5 Tips for Better Journaling

Journaling-is-a-way-of-slowing-life-down_David-Mathis

I’m off and on with journaling. I know it’s beneficial, but it doesn’t always come easily.

But as I read David Mathis’s newest book, Habits of Grace, he’s inspiring me to continue on with at least the small amount of journaling I do. (Full book review to come soon.)

Mathis reminds us that journaling isn’t just about recording the past, but also about preparing for the future. And also about deepening our joy in the present.

There is always more going on in us and around us than we can appreciate at the time. Journaling is a way of slowing life down for just a few moments, and trying to process at least a sliver of it for the glory of God, our own growth and development, and our enjoyment of the details.”

Here are five of his tips (rephrased in my words) to journal better.

  1. One sentence is fine

Mathis suggests keeping it simple. Just write something—even if it’s just one sentence—during our daily devotions. I know that works for me; only expecting one sentence from myself is doable. And often leads to more. But if not, that’s fine, too.

  1. Gaps are okay

Don’t worry if you miss a few days. Mathis says that “The best of lifelong journals are ‘incomplete’ in that they can’t possibly hold everything of significance.” While it’s hard for me to leave gaps between days, I know it’s better to let go of perfectionism or else I’ll stop altogether.

  1. Your words are private

Do you think your journals will go public one day? Think your kids will read them when you’re gone? Mathis says settle this question now: No. It’s unlikely anyone will ever read what you’re writing. The sooner you make peace with that, the clearer and more honest your journals will become. (I’ve already asked Jeff to destroy my journals once I’m gone.)

  1. Preach to yourself

Take a tip from the master psalmist King David: start out with your honest despair, but close with hope by reminding yourself of God’s promises and his truths of love.

  1. Stick with it

Journaling may disappear for seasons in your life, but do return to it when you think of it again. The benefits may be visible quickly, or may only come later. But when they do appear, you’ll be glad that you didn’t give up after the newness wore off.

Your journaling practices may ebb and flow, and may change forms through the years. That’s okay. Remember there’s no right or wrong way to journal (and it’s certainly never a requirement). The best way for you to journal is simply the one you will do.

* * *

Do you journal? How do you do it? Please share in the comments.

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41 thoughts on “5 Tips for Better Journaling

  1. Bill (cycleguy)

    I do journal Lisa. I have had times when I was very diligent with it. Sometimes writing long (page or two) of entries. But time would get away from me and i would chastise myself for spending so much time. I like what he says here about one line being okay. I am making a concerted effort to journal more regularly and this one line frees me. Thanks.

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      You make me smile, Bill: we can feel guilty if we write too much; guilty if we don’t write enough. I’m thankful God didn’t make this a requirement at all, but something for our mutual benefit in relationship. I’m glad you journal too. Even if just one line, like me. 🙂

  2. blankTC Avey

    I love to journal. It helps me get my thoughts and emotions out and to see situations from a different perspective. At the end I always feel closer to God. I wish I had time to do it more often.

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      Yes, those are some of the very same reasons that I journal too, TC. Getting thoughts on paper (or screen, if that’s the case) is a great way to process them and talk them over with God. Unlike you, I don’t have much excuse for not doing it more often though. But that’s okay too.

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      That’s awesome that you keep a prayer journal, Mari-Anna. I haven’t kept one in awhile, but during seasons that I have, it’s always been a blessing. I hope to share more from this book next week. I started the book not expecting much from it, but in the end I gleaned a lot.

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      I agree with you, Lauren: sticking with it can be the hardest thing of all. Loosening up on my self-imposed rules does make it easier though. Knowing that I don’t have to keep it perfectly or consistently frees me up to return to it again and again without guilt. Congrats to you on keeping a gratitude journal this year!

  3. blankAlisa

    I love journaling. I began doing it about 15 years ago when my dad passed away. It is so very helpful for me to process my thoughts on paper. I also keep journals, where I write to my children. My father in law passed away last year and my husband found his journal. It revealed so many insights that the family never knew. It actually brought a lot of healing to them. Thanks for sharing at #TellHisStory.

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      How wonderful that journaling worked so well for you after your dad died. I love hearing stories of how powerful this spiritual discipline can be; God knows how to work through our words. And equally wonderful that your husband’s family is being blessed by reading his dad’s journal! It comes full circle, yes? Thanks for sharing, Alisa.

  4. blankLynn Severance

    Ah, I love journalling and have kept a daily journal since 1987. They were handwritten up until I was able to use my computer (and then I print out the pages after a time). When I have gone on trips (and not had a computer) a small journal accompanies me. One thing I love about typing is I can do that more quickly and also I love to copy and paste quotes or relevant things I find online (or in an email from a friend) right onto the “screen page”.

