Journaling as a Spiritual Practice: For the Beginners and Those Who Want to Begin Again
- Listen Here:
- All The Things a Journal Can Hold
- The Stigma (and other obstacles)
- Journaling as a Spiritual Practice
- An Invitation to Journal Gently
Back in 2017, there was a study done at a children’s hospital in the Chicago area regarding patients, families, and healthcare workers. They were all invited to participate in a journaling exercise to see if journaling had any real emotional or mental effects.
The journaling exercise included writing down three things they were thankful for, the story of their life in six words, and three dreams or wishes that they had.
Afterward, families and patients reported significantly lower stress levels while the practitioners also reported an improvement in communication between staff workers. 88% of all involved reported that this journaling exercise was incredibly helpful.
And, from personal experience, I would agree that journaling is an incredibly helpful and life-giving practice, indeed.
All The Things a Journal Can Hold
I don’t remember exactly when I started journaling. I just know that I always have for as long as I can remember. The stacks of journals hidden away at the bottom of my closet are evidence of that.
Journaling for me is probably the most consistently exercised practice in my personal and spiritual life. There have been seasons when I don’t reach for my journal as often, but I always eventually end up seeking the solace its pages have to offer.
My journals have held many prayers over the years. Prayers of lament, frustration, anger, and joy. They hold my dreams, goals, reflections, and all the ways I notice God moving throughout each day. They hold messy thoughts and short little quotes that I find to be inspiring or thought-provoking.
I go to my journal expecting to encounter the Holy Spirit, and I always do, even if it looks like jotting down three sentences of whatever I’m carrying in my wound-up heart.
I believe that journaling can act as a powerful tool to grow deeper in our relationship with God, our faith, and our very identity as individuals Beloved by Christ.
Journaling, as a spiritual practice, can be a very powerful tool used in our own spiritual formation; the process of becoming and looking more like Jesus.
So, today, I want to speak to those who are maybe not familiar with journaling or think that it’s simply not for them. I want to speak to those who have put down their journal for whatever reason and remind you that it sits waiting patiently, offering you a gentle invitation to come and begin again.
The Stigma (and other obstacles)
Before we get into the how of starting a regular practice of journaling, I want to cover some common stigmas or obstacles regarding journaling.
The most common stigma about journaling that I’ve run into in my own life is that you have to be a writer in order to be a journaler. Well, friend, first of all, if you are a journaler it automatically makes you a writer of sorts. And second, that is just LIES.
You don’t have to call yourself a writer in order to benefit from journaling. A journal is a safe place to land when you need time to process your thoughts, reflect back on a hard (or good) day, and send up some prayers that you don’t have the energy to speak aloud.
To be a journaler, you don’t have to call yourself anything! It’s an invitation that’s extended to any and all who seek to journey into blank pages and grow through life.
Another obstacle, because this one really isn’t a stigma, is that you may not know where to begin.
To those who are anxious about being beginners, I will say to you that being a beginner is essential to your spiritual development and growth.
In fact, I would argue that being a beginner is a wonderful thing to be. Because as a beginner, you are free to explore, ask questions, make mistakes, and be humble and open to the process rather than a seasoned vet who struggles to get outside the boundaries of routine.
Don’t worry though, we’re going to practically unpack in just a few moments how to begin if you’re not sure where to start.
The last and final obstacle I hear most commonly related to journaling is that one simply does not have the time. This is a tough one because I’ve lived through crazy, chaotic seasons where I mentally, emotionally, and physically do not have the energy to put pen to paper!
But just because this obstacle is tough, doesn’t mean that it can’t be overcome. The reality is that we all make time for the things we want to do. So, if you decide today that you want to try journaling as a spiritual practice, or you want to pick back up journaling again, then you’ve already done the heavy lifting.
After that, it’s about carving out the time, which we’ll talk more about in just a second.
