be used improperly; in some cases it may even put someone at risk of being injured. I think pointing out the potential pitfalls is a good idea. I however would not discourage experimentation with a journal. For someone like me who struggles with a racing mind and obsessive thoughts it is a vital part of my life. Without the habit of sitting down and jotting down the events and thoughts of that day I lack the clarity I need to put things into perspective. I also risk having the same negative internal responses to certain circumstances; in a way the journal acts as a sort of internal mirror. I have in the past fallen into morbid reflection however I have grown past this and would not take back the time it took to make that mistake and mature out of it. This was a good post; I simply wanted to share my experience. Thanks

  21. In all things there can be gross misapplication to journal keeping, just as their can be gross misapplication to Bible reading. But I did find this post a bit troublesome. There is neither a command in Scripture to journal or not to journal, but it seems that the tone of this article is a bit aggressive and condemning of an individual choice.

    A few thoughts.

    Where would we be without the candid journal writing of Ruth Bell Graham, Amy Carmichael, Sarah Edwards or published personal letters of countless others across history who inform, educate and teach us generations later?

    I doubt that Brainerd’s intent was for his journal to be scrutinized. As a man suffering from mental illness and isolation, I imagine the journal was more a therapy that God in Hs grace provided for Brainerd and shepherded him through (I think someone else drew the parallel with David and the psalms–some pretty self depricating stuff there too)

    Is our goal as a Christian to present a sanctified persona or is it our theological understanding that repentance is a life-long reality. I have some very incriminating things in past journals that I would happily share with my children if it would serve the purpose of illuminating the God of grace who works miracles daily, monthly, yearly, generationally.

    While I agree that our time is best spent in pursuit of the God of grace, often I find that comes through a proper understanding of who I am and what I think. Pen and paper have resolved many a dilemma for me.

    I would argue that our broken past can declare the glories of God. The out workings of grace and theology in an individual life, recorded in a journal, is powerful in my view. I would say hang onto those journals. And hopefully as time goes on, they fill more and more with then wisdom and worship of Christ.

    Spiritual discipline–for some, yes. Drivel–for some, yes. But let each decide for herself and why condemn it?

  22. I’m scratching my head at some of the responses here. Where has Nancy issued a heavy-handed and undiscerning condemnation? In the second sentence she says, “keeping a journal can be very positive.” But keeping a certain kind of journal (the kind I have volumes of upstairs…the kind I should probably get around to destroying) is wrong simply because certain kinds of thinking and certain kinds of speech are wrong. Morbid introspection is wrong. Self-pity is wrong. Gossip and slander are wrong. Discontentment is wrong. Grumbling and complaining are wrong. These things are wrong in the recesses of our own minds, they’re wrong out loud, they’re wrong onscreen, and they’re wrong on paper. And judging from their popularity in the first three of those, I can’t help but suspect they’re pretty common in the third. Nancy’s warning, therefore, is quite appropriate. If that’s not the kind of journaling you’re doing, great! Carry on! This post isn’t addressing you.

    I’d also like to challenge the comparison of the psalmists’ writing and the sort of writing Nancy cautions against. First, the Psalms are not stream-of-consciousness verbal scribbling; they’re carefully crafted lyrics. Second, they are not self-directed and self-indulgent, but God-directed and God-glorifying.

    Take, for instance, Psalm 51. Here we have David’s repentance over his sin with Bathsheba. He takes the problem to the One who can solve it. He addresses God, not “dear diary” or himself or the thin air. The psalm is God-centered all the way through, from its plea for mercy that extols God’s merciful character, to its commitment to praise Him before others, to its request for blessing on Zion that Zion might in turn bless Him. He doesn’t go into detail about his sin in this public record by sharing his feelings about Bathsheba or describing their liaison. His sin was public enough (because he was the king) that he puts Bathsheba’s name in the title, but there’s nothing in the lyrics themselves that is specific to her. So we know the original context, but we can all sing and pray this Psalm as a confession of sin — it fits every sin ever committed.

    By contrast, the type of journaling Nancy wants us to eschew (which, again, is not all journaling) is deeply personal and individual and self-centered. It doesn’t glorify God by praising Him, thanking Him, or casting cares upon Him. And, unlike the Psalms, it’s not thoughtfully and beautifully composed.