    I process as I write and truly, my journals are my love letter back to the Lord for the gifts in each day (including the struggles). For the past 3 years I have been journalling separately from the “Pray As You Go” online program which is focused for people listening while they are “on the go” but there is a way to copy the text and I journal the responses. I have never had such deep times with the Lord than through answering their insightful questions about a Scripture text.

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      You are a wonderful journaler (is that a word?), Lynn. I tend towards handwritten journals myself, even though I use my laptop for everything else. I’m the opposite of you on travel though: when traveling I keep a one-line journal on my phone’s notes, then transfer it by hand to my journal when I get back home. 🙂 I’ve been listening to the Pray As You Go devotionals for a couple of years now, but I haven’t taken the time to really respond to the questions as you have, so I know I’m not getting out of it as much as you are. What a beautiful idea that you are conversing with the Lord through it all! You’re a great example for me.

  5. blankLinda Stoll

    Good afternoon, dear Lisa.

    I’ve been journaling fairly regularly for about a decade. But I love the invitation to write even just 1 sentence. Alot! I usually don’t write unless I feel the need to go on and on.

    1 sentence takes the pressure off. I think I’m going to try it.

    Thanks, you grace-giver, you!!

    ;-}

  6. blankBarbara H.

    I used to journal after reading the Bible, but then noticed I was spending more time journaling than reading. Plus then I had all these journals stacked up that I didn’t know what to do with. But I like the idea of just a sentence or two – just enough to jot down what particularly grabbed me that day and hopefully to reinforce it by writing it down. It might also be a way to work on my handwriting that was never good in the first place but has worsened from disuse. 🙂

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      I have stacks of journals too. I finally put them in a box in my closet…to do what with? I don’t know. ha. Now and again I’ll return to one to look something up, but rarely. I have to assume that the real work with them was done during the writing, not during the re-reading.

      My handwriting has become absolutely atrocious. I don’t have to worry about anyone ever reading my journals later because they wouldn’t be able to decipher my handwriting. 🙂

  7. blankJean Wise

    Great advice for journaling. When I write I fully believe my kids, especially my daughters and even my grandkids will someday read my journals. I hope they will be legacy for them. I tell others that in my journals I am 98% honest. Sometimes I will live a detail out since I know others will read this but most of the time it is the real me. Gaps ARE fine. I used to journal pretty regular once a week but now it is about 2-3 times a month, less some months. I go on my annual silent retreat right after Easter and will definitely fill up pages while there. Seasons come and go with journaling. Looking back though there are times I didn’t journal I wish now I did – to capture, to slow down that time. Great post, Lisa!

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      I’ll have to rethink # 3 (“Your words are private”) after reading your comment and others. My mother left a few journals and while I didn’t necessarily derive comfort from reading sections of them, I know one of my sisters did. Even though I don’t anticipate anyone reading my journals later, I do leave out a few details as well, just in case. 🙂 I’m sure your after-Easter journals are very rich! Your daughters and grandkids will be in for a real treat one day down the road, as well as in real-time now as well because of your diligence with spiritual disciplines, Jean.

      1. blankJean Wise

        One reason I feel so strong about passing them on as a legacy – I have my great aunts journals more than 50 years worth. I feel like I have a part of her when I read them. I treasure them.

        1. blankLisaNotes Post author

          Aw, how neat that your read your great aunts journals, Jean! I’m definitely hearing another side of things through these comments today. Thanks for sharing your experiences!

  8. blankStephanie

    I love to journal, but when I’m facilitating a Bible study, my time with God is mainly written in study guides. In the “off season”, I love to write out Scripture and reflect on it in my prayer to God. Thankful to stop by today.

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      I consider study guides a great way to journal as well! Thanks for adding this to the conversation, Stephanie. I have several study guides on my bookshelves that I’ve written in through the years; they are valuable journals to me.

  9. blankfloyd

    My journaling is is at the end of each of my weekly Bible studies. Powerful time and great way to wrap up the application.

    My friend Lynn Morrissey was published years ago with a book titled “Love Letters To God”. It is a book specifically on journaling too. It was wonderful. My mom got it as well and really connected with it and the whole idea of journaling. If you ever get a chance, knowing how you devour books, see if you can get your hands on one of her books.