Journaling as a Spiritual Practice
So, now that we’ve named some stigmas and obstacles that tend to stand in the way of journaling, I want to offer you some practical ways to begin – or to begin again – when it comes to journaling as a spiritual practice.
1. Expect to encounter the Holy Spirit
First, if you recall from our blog series – an Introduction to Christian Spiritual Practices – a spiritual practice or rhythm is anything that deepens our connection to our Creator and helps us behold more of His presence in our daily lives as a way to shape our own spiritual formation.
So, if we’re going to look at journaling as a spiritual practice that brings water to our spiritually thirsty souls, we must expect to encounter the Holy Spirit.
The reality is that we can encounter the Spirit at any time because He dwells within and all around us, and our journals are no exception. Jeremiah 29:13-14 shows us God’s heart in wanting to be found by His people,
“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord…” (NIV)
When we open our hearts and surrender to God’s presence in our lives, we will encounter the Living God. This encounter may not be a physical feeling or a grand, sky-opening, angels-coming-forth, kind of experience. Sometimes it is, but sometimes it isn’t, and that’s ok.
Experiencing the Holy Spirit may just be writing down a broken prayer and trusting that even though you may not hear Him or feel Him, He is present and He is faithful. Any time you turn your gaze to God is considered a heavenly encounter because you are consciously bringing Him into the present moment, and that is exactly what journaling can do as a regular spiritual practice.
2. Get yourself a journal (and have fun with it)
Some people don’t really care what kind of journal they use, as long as it has blank pages, which is totally fine! But I know personally (and this might sound silly), that the more appealing the outside of a journal is, the more I want to pick it up and write in it!
I think this is because I know that I’ve invested time and money in intentionally picking out a journal I love. I’ve chosen to slow down and enjoy the process! So, I’m going to leave some recommendations for all the other journalers out there who revel in the process of picking out a good one.
- LEUCHTTURM1917 – Medium A5 Ruled Hardcover Notebook (Black) – 251 Numbered Pages
- The Growth Roots Co. Journal. This is the one I’m currently using and I LOVE it! It has blank pages for you to fill out and make your own as well as some other faith-centered sections to have fun with.
- Jenessa Wait journals. Janessa is an influencer, small business owner, artist, and Jesus-lover who creates the most beautiful blank page journals!
- Rustico Leather Journals for those looking for a very aesthetically pleasing journal. There are also journal options available that offer refillable journals!
Enjoy the process of picking out your journal, or just pick one up off the rack at TJ Maxx! There’s no right or wrong way to go about this as long as the end result is a journal that you love in your shopping cart.
3. Set your intentions
Now that you have your journal, it’s time to set your intentions for the journal. Especially for beginners or those who are feeling really overwhelmed in this season but are wanting to make journaling a regular spiritual practice, setting your intentions early on can be very helpful.
When I say “set your intentions”, I mean to ask the question of what are you going to use this journal for? Is it going to be specifically for written prayers? Bible study? Both? Do you need some journal prompts to get you started? Scripture memorization? Reflection?
Or all of the above?
For the beginner, it can be helpful to choose one intention and start there. Once you become more comfortable with your practice of journaling, maybe you can expand on it. Pray about this and ask the Holy Spirit where He thinks you should begin and go where you hear Him leading.
Setting an intention for your journal makes the act of journaling less ominous and more inviting because you know what to expect when you arrive at its pages. Now, as you begin to engage with journaling as a spiritual practice, the Holy Spirit may lead and move you in different directions.
Be flexible and open to His leading.
4. Carve out time to journal
Here is where we address obstacle #3 from earlier – the obstacle of not having enough time. I want to be sensitive to this issue because as I said earlier, I know how it feels to be too exhausted to even think about picking up my journal.
And there are some seasons when journaling isn’t the spiritual practice I most gravitate towards, and that’s ok, too. The seasons of our physical and spiritual lives are constantly shifting – they’re supposed to – and so will our rhythms and practices.