    [Insert pithy conclusion here. I’m too tired and need to get to sleep!]

  23. Thank you, once again, for an enlightening and freeing post. When I became a Christian, I was taught that the most spiritual kept the journal daily. It was elevated to the heights and one who didn’t faithfully either record their piousness or depth of introspection were in the cellar. I was glad to know that Rutherford offered me fine wines in the cellar!

    And now a request, Nancy, could you please review the book A Thousand Gifts and comment? What about a gratitude journal?

  24. Heh…you mean “perfect” like this nonsensical sentence: “And judging from their popularity in the first three of those, I can’t help but suspect they’re pretty common in the third”? That should be “…pretty common in the fourth,” of course!

  25. Our God is sovereign and He is a God of grace. In His sovereignty He has kept for the benefit of His people the personal journals of some of His saints. He is in control, He has done this and we are to accept it with gladness and learn from it. We are called to wisdom and we are called to live our lives openly before the Lord. As in all other things in the Christian walk we are called to give charity to one another. God may call some to journal keeping whereas He may call others to stop. It is the Lord who works in our hearts and grace must always rule the day.

    I praise God for His word, and I praise God for people like Thomas a Kempis, Edwards, Brainerd, Spurgeon, Amy Charmichael, and many others. I have been sanctified through the lives of these saints. God knew what He was doing gifting us with their writings. And I praise God for modern saints like Doug and Nancy.

    Let us remember Romans 14, let us give grace, one to another.

  26. Great post. I’m printing it out to discuss with my older girls over iced coffee this afternoon. Thank you! Thank you!

  27. @Valerie, I did read that third third thing a few times, but I decided that I just wasn’t smart enough to understand you. :)

  28. This is a great post and I agree. I’ve seen plenty of diary-keepers of this variety, the angsty martyr types who look inward to gain perspective, where it can’t be found.

    Any skill in writing requires practice (see Valerie’s results!) and journaling is great for that with the above warnings. It doesn’t say not to journal, not to write or reflect, those can be healthy and edifying, but she warns against a self-indugent kind of thinking that amounts to an emotional vomiting that is then kept as a keepsake. Write! But mind your soul as you do. These are healthy warnings, especially for women who are prone to bitter remembrances.

  29. ‘Many modern novels, poems and pictures, which we are brow-beaten into “appreciating”, are not good work because they are not work at all. They are mere puddles of spilled sensibility or reflection.’
    (C.S. Lewis)

    ‘The composure of mind with which I have brought myself at present to consider the matter, the consolation that I have been willing to admit, have been the effect of constant and painful exertion – they did not spring up of themselves – they did not occur to relieve my spirits at first – no Marianne.’

    Two passages that came to mind after reading Teri’s post, above.
    (Jane Austen)

  30. I share the curiosity about your opinion of One Thousand Gifts, though I doubt you’d share it.

    As I read through this post, I couldn’t help but think that the burgeoning interest in journaling spearheaded by the high-profile blog and book of Mrs. Voskamp was an impetus to your post.

    I agree with your post by the way, but I also agree with both Mary and Valerie’s responses. With great clarity, they show why this issue is such an unsteady one. There is certainly journaling used by God that does not include pithy sayings or sermon notes, recount cute tales of children, or list favorite books. Meaty, godly journaling can often include some of the against which you caution; however, as Valerie stated, God remains the focus.

  31. “Think about the writings of St. Paul. He wrote for others, and those others are still being edified after all these centuries. He didn’t write pages about his inner feelings, but mentioned them in passing, to the edification of all. He didn’t gloat or fall into self-pity (or if he did, he didn’t record it for us). He didn’t go on and on about his wrestling with pride or lust. Thank God for that!”

    You don’t know that. Just because we don’t have them doesn’t mean that they didn’t exist. Journaling can be very helpful – for sorting out facts from feelings, to recognize what you’re really dealing with.

    It’s akin to saying “Don’t go to a counselor. Don’t tell them the ugly things you’ve been thinking in order to see what’s at the root of it. Just stop talking.”