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      That’s a great way to journal, Floyd. You know how to get the most out of a Bible study! If I’m remembering correctly, I think I did read Lynn’s book a couple years back, at your suggestion. It’s always motivating to me to read how others have succeeded at journaling and how it can make such a difference. I need the encouragement to keep it up. 🙂

      1. blankLynn D. Morrissey

        Lisa,
        How lovely to read your blog. I’ve seen your sweet, smiling face a number of times on various threads. And how lovely to read here that you have a passion for journaling. . . . and that you’ve read my book, Love Letters to God: Deeper Intimacy through Written Prayer. While it’s a gift book and not an instructional book as I had originally envisioned it, it does share my journey with journaling, and how the Lord used His gift of written prayer to absolutely transform my life. Granted even though the publisher wanted a pretty gift book, they agreed to allow me to write from the depths of my soul. So hopefully there is nothing fluffy about it. God has used journaling (which is basically the only way this once-prayerless Christian can pray) to heal me from the guilt and pain of abortion, alcoholism, and depression . . . just to name some things. But we can also journal our joy, hope, and praise. Journaling becomes a testament to God’s faithfulness in our lives. I would gently encourage you, Lisa, not to have your journals destroyed. I don’t know if you have children, but they could be a generous gift for your progeny (or your husband) . . . or your friends. I would agree that journals are indeed very private, and that that privacy must be respected at all costs. No one has the right to invade someone else’s journal. It is egregious violation. That said, when you offer a journal as a gift of inheritance, you are giving others a rare glimpse into your walk with the Lord. I want my daughter to have my journals. Yes, she will see how flawed and filled with sin her mother is, but she will also see how I sincerely sought God’s forgiveness and help and how I lived my life before Him. She will see His gracious lovingkindness and redemption and faithfulness in my life over and over and over again! Sheridan now journals, too, and I think it is in part due to my influence. She will have such a wealth of insight because she started journaling far younger than I. There is so much to be gained as we reread our journals (even in our lifetime). It’s such a rich harvest. And when you share your writing posthumously, your story is in *your* words. No one can distort it. Turning a corner, I love the author’s idea of at least writing one line. I tell journaling classes that if you write just one line, it’s like eating a Lays potato chip. you can’t eat just one. And frankly, it’s hard to write just one line. You wll have broken the ice, and one line will lead to another and another, and before you know it, you will have written a whole (what I call) love letter to God!
        Lisa, may I wish you joy in your journey, and joy in your journaling!
        Love
        Lynn

        1. blankLisaNotes Post author

          I treasure your heart-felt reply here, Lynn. Precious words indeed. You definitely have a gift. I also appreciate your encouragement to not automatically have my journals thrown away. I probably need to think that through a little more. Thanks for sharing your wisdom in all the places you deposit it, including here today.

    2. blankLynn D. Morrissey

      Floyd, I always love reading all you have to say, but I didn’t expect you to write about me. That was a lovely surprise. I remain so very touched that my book has had such a positive effect on how you communicate with the Lord. Granted, I geared it to women (well, it’s more that as a woman, I wrote about how journaling has totally transformed by relationship with the Lord, and women really resonate with that; but there are times when men read it and God uses it to reach them. I’m so glad that you are one such gent and it has connected us in friendship). Thank you so much for all you give to so many, including me)!
      Love
      Lynn

  10. blankJune

    Journaling has taken many forms for me. I love that there is not one, set way to “do it!” I have several wire bound, I prefer the kind you can open back on itself, journals on my nightstand. I use some in which to take notes as I’m reading through a book or bible study. I use one in the more strict sense of the word, as a journal, where I just sit and write whatever comes to mind. Not like a diary really, more like a writing exercise, in which I’m really talking to God, lol. I use a daily calendar journal to record notes about my day, weather, events, etc.
    I also have a prayer journal, that’s self-explanatory! On my computer, I use the journal tool in the esword program to take notes for certain daily scripture readings that I do. Regarding your #3, I don’t have any children to leave mine to, but I’ve been greatly blessed by receiving the journals of both my grandmothers, and my dad. A particular one, of my Nana’s that I have, was written the year she met her husband. I love having her “story” in her own words and handwriting about that time in her life. So neat! Gosh, after sharing all this, I realize I write a lot more than I realize! Just not all in one place, lol! Thanks for writing about this topic, Lisa, it was fun to read about the different ways others journal! Blessings!

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      You do have quite a menagerie of journals, June. Quite a library of memories and treasures. Thanks for sharing all the different forms that journaling can take. It encourages me to see that. I hope you have nieces or close family friends who might love to receive your journals after you’re gone. I’m sure there are many gems of wisdom in them!

