jour-nal • noun: a book in which you write down your personal experiences and thoughts.

Yesterday I defined the term ‘mental wholeness.’ For the next few days, I’ll share ways to yourself as you seek mental wholeness.

Bad Beginnings

The Diary of Anne Frank inspired my first attempt at journaling. I decided that I, too, would write to ‘Kitty’—after all, my regular correspondents, my older cousins, suddenly had no interest in writing letters to a snotty younger cousin once they hit their teenage years.

I still have the faded notebook pages with my whopping two entries hanging around in a box some place.

The next time I put pen to paper occurred the summer I turned 14. I worked at a summer camp, and had a crush on two older boys—both 18. I grew up on a small farm, and hadn’t made many close friends in elementary school. Suddenly, I found myself working with 60 other teenagers and young adults, and I needed a way to process my emotions. I found a little spiral notebook and poured out my feelings of angst as I flirted my way through the summer. Much to my chagrin, neither young man considered me anything more than a little sister.

By the time I turned 17, I had returned to the same summer camp, this time as horsemanship director. I wrote about my trails again—this time in a stenographer’s notebook. By now I had started reading the Bible on a regular basis, and my entries turned out half prayer, half lament. The same two boys (now in their early twenties) caused the bulk of my angst—along with co-workers and stubborn horses.

When I started college that fall, my relationship with Jesus had grown to the point that my journal entries started off as prayers each morning, and ended up a combination of observations, selfish requests, and the occasional lament.

A History of Journaling

journalOver the past 37 years, I have continued to write in journals. I talk to God more often and whine less. Sometimes, I lament and rail against those who frustrate, anger, or enrage me. For the past ten years or so, I have only missed a handful of days. I get up before everyone else, prepare my decaf skinny latte, and settle down in my glider rocker for time with God.

Sometimes I study my Bible with more intensity than others, and I journal about what I read. I pray for other people, praise God for his goodness, count my blessings, and ask for strength and guidance for the day.

At times, I’ll return to my journal later in the day or evening—especially if I’ve had a rough day at work or if Pedro and I have had an argument. As I write, I start to see things from a different perspective. Two or three pages later, I have usually achieved inner resolution or peace about the problem. I know the next step and feel courageous enough to take it.

A few years ago, I went back through the journals from the cancer year, expecting to find details about diagnosis and treatment. I read page after page and only found minimal references to cancer. Mostly I read words of praise to God, along with pleas for strength and grumblings about certain people who made my life my difficult.

Writing Changes You

For some people (like me), getting thoughts on paper helps a person to sort through them. Reading over what I have written helps me to see where I’ve used faulty reasoning or harsh judgement. The act of writing helps dissipate the violence of my emotions.

The act of writing in a #journal dissipates the violence of my emotions. #write31days Click To Tweet

If I stew on paper, I don’t need to ruminate for hours or days over a problem. I excise it, examine it, and move on. Researchers with letters after their names back up my experience with academic studies. Their studies show that journaling can improve health in those with asthma and arthritis. In addition, those who journal regularly visit the doctor less often.

Getting Started

If you’ve never tried journaling before, I suggest starting small.
1. Supplies: Find a pretty journal (if you’re a guy, find a handsome journal) or an empty notebook. If colorful pens make you happy, use them! Personally, I love fountain pens, so I treated myself to a nice one a few years ago.
2. Space: Find a place where you can keep your journal and sit in comfort. I have a small table beside my glider rocker, as well as a small lamp and a candle.
3. Time: Make a commitment to write at about the same time each day for five minutes.
4. Content: Start with a list of things you are grateful for. Copy a Bible verse. Write about your goals and hopes. Write out a prayer or a conversation with God. Ask yourself questions. Whatever you do will be a great start.

Nurture Yourself Takeaway #3—A habit of journaling will create a safe space for you to vent your feelings.

Come back tomorrow to learn about what to do when journaling doesn’t seem to be enough!