  32. “Don’t bother much about your feelings. When they are humble, loving, brave, give thanks for them; when they are conceited, selfish, cowardly, ask to have them altered. In neither case are they you, but only a thing that happens to you. What matters is your intentions and your behaviour.” (C.S. Lewis)

    I wholeheartedly agree with this post. I used to practice journaling as a “spiritual discipline,” but in hindsight, I think I was making the fundamental mistake of believing that my emotions are the essence of who I am. There is so much freedom in taking Lewis’s advice– freedom to look away from myself and to love others well, to listen well both to my neighbors and to the Word.

    I do wonder if much of the insistence upon journal keeping as a spiritual discipline flows from defining “spiritual” as “how I feel about God,” and not, “how I am empowered by the Spirit to work out my faith in love, even when I don’t necessarily feel like it.”

  33. Aren’t many of the books of the Bible essentially introspective journaling? For instance, the writings of Solomon, David, and much of Paul’s writings? I don’t think it is always unhealthy to reflect on our own failings and sinfulness, in writing, for us to re-read later on.

  34. Mrs. Wilson, what are your thoughts on keeping a journal for a future-husband? It was recommended once, but I’m not sure. As a single Christian young lady, I could see it being harmless, but then also terribly destructive. I have started one, but I mostly write about my hopes and plans for a future family, as they are now. Ideas on child-training (while I’m still on this side of it), etc. Also a sort of chronicle of my single years of preparation and how I saved myself for him. It’s not anything terribly personal or embarrassing. It seems like it would be a sweet wedding-gift to give to a husband. I’d be grateful for any advice you had to share on it, though.

  35. I would be lying if I didn’t fess up that my mind has been twirling on this subject for a few days. Thanks to Nancy for calling attention to words and how we use them. Such a challenge to digest it all. I think for me, it is hitting me along the lines of sanctification also. As a young woman I was speaking with a mentor about a particular problem with a roommate, sharing that I didn’t want to confront her because I was afraid of what I might say. My mentor’s wise words–confront. And if you something in error, ask forgiveness. That was huge. I have had fear of not saying the “right” thing in the “right” way. Luma above identified Romans 14 as a good passage to look at and I did and it was utterly helpful. Don’t have room for it all here though :).

    Test and Amanda brought up good points–we are not the sum of our feelings–why camp out there. But our feelings and thoughts are indeed indicators of our hearts and sometimes it is the writing it out that helps us get along with rightly ordered loves, as Augustine would urge.

    In a sermon I heard on anger, Tim Keller at Redeemer PC pointed out that anger stems from our wrongly ordered loves. The remedy? It isn’t just to shut up and play healthy. It is to identify that wrongly ordered love and let it be stricken by the Word (Scripture) and the Word (Jesus).

    So my journals do contain some pretty nasty writing, but this gets followed with a change in heart. As Valerie said–let it be centered on Christ.

    For some, years may pass before the muck turns to praise, but as we read in Romans 14, it is the Master alone who accepts and if it be someone in Christ, accepted they are, muck and all. I’m thankful for that.

  36. With all due respect, I must disagree.
    While I agree that journaling shouldn’t be viewed as a “spiritiual” exercise on par with scripture and prayer. I do think for me journaling is an important part of maintaining a healthy and positive outlook on life. I use it for all sorts of things, prayer, quotes, recipes, booklists, recording vacation activities and funny things my friends said, * as well* as my private thought, fears, insecurities, annoyances and struggles, with myself and others. While some might view this as wallowing or written gossip, it has been VERY helpful to my spiritual growth. Sometimes I am not even fully aware of the thoughts, negativity and attitudes running through my head. Once I have read my own thoughts I realize exactly how negative, whiny, petty or anxious I have become. I can then either in a written or verbal format, repent, adjust my attitude, and record my progress in moving toward a godly attitude and response toward those around me. This is not to say hat I have not destroyed sections of my journal when I have been convicted of the meanness or gossipy attitude in which the entry was written. However, that does not mean that I have destroyed every section in which I have manifested my own sinful attitude or thoughts. The reasons why I do not think this is sinful are : 1- I can in some cases see evidence of my own spiritual growth, and the working of God in my heart and in my relationships with others. 2- I usually make a habit of writing a “response” to myself, whether it is hours or months later, 3- for my own humility. I can clearly see that I am not, and at no point in my life was I sinless, 4- the article mentions being disappointed and disgusted by reading the journals of other saints. I on the other hand, find it encouraging. It reminds me that God can and does use deeply flawed sinners. It also keeps my from “idolizing” these men or women of God. While we can use many of the saints that have gone before us as role models or examples, even these greatly used Christians should not be our “heroes,” nor should we fall into the trap of believing that they were not beset by great sins and temptations as all believers are. So I do not regret that future generations may learn that I too(I am not setting myself up as an exemplary Christian, but we tend to give a rosy tint to the past, don’t we?), was discouraged, plagued with anxiety, was unkind to my siblings, and was slow to trust God.
    For a highly emotional person like myself, “emotional vomit” can be highly important in processing the emotions in a way that does not wound or burden others. Once I have written out all that I am feeling, I can pray over it and deal with the situation in a calm manner.
    As in all habits, discernment must be exercised. If Journaling results in holding a grudge or wallowing in self pity, it would be much better to avoid the practice or to destroy the entries as soon as possible.
    Also, the very act of introspection should not be dismissed as selfish. for many people it can bring to light weaknesses and sins that must be dealt with. And (especially) for those who have dealt with trauma, mental illness or severe depression, it can be a way to connect with and process emotions not easily shared with others and that may even be hard to articulate in prayer.
    Lastly, I am young(23) and I am sure lacking in the wisdom that is granted through experience and years, however I am a journaler and feel that it has been quite helpful for me.

