I’m sitting here in the living room with a stack of old journals in front of me. Josh is playing the piano, providing some nice background music. Life is good.
Anyway, about journaling – I’ve been doing it for the better part of three decades, I suppose, but never more than since I returned from sabbatical in 2009. I have filled 6 or 7 journals since then. Something clicked for me in Scotland – in the town of Stirling there were 3 coffee shops that became little sanctuaries for me – where God came down, and it seems He often came down…in my journals.
It’s funny because I had set off to Scotland to walk the hills and pray, which I did to some degree, but the idea turned out to be more of a romantic notion than a very practical one. There were lots of hills to walk, but since doing so was often a new experience, I found myself looking around more than I was talking to God, not altogether a bad thing – I love God’s creation. It’s just not what was going to bring me the greatest joy. So journaling and praying and reading at Costa Cafe, Cafe Nero and Cafe Crema in downtown Stirling became my little slice of heaven.
If you were to read my journals over the last 30 years, you would see patterns. For instance, you would see resolution after resolution after resolution. It makes me laugh to think about it. Lose weight. Exercise. Spend less. Stop eating so much. Go to bed earlier. Pray more. Read the Bible more. Get up earlier. Lose weight again. I think there are fewer resolutions today, which doesn’t mean that I’ve started doing all the right stuff – not at all – just that I’m a little more content, let’s say, in a good way. Maybe the gospel is sinking in more – Jesus accepts me even with the extra 25 lbs. (But I really should get to the gym more…)
In more recent years, I have taken to writing down thoughts from the Bible or books I’m reading, usually word for word. I have thought that I would like to do this in a more organized fashion, so that I might be able to come back to these various ideas, but I haven’t gotten there yet. I could use a computer to record thoughts from books I’m reading, but the idea of having my laptop out when I’m meeting with God seems…well, wrong. Some people journal in their computers. I’ve put a few entries in bits and bytes, when I had forgotten my actual journal, but it’s a poor substitute for paper and ink. Something about writing is cathartic. I can almost feel myself relax and the tension float away when I write, “Good morning, Lord…”
How honest am I in my journal? That’s an interesting question. Mostly honest, I think. Of course, by “honest”, I’m not talking about lying, but transparency. How can you write a journal without thinking of posterity? In other words, when I am pushing up daisies, I imagine my kids might have some interest. I think it was George Washington who had his private letters burned; all I can say to that is…what a bummer. Now, I’m no George, but I think it would be a crying shame for my descendents to lose the history in my journals. I would love to have journals from my father or mother or even grandfather or great grandparents (I actually have a few pseudo-journals from Dad, but mostly the interest level is low: “went to the gas station; then bought eggs.” That sort of stuff.) With posterity in mind, there are certain things I don’t write about (use your imagination), but I do wrestle with God in my journals, and I wrestle with myself, and sin.
I love to start a new journal. I often start each new one with very neat handwriting, but that doesn’t last long.
And of course, I pray in my journaling. Sometimes I am writing to no one in particular; sometimes I am writing to the Lord. It just depends upon my mood, I guess. I do write out my prayers in a formal way occasionally; Bill Hybels did that and it seemed to work well for him, so I do it every so often, but not regularly. Mostly when I am praying in my journaling, it’s just recording my thoughts in the presence of the Lord. And through the process, He sometimes really seems to speak to me, like when I had the sense that He was saying we should call Jeremy Thompson to be our campus pastor in Fond du Lac, or when He gave me Isaiah 54, the whole chapter, as a promise in Scotland. That was glorious.
I’d better stop now. I need to start getting to bed earlier…