Naming and accepting this frees us to pick up our journals in whatever season we feel led to. Remember, journaling as a spiritual practice should be all about our relationship with God, not a regulation or routine we feel like we have to do all the time.
For those who are in a busy season of life, but still want to prioritize daily time for journaling, it all comes down to assessing your day. When do you have even a few minutes to sit down and give attention to the Holy Spirit through your journal?
Is it in the morning before the kids are awake? The afternoon during lunch at work? Or is it in the evening after the day is done and instead of reaching for your phone in bed, you reach for a pen?
Only you can prioritize the spiritual practice of journaling and decide the right time. I will say that my richest experiences with God through my journal are moments when I give myself adequate time to hear Him speak. So just pick a day or a time that you feel you can give adequate time and attention to the voice of the Spirit.
5. Get to journaling!
Now that you’ve expected to encounter the Holy Spirit, picked out your journal, set your intentions, and carved out the time, it’s time to get to the good part!
I fully believe that journaling as a spiritual practice can lead to a mighty uncovering; uncovering more of God, more of yourself, and more of those around you. Journaling can help you dissect the mysteries of God and life with each stroke of the pen and turn of the page.
All that’s needed is your honest, authentic, vulnerable self willing to show up to the page and encounter the Holy Spirit.
One of my favorite verses that pertains to writing things down comes from Habakkuk 2:2,
“And then God answered: “Write this. Write what you see. Write it out in big block letters so that it can be read on the run. This vision-message is a witness pointing to what’s coming.” (MSG)
“Write what you see.”
Write your life, your legacy, your prayers, your God-sightings, and everything in between in the pages of that journal. Be honest, painfully honest, and pour your heart out to God who hears you and loves you. One of the best things about a journal is that it is a physical rock of remembrance of God’s faithfulness, how far you’ve come, and where God is leading you next.
So, write what you see, friend. All that you see.
Jenn Williamson once said,
“Journal writing, when it becomes a ritual for transformation, is not only life-changing but life-expanding.”
The study that was done at that children’s hospital in the Chicago area reported that mostly everyone experienced lower stress levels. That’s a really fancy way of saying that those people experienced peace.
Journaling as a spiritual practice has the power to expand God’s peace, joy, love, refreshment, and so much more within you. Journaling as a spiritual practice opens your heart, mind, and soul to more of God and more of His presence in your everyday life.
I’ve found that when I’m in a season of regular journaling, I notice God’s presence throughout my day in ways that I usually wouldn’t. It expands my spiritual perspective because it invites me to slow down, pay attention, contemplate, and reflect.
God, growth, mystery, answers, and more await you in the pages of your journal, friend.
If you feel its tender invitation to step forward and write, you will find that the awkwardness of beginning doesn’t even compare to the rest and stillness of soul you are sure to find.
I pray you meet the Holy Spirit and yourself there on those blank pages and uncover more and more of the beautiful mysteries of both.
An Invitation to Journal Gently
Hi, friend! If you enjoyed today’s blog post and feel a tug in your spirit to pick up your journal and make writing a regular spiritual rhythm, or you’re a seasoned journaler that wants to grow in this practice, then I have an invitation for you.
A friend of mine and fellow writer and spiritual director, Kari Bartkus, is opening up her doors for enrollment in a writing program called Journal Gently. Journal Gently is an 8-week program designed to help you use writing as a way to process hurt, grief, and trauma with God. I recently finished the 8-week long program myself and found so much healing and freedom on the pages of my journal through Journal Gently.
If you decide to enroll, you will receive an email from Kari every Monday for 8 weeks that includes an audio training, a PDF document containing a lesson with some writing exercises, different spiritual practices to try out, and some questions to respond to at the end of the week.
If you have grief, wounds, or trauma that you would like to explore with the Holy Spirit in a very safe and gentle way, then I would highly encourage you to check out Journal Gently. The next round kicks off on October 3rd, 2022!
To read more about the program, click here: Journal Gently