  37. Keep in mind that this is just one person’s perspective on journaling. She is not an authority in our life, so we are not Biblically obligated to obey her or agree with her.

    If this article piqued your interest, search the Scriptures, Psalms included, to see what it says.

    My mother died when I was 29, and oh, how thrilled I would have been to have found an old journal of hers! I could have learned so much about who she had been when she was younger. Unfortunately, she didn’t keep a journal.

    Reading the journals of those who have gone before us can help us feel less alone, as we see that they have struggled with the same things we are struggling with. We can see the victories they have gained. We can learn things about others that we didn’t know – yes, both good and bad.

    When I come across one of my old journals, I love to read it. Angst? Absolutely. Worship? Absolutely.

    During the past 15 years or so, I have only written in my journal for major events – a child’s graduation, a major milestone of some sort, etc. I haven’t written in it for quite a long while, but this article has brought it to mind again. Maybe I’ll get my journal out and write something!

  38. Joy and Martha,
    Thanks for the request to review A Thousand Gifts. I have been thinking that I should read it, and that might spur me on to get a copy. Also, Joy, I have not read anything by Mrs. Voskamp, so please don’t infer that this post was an attempt to answer her. The thing that got me thinking about the subject was my preparation for teaching a workshop to parents and teachers called “Raising Writers.” I urged them to get their kids to write about the world around them and steer them away from self-absorbed journal-writing.
    Cheers! And thanks for your comments on Femina.

  39. I had no idea how controversial this journaling subject was! It did get me thinking, though, about the Psalms. David wrote the Psalms to be sung before a whole congregation of people–they weren’t private at all. I wonder how many diary-keepers would volunteer to versify their writings and present them to the church choir?

  40. Dear anon.,
    Since you ask my opinion, I’ll say that I think it’s not a great idea to journal for your future husband. I do think you should pray for him, whoever he is. But it might not be wise to be so focused on “waiting for him” that you’re actually writing to him. Who knows what God has in store for you! And you may be a totally different person when God brings a man for you. Marriage is a means, not an end in itself. You want to be busy glorifying God now, as an unmarried woman, and getting your hands into all kinds of interesting things.
    And, you must also realize that he might not want to read your journal. You might be laying a heavy burden on him. Men are not as interested in these things as women are. He may want you to tell him your story yourself rather than having to read what you wrote.
    Just my thoughts.
    Cheers,
    Nancy

  41. I have been a journal writer since childhood. Most of the early ones are filled with the angsty, not so helpful introspections of a young girl. As I grew in my faith and into a wife and mommy, my journals became a place to record birth stories and verses I was contemplating. Even while I began to write more about the many blessings God has brought into my life, my journals were never something I wanted read by anyone else and sometimes contained hurtful complaints that I would be mortified to share.

    Well.

    A month ago, I discovered some major water damage in the place where I was storing my journals. Years of memories and stories along with quite a bit of private whining written down had been destroyed.

