Journal Keeping Self Awareness God Awareness

Journal Keeping as a Tactic for Self Awareness and God Awareness

If I had to affix a title to the front of my beat-up journal, I’d call it Two Quarts of Manna. Its scrawled entries echo Moses’s instructions to Aaron about preserving some of God’s provision as a memorial for the future. My journals contain the evidence of God’s faithfulness.

Journal-keeping has become a means of preservation for me. It’s a practice of attentiveness to God’s provision. Recording today’s “manna” is one way to slow the hands of the clock, a tactic for self-awareness, and–even more crucial–a gateway to God-awareness.

Unfortunately, whenever I read the published journal entries of “great Christians,” I wilt a little bit inside. My observations on scripture seem uninspired. My days are a blur of mundane tasks.

By grace, I turn away from that unhelpful habit of comparison. Today’s provision, today’s two quarts of manna, are God’s gift to me for this day.

The words journal and journey are linked by ancestry as well as by their English spelling. Both arise from the Old French for “a day; a time; a day’s travel or work.” Are you recording your journey in your journal?

Journaling Your Journey

Puzzled about what to record on all those blank pages? Here are some components of my journal that might help you to get started on yours:

  • Daily Bible reading: Because Parkinson’s Disease has complicated the physical act of writing with a pen, I’ve started making lists. Bullet points can frame a day as well as long sentences. A gratitude list, written slowly and thoughtfully, becomes a portal to prayer.

  • Prayer Points: Prayer reforms us, and like my daily exercises strengthen and build muscle, prayer acts like spiritual weightlifting. One goal I have is to do a better job of recording answers to prayer.
  • Books I have read: I record the date I begin reading, the title, the author, and the publisher.
  • Books I want to read: It’s an ever-growing list!
  • A record of writing assignments: After I had the experience of writing an article for publication and then forgetting where it was located–or even what it was about!–I started keeping a record in my journal. I track submission date, destination, publication date, article title, and where it’s stored on my laptop.
  • Sermon notes: Sunday’s biblical content from the church I call home is still relevant and helpful on Tuesday or any day, and I love having it handy.
  • Meaningful quotations: If I hear something amazing on a podcast or something pops up in my reading that I especially want to remember, I write it down.
  • Copy work: I don’t do this anymore because writing is becoming so difficult, but until recently, I took a page from Ben Franklin’s playbook by copying excerpts from the work of writers I admire. What is it about their writing that makes it sound so lyrical? Even now, I record unique vocabulary and sentence structure as an exercise in improving my own writing.
  • The bones of a poem or an article: Fleeting thoughts disappear if we don’t pin them down with a pen. Even if I don’t get to develop it right away, it’s there for me to work on later.

Growing a Habit of Attentiveness

Mary Oliver framed the instructions for living well in a brief statement:

“To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.”

If there’s truth to this, our journal becomes a workbook in which we record our habit of attention–or are forced to notice that we’ve been living our life with blinders on and hair afire!

For those intimidated by the vast expanse of an empty page, here are two journaling prompts to help you exercise your creative muscles and establish a habit of attentiveness to your life:

  1. What if your life was a painting? Describe its colors, the medium, the mood, and even the frame. Where would you hang your painting and what response would you hope for from its viewers?
  2. Imagine today as a journey. What obstacles will you travel over, and how will you maneuver around, over, or through them? What is today’s destination? What do you expect along the way? How will you know when you have arrived?

Journal-keeping becomes a means of preservation, a way to slow the hands of the clock, a tactic for self-awareness, and–even more crucial–a gateway to God-awareness.

And Now Let’s Talk Books…

A Million Skies

Abigail Alleman shares her encounter with the question we all wrestle with on some level:  Am I defined by my weakness? Specifically, she wondered if she “would ever become someone more than a woman covered in the questionable fog of an unstable mind?” Bipolar disorder had cost her weeks of hospitalization, feelings of alienation from her coworkers and friends, and lingering shame over the practical and emotional toll on her family.

In A Million Skies, Alleman recounts her time in the darkness, but never without the reassurance that the same light she followed away from her anguish is still shining for you in whatever darkness you are currently navigating. As the church learns to respond in helpful and redemptive ways to the mental health crisis, this is a resource that points the way to compassion and opens a door for others to share their stories of struggle.

In #AMillionSkies, @abbyalleman recounts her time in the darkness, but never without the reassurance that the same Light she followed away from her anguish is still shining for you. #LeafwoodPublishers #mentalillness

Sheltering Mercy

Dan Wilt and Ryan Smith have teamed up to lift the first seventy-five psalms off the pages of your Bible and into your prayer life. I encountered Sheltering Mercy shortly after having prayed my way through the Psalms, and it felt like discovering fellow travelers on a hopeful road.

I began by reading the entries for the psalms I know best. Connecting those much-loved words with Wilt and Smith’s renderings revealed each psalm anew in its refreshing honesty. 