  11. blankLyli @3dlessons4life.com

    I do journal, Lisa. I started in college, and over time it’s morphed in many ways. It helps me to “remember,” and it is a spiritual practice that I am really committed to. — Right now, my basic format is to read a psalm and start by jotting down all that I learn about God’s character from it — I title that section “Celebrate His goodneess and glory.” Then I reflect back on my day and write down a few things I am thankful for and title it “Count My Blessings.” My 3rd section is where I confess my need for God, ask for His help, or admit where I am have really messed up and am in need of forgiveness. Part 4 is where I write down a bit about what happened yesterday in paragraph form. (Up to that point, I’ve mostly just jotted bullet points.) I call part 4 “Consider the Day.” Then, I do my longer Bible reading (which right now is basically reading the whole chapter for the verse of the day on You Version). I try to pick one verse from my reading that jumps off the page for me, and I write it out in my journal word for word under the heading “claim a promise.” — That is usually where I stop. If I have lots of time on my hands and want to be reflective, I might think about how to apply or “contextualize” the verse, and then I might do a little goal setting for that week right in my journal (under the title title “Challenge to Change”). I rarely get that far though. Doing #1-5 takes me about 30 minutes to an hour depending on how much I write.

    Here is my format in outline form:

    Format
    1. Contemplate God’s Glory and Goodness
    2. Count my Blessings
    3. Confess my sins and my need for Jesus (and my faith in Him)
    4. Consider the day
    5. Claim a promise
    6. Contextualize / apply
    7. Cry out in prayer
    8. Challenge to change (goal setting)

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      What a lovely method, Lyli. Thank you so much for sharing it here. It sounds so rich in many ways, offering ways to grow in relationship with the Lord by looking backward as well as in the present and future. If you haven’t already done so, have you considered putting your method into a book? It would be a great resource!

  12. blankPam

    Wow! I started journaling regularly about 12 years ago and it was deeply enriching to my spiritual life as I shared deep thoughts and feeling as well as my sense of the Lord’s response to those. It did so much for me, but life got busy and then I started blogging and I have done so much less of it. Your post on this topic reminds me that journaling is (among other things) good self-care!

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      You remind of another thing, Pam: our blogging often IS another form of journaling in itself. It’s just not as private, right? 🙂 I have definitely enjoying reading others “online journals,” including yours. Thanks.

  13. blankDavid

    Five good tips. I have kept a diary (“journal” is like “meditation” – I am very working-class Northerner) on & off since I was a kid (mid-70s). I should probably add “burn all my letters and diaries” to my will :D.

    I think there might be a tension between your #3 and #4. Writing in my diary does me a lot of good and one important thing is that I can put anything in there. That fact that only I will read it means I don’t have to adopt any particular persona or even any kind of simple consistency (“but last week you said X!”). e.g., one day I can be skeptical about God and question my motives; the next I can rave about feeling Jesus near me. Over time knots kind of unravel in the writing.

    I worry (on your behalf! :D) that if someone is thinking “I have to be a Good Christian here in my journal” some things might stay hidden away (from yourself) that would be better written out. Time enough to be a Good Christian when you read what you’ve written. (Forgive me if that’s offensive, I don’t mean to be.)

    OTOH I remember one rough patch I went through, I thought my gloomy writings might be making things worse. So I gave myself a challenge to write about three nice things that had happened every day — however tiny — and that had a beneficial effect. You can do different things with it at different times I suppose. Like an old old friend.

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      When I was younger, we called them diaries. Now I don’t hear the term as often, so it’s interesting to hear that across the pond it’s still in vogue to say diaries.

      After reading my blog post, my older daughter called to ask me NOT to have my journals thrown away after I’m gone because she would want them. I told her I’d think about it. 🙂 There is definitely a freedom in knowing that no one but God will read our words, but I also don’t want to close off what I’ve seen of God from others. We don’t have to make that decision just yet, right? ha.

  14. blankLaura Thomas

    Hey, Lisa, yes I journal. I never wrote anything down in my early years (mainly for fear of my 3 younger sisters finding something incriminating!) but I began journaling my Bible devotions about 10 years ago, and it was HUGE for me. I love having books full of evidence that God speaks to me through His Word, and there are so many precious reminders of His love and grace and patience toward me… stuff I would probably have forgotten about with time. I’m going to check out Habits of Grace for sure—sounds super! Stopping by from Tell His Story… blessings to you, and happy journaling 🙂

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      “stuff I would have forgotten about” – that’s encouraging motivation for me, too, Laura. God often told the Israelites to write things down so they wouldn’t forget what he’d done; why would our memories be any different? I definitely need many reminders. Now just to stay disciplined enough to write it down in the first place. 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

  15. blankBeverley

    I journal on and off as it comes to me. I some times notice that the big nasty things get written about at length but the sweet gentle things often don’t get a mention, but I keep going nonetheless. I hope when I am gone my descendants will read them, at least in bits and pieces.

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      Good observation, Beverley. I usually journal more about the big nasty things too. But yes, I don’t want to forget the “sweet gentle” things either. I love your phrasing here!

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      I love David’s examples too! Especially that it wasn’t all sugary sweet, but realistically ugly at times. Helps me to know that we can be as honest with God as possible.

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