    Should I mourn or rejoice? I have mourned the loss of my memories I saved of Grandma, and of the births of my children preserved in these journals. But the angsty, too-private hole I’d been saving for myself to wallow in? Good riddance, right?!
    I don’t think I ever would have destroyed the yucky parts of my journals on my own but now that it’s done, it’s done.

    Your post clarified for me the reasons why some of my writing was perhaps not helpful and how I should begin again to write, if I choose to do so.

  42. Thanks for your advice! I really appreciate your taking the time to answer me. I see the wisdom in your thoughts…
    Thanks again.

  43. I just found your blog, and found this post to be quite interesting.

    I got my first diary in 7th grade, and wrote in it very regularly (actually many diaries and journals later) for a full 7 years (stopping when I got married). As a woman with a speaking ministry for the past 25 years, I have found it quite interesting to re-read those journals every now and then when ministering to youth. It helps me to truly remember the heart cries of a young girl. (It has also helped me to minister to all of my daughters.)

    I have recently started journaling again … since discovering that my husband (a pastor) was having an affair with a member of the congregation (taking care of the widows, of course). I have forgiven him. I have told him that I am committed to our nearly 30 year marriage. But, it is HARD. I do not have any close friends who are able to process this with me. I have never felt so alone in all my life. I have not “spilled the beans” on my blog. So … I journal.

    No. I would not really want my children to find and read my journal. But, if they did it wouldn’t be the worse thing that has happened.

    I am a verbal processer. I NEED to put things into words in order to process the pain. I believe that a private journal is a much more healthy way to deal with the ongoing issues than many other options: blog, facebook, gossip, etc…

    A Broken Hearted Woman,
    desperately clinging to the LORD,
    and processing daily in my journal.

  44. I was intrigued by this discussion regarding journalling. When our five sons were growing up, I needed a friend to whom I could ask the hard questions, a trusted confidant to whom I could express my fears and help me reason things out. Because I was an only child, and there was no older woman I knew who have five boys, I found my journal to be my sanity-saver. As I penned my thoughts, the process became a catharsis for me.

    The most important thing I ever wrote about was my epiphany as I struggled to find my purpose in life, and the Lord “said” to me, “Your purpose is to rear five godly men for the Kingdom.” For the past 15 years, I have been mentoring young women who are in the throes of childrearing. My journal entries serve as a reminder to me of what I felt at the time, and from them, I am able to be an encourager to those who are coming behind me. I am in the process of putting a book together, based on excerpts from the journals, followed my reflections now.

    I am so thankful that God entrusted His sons to me to rear, and that He inspired me to record the journey.

    I have just discovered this site, and I congratulate you for putting it together. God bless you!

  45. I completely agree. I’ve been convicted of this very thing for some time. Recently, I’ve been concentrating on those things that are edifying and beautiful; like some of the wonderful things my children say and do; the goodness of God in my life; and writing to remember the beauty that surrounds me right now – right here.

    Thank you!!

  46. I have kept a journal/diary of sorts for nearly 35 years now.( I’m in my early 50’s)…yep, parts of it are ugly because I’m human. I love rereading my journals because I can see and remember all that God has done and is doing in this older woman’s life….just because some of if it’s not said in whatever the “correct” way is or the way it “should” be said does not mean it’s without value. Anyone reading their way through years of journals should be encouraged to see the maturing and refocusing that goes on as we draw nearer to our Lord. (and that includes all that teenage blather)

  47. I thank God for rediscovering my daily journal and for allowing me to grow through it. I thank Him for letting me both give thanks through it *and* hash out my sinful thinking, and for giving me the grace to see (again) how wonderful a Savior He is to save a wretch like me. I love going back and seeing revelations of prayer and how God was at work even when I was woefully unaware. I am thankful that if my children were ever to find my journal as adults, they would know that their mother, too, struggled and warred against sin both within and without, and that she found grace. This morning I finished on the last page of my current journal (ironic how I ended up here), and I just feel the need to encourage anyone who wants to write, to do it and to have peace. Sometimes *not* writing is the burden and the opening to the “snare”, and other writers, even God-fearing Christian ones, will understand that.