Viewed through a New Testament lens, the psalms clearly magnify Christ. Received as an invitation to personal prayer, they open a window to praise and offer a gritty script to the desperate. Praying scripture may be the strong medicine needed by 21st-century believers who have become perfunctory in our prayer life.

The final chorus of Psalm 75 exults in the presence of the Divine Author behind all the psalms’ human authors. God gives joy for the heart and strength for the soul. Praying the psalms reminds our hearts that God’s relentless presence is every bit as real today. 

In #ShelteringMercy, @DanWilt and @itsryanwhitaker have teamed up to lift the first seventy-five psalms off the pages of your Bible and into your prayer life. @BrazosPress

Holding You in the Light,

Got Questions?

If you need help in framing good questions to carry your wondering, there’s no better place to begin than scripture. I’ve prepared a FREE printable to get you started. Half a Dozen Biblical Questions for Entering (and Enduring) Hard Times is free to all newsletter subscribers. If you’re navigating life with a chronic illness, struggling financially, or simply dealing with daily overwhelm, God welcomes your questions because he welcomes YOU.

To receive your free printable, simply enter your email and click on the button below:

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Many thanks to Leafwood Publishers (Abilene Christian University Press) and Brazos Press for providing a copy of their books to facilitate my reviews, which are, of course, offered freely and with honesty.

I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program and an affiliate of The Joyful Life Magazine, two advertising programs designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees. If you should decide to purchase any of the books or products I’ve shared, simply click on the image, and you’ll be taken directly to the seller. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Photo by Kier In Sight on Unsplash

89 thoughts on “Journal Keeping as a Tactic for Self Awareness and God Awareness”

  1. Michele, thank you for the encouragement to dust off my journal and begin writing again. My past journals have reminded me of God’s goodness and faithfulness. Your prompts for that blank page are excellent. I am so sorry to read of your Parkinson’s. Prayers for you!

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    1. Thank you for your prayers. And I’m so glad you’re going to venture into recording God’s faithfulness once again. Whether we do it with a pen or on a keyboard, it’s a faith building exercise to stop and take note of his faithfulness.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Michele, this post has motivated me to get back to hand written journaling, so thank you! I also appreciate your sharing the book, Sheltering Mercy, as this year I am using Warren Wiersbe’s devotional going through the Psalms. “Praying the psalms reminds our hearts that God’s relentless presence is every bit as real today.” Amen and praying for you as well.

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    1. Thank you for your faithful friendship and your prayers. And I was amazed at the timing for me in picking up Sheltering Mercy. The psalms actually seem to lend themselves to being the basis for prayer MUCH MORE than a mere casual reading.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ahh the fate of journals. What will it be? One of my grandmothers burned hers before we were savvy enough to know there were any. The other grandmother was an inveterate journaler and I have some of her diaries with me now. Fascinating glimpse of life in another time. Her entry on the Day WWII officially ended was… I ironed today… or some such. Mention of the War was only in a scribble at the top of the page. Her life too was… ordinary. But she loved the Lord and that came through too! Will I save my own journals? Not sure. I think the sheer quantity of them would be a burden for my kids mostly…Will see.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. As usual, because I am peculiar, I have always had to do things the way they work for me. I did keep a type of journal when I was in my 20s I titled Shadows Speaking – but this was long before computers and the internet. But even then I was only writing to figure out what I think.

    Fast forward 50 years and I am still writing to find out what I think but I do so in my blog. I can’t even read my own handwriting anymore.

    I recently thought I would go back and reread 10 years worth of such ponderings and I found not only recurring themes, questions and conclusions, but also a subtle spiritual maturation.

    Maybe that is the best reason for capturing thoughts of the moment in a way that gives one insight some time in the future, into how far one has come.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I wholeheartedly agree on every point–especially the truth of discovering what I think by reading my own writing. Even as a professional whose writing was limited to recommendations to a compensation committee, I often began my proposals with no idea of where I would end up.

      It’s encouraging to track our growth by going back to reread old blog posts or journal entries. I look forward to having time to do that!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Journal writing is a good way to remember God’s provisions and what we are learning. Love me a good writing instrument and a pretty journal. I would also love to draw more in my journal, but I need some more skill.

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  5. Two quarts of manna! I so love that! I’ve been a stop and go journalist… but they end up being too negative. So I haven’t done it for a long while. I need to WORK on changing the mindset. Over and over again. I feel like I have nothing to say.