  48. I wish I had time to read all these comments…I came over to read your post because it was mentioned on ‘Stray Thoughts’ by Barbara H. whose blog I follow. I certainly don’t agree with everything you said but you’ve made some very good points, especially about writing down our bad thoughts. We’ve all seen how journals have come to light after a crime was committed.
    But there have been some journals of great men and women which have given us so much insight into history.
    I began to keep a journal on a regular basis about the time I got interested in genealogy. I thought how wonderful it would have been to read the journals of my female ancestors and learn about their lives and the time in which they lived. My journals have become a recording of my days. I record quotes, bible verses, prayers and yes, about the nature I enjoy outside my window. When I’m depressed, about my weight struggle, and yes, sometimes I write about hurts.I cry out to God in some of them and I see how I have grown spiritually through the years. I regret that I didn’t journal throughout the first 25 years of my marriage.
    I believe that my journals will be tedious in places but that in the future, some female descendant will take the time to read them and will know me better. So, I write with the thought in mind that they will be read.
    From time to time, we go back to a journal to remember a vacation or a restaurant we visited at some period in our lives. A little like looking it up in an encyclopedia. Now that we have been married 44+ years and I am in my 60s, so much of what has happened is hard to recall, oh how I wish I had journals from those earlier years.

  49. I agree with Sarah L. and Keri Mae, though perhaps there are some of my old journal entries that I was mean, etc. in and didn’t correct. But on the whole, it seems to be a helpful thing for me to write out my feelings, as well as look at them later, especially if I bring the end focus onto God.

  50. Three things come promptly to mind when reading this post. The first is that this is an excellent example of Titus 2: an experienced woman sharing Godly insight with younger women that they may measure their own hearts and benefit by it. Regardless of whether they agree or disagree, the reflection and consideration in themselves are good.

    Second, I wonder how much of a role the “words of affirmation” love language and “visual-kinesthetic” learning style play in this issue. I know being v-k myself that journaling helps me sort out my head so I can handle and assess what’s there, which tends to lead to pages of messy thoughts or emotions followed by self-adjustment and more reasonable perspective. I’d imagine my friends who are auditory learners would strongly advocate talking something out instead, as that is their natural response. Also, since words of affirmation is one my my key love languages, I would get more out of intentionally following Anne Bradstreet’s example to purposely write out good or valuable things for those I love than someone who leaned more towards gift-giving.

    Finally, I thought of “burn boxes”, the locked boxes some people keep with things not intended for other’s others that are to be burned, unopened, upon their deaths. If I am inclined to put my journals in a burn box then it should certainly serve as a sign to me that I’m not filling them with the right things!

    Thanks for this thought-provoking post!

  51. I’ve appreciated reading both the blog post and all of the comments. I agree with Nancy that endless “navel inspection” is fruitless and takes us further away from the Lord. However, introspection for the sake of honesty before the Lord – and so that we are not in denial of what the HS needs to convict in us – is highly beneficial. All things in balance and ourselves submitted to Christ.

    Also, like my fellow commentators, I very much enjoy reading the introspection of other believers – again, all things in balance – as an encouragement that other Christians struggle like me. It may be a human thing, but it does seem that despite all of the facebooking, blogging, twittering, etc, we are LESS vunerable now that we share the minutia of our lives and don’t take time to reflect on what is truly significant. Maybe we need to journal more – think, ponder, move deeper into Christ, and then come up for air and have something significant to say to the world. The journals of other Christians are, at least, a reliable place to find their heart’s true expression, working out sanctification with tears from deep emotion and worship for the God who brought them to glory.

  52. I can appreciate some of your points here, but I disagree with others.

    How can one be so decided that God would not ask of one to journal: “But don’t view it as an inspired assignment from God.”

    I journal some of the material you speak so highly against – nothing no one can read, but certainly things that I need to release and writing helps me do so.

    In addition, this type of writing opens the channel for the Spirit to move in MY life, because at these times, when I release some of my struggles, He speaks to me. It’s much like a prayer time of crying out and laying things down at the altar.

    It’s not a pity party, a gossip session or anything like that. It’s an expression of writing that God has gifted me with and this is one way I’ve chosen to use it.

    I don’t feel guilty when I don’t do it, but sometimes it’s the only way I can focus in prayer, is to write in my journal. Sometimes it’s the only way I can make sense of it, is to write it down.

    If someone wants to use journaling as a spiritual practice in their life, there is no law against that. There is no law stating you HAVE to journal, but there is no law stating you cannot, either. But it must be kept into perspective and obviously the content must be godly content. Calling oneself a sinner and pointing out faults in ONES SELF is not a sin. But it can be a hindrance if not kept in the proper perspective. We must remember who we are IN CHRIST, but not forget who we are WITHOUT CHRIST.

    Blessings!

  53. Hmmm. I agree with what much of what seem to be the underlying ideas here, disagree in several significant places, and am unsure still in a few places. Probably makes it a useful post.

    “The Holy Spirit’s job is to convict us of sin, righteousness and the judgment to come, and we should allow Him to do His work without interference.” Agreed, wholeheartedly! But what does this look like? If I assume that conviction is God’s job and ask him to do that while I keep myself busy elsewhere, I often interfere with my busyness. I’ve tried all sorts of stuff all along the spectrum between nothing and much navel-gazing, and have found a place where not-journaling seems to interfere with God’s work in my life more than journaling does. My journal isn’t so much a place for confessing the dark parts I already see in my soul, but rather sitting with God and asking Him to help me discern, which He faithfully does.

    Much of my journaling has come about as some variation of that sitting-with-God idea. There was a time around ten years ago when I found myself very discouraged on Sunday nights, usually related to ministry frustrations. I developed a habit of sitting with God to pray awhile before going home on Sunday evenings. He would bring to mind the good bits as we talked, and I recorded snippets of where I saw Him at work. Even now, the shift brought about in my heart through that discipline is still apparent.

    I admit there’s stuff in my journals I’d feel awkward if someone read. Then again, I tend to be a private person, feeling awkward about sharing pretty much anything close to my heart, especially with someone other than a very close friend. So journaling feels a little risky. That said, I think the possibility of someone else reading my journal doesn’t bother God, just me. And so, I keep writing.

  54. I also think writing diary can be destructive in case you get stuck into negative thoughts or to self-centered. But, and I really want to say this: It can be really important to see things like they really are black on white sometimes. Then of course, you don’t need to save everything you wrote. But God is the Truth and everything that we admit that is the truth about our ugly inner sinfulness, no matter how unspiritual it looks, has He the possibility to meet. But everything that is false has a contact surface to the devil, however spiritual and sanctified it looks on the surfice. A diary can be a very useful tool to discover whats on the inside and to have a dialogue with yourself. It can straighten your thoughts out. I do believe The Holy Spirit want to guide us in this and also sometime, maybe through our writing, convict us about sin. To start to manipulate this to make it look better than it is, is nothing I would recommend. And if my children saw my diaries of the path that I’ve been walking, they may see my sinfulness, but hopefully also the grace of the Lord, and perhaps even learn not to do some of the things I did. We learn through our mistakes. How can we learn if we hide them?
    But let God lead you in the process. Once the Lord lifted my eyes from my writing (I was pouring out a lot of negative thoughts) and said; “That is not a constructive way of handeling those emotions” and I prayed instead and God gave me the comfort I needed. He met me where I was, not where I was supposed to be.

  55. I came to this article through Jess’ Making Home blog. This is interesting, and challenges some of the ideas I have had about journaling, etc. I think that we do focus on it as if it is godly and spiritual to journal, but depending on the content, how much time we spend on it, our heart attitude…it may be be an ungodly practice, it all depends how journaling is used. Thanks for giving me something to think about…I’ll have to decide whether I need to do some burning! :) It would probably be good!

  56. I do not agree with this. I have been an advid journal writer for years. I write letters to God. It is my way of communitcating to him. It’s my way of connecting to him, I write to him and then I read his letters to me through the bible. Regardless if I’m writing about my deepest darkest secrets, sharing my feelings, or sharing my joys about life. Writing is a good coping skill in any form of helping profession.

  57. God created us with the capacity to feel. While we do need to steward our emotions wisely, it’s not wrong to think about or write about feelings. Ignoring the parts of ourselves that are ‘angsty’ does not mean that the angst goes away. Thinking/writing about feelings can be selfish, but it does not have to be. It is often necessary for healing.

    It’s important to be careful about dividing things that Scripture keeps together. Thinking is not ‘better’ than feeling: both are part of our humanity, part of what it means to be created in God’s image.

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