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    1. Intrigued by your assessment that your entries tend toward negativity. That’s certainly self-awareness on your part. And I think it’s something you can work with–interrogate those negative entries and look for the root. God will hold your hand as you do.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I have not journaled per se in a while. My blog is kind of an outworking of what I’ve been reading in my Bible. Some time ago I started jotting a down at least a line, sometimes more, from my devotional time. I often read from two, sometimes three sources, and would get to the end without something to hang onto for the day. So writing down out least the basics and looking over it at the end helps cement those truths in my mind.
    I use the Notes app on my phone if I am away from my computer to jot down quotes, ideas for future blog posts, etc. I also use the drafts section of my email account for some of those things as well as my ever-lengthening TBT list. I think that list will outlive me, but it guarantees I’ll always have something to look forward to!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’ve been “journaling” for 3 decades & Blog Journaling since 2008; more so now that my husband walks the streets of gold beyond the clouds since December 2018 – there is healing power in writing your thoughts down/struggles & victories down/insights to prayers answered/the daily ins & outs of Life … and how far Elohim has carried us and provided for our every needs 365 days a year, year in and year out 🙂 Good post!

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      1. Yes, I miss Bob very much – every second of every day. But with Yeshua, I never walk through this life on Earth, alone. And Elohim has put good friends in my life: I am thankful, highly favored, and greatly bleesed 🙂
        Have a great day, Michele!

        Liked by 1 person

  8. I love all the ways you journal, Michele. Journaling is so much more than just a “Dear Diary” account (although it can be that too). And that Mary Oliver quote – so good!

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  9. I’ve kept journals since I was a young teen. I have found the practice to be beneficial and my journals have contained many of the things you suggest here. My challenge recently has been what to do with the journals in the long term. I find it beneficial to go back and read over the journals, but storing dozens of journals is impractical. I’ve moved frequently during my adult life, and I’m tired of packing, moving, and storing boxes full of old journals! I have thrown out several because it’s just too much. I’m thinking of going to a digital format because I can type the same things I write, but I’m not sure it will feel the same or that I will remain as focused.
    As you indicate you do, I keep a list of books I want to read. I feel like I need a whole journal just for this!

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    1. Yes, that issue of storage is definitely a real concern. I’ve had the same concerns about going digital though. And it goes without saying that we will both die with a LONG list of unread books…

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  10. I just pulled a few journals out that I had bought and never remembered to use! I used to keep a journal but then once I began blogging it sort of fell by the wayside and I do miss it.

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    1. I try to keep my personal devotional writing and my public writing separate, but it’s inevitable that they sometimes intersect. Journaling is really an organizational tool for my brain as well as being a spiritual discipline.

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  11. Love your journal keeping and chuckled at the fact it doesn’t seem as amazing as “great Christians” because truthfully we just have to be ourselves and God smiles.

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  12. I find our blogs are types of writing journals, don’t you?

    I also keep a journal of my posts otherwise they get lost amongst all the others.

    I agree, Personal journals are such a wonderful tool for good mental & spiritual health practice Michelle.

    Have you thought of voice/type journalling? It’s a programme that can be added to your digital device which turns your spoken words into text (for your journalling or writing).
    An invaluable aide for those who have muscular disorders & find the act of writing challenging.
    Bless you,
    Jennifer

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  13. I’m a big believer in the power of journaling, although I don’t keep up the habit as much as I’d like to. Journaling helps us in so many ways — working through problems, reflecting on the things we’re grateful for, sorting through our thoughts for clarity, and more. I think you’re right to turn away from the unhealthy habit of comparing your journal entries to those of others. Each person’s journal is perfect in his/her own way.
    Carol
    http://www.scribblingboomer.com

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  14. Journaling helps understanding your thoughts and glad to hear it helps bring it close to your religion x #dreamteam

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  15. Thank you Michele for the simple reminder of the value of journaling. I have journaled for years for all of the reasons you state, but I like your recent mention of bullet points. My arthritis has become so severe it is too painful for me to journal as much as I used to or would like to. But until now I hadn’t considered a shortened version might be just as helpful!

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  16. I have also found journalling really helpful, though I did it a lot more before I started blogging! It is something I would like to get back into more.

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  17. I ‘m so glad I started a journal-record of God’s faithfulness to our family in 1983. Four thousand-plus entries provide ample proof: “Many, oh Lord, are the wonders you have done” (Psalm 40:5a). I also have a separate “Celebration of Small Things,” a gratitude journal begun in 2017, and several other themed journals. Gratitude and praise are powerful antidotes to discouragement and negativity!

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  18. Thank you, Michele, for ideas of what to put in our journals. Mine has always been more of a stream of consciousness thing. However, over the years, I have become a journaller digitally – mainly because I cannot read my handwriting once it’s cold. (Sad!) I have been a blogger since 2008 and so it is also an invaluable tool to discover what I was thinking all those years ago – and whether I’ve changed my mind! I also like storing my journalling digitally on my hard drive. It takes up so much less room. (I also store my old hard drives in my safe deposit box.)

    Also, thanks for the Mary Oliver quote. I have the perfect person to share it with!

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    1. Ha! Whether you’ve changed your mind! That’s a funny thought, and I want to do a better job of going back over old blog posts just to remember.
      You’ve been at this a long time!

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  19. Thank you for these ideas for journaling, Michele. I tend to do many of these things but they’re kinda all over the place from little sticky notes stuck into journals, and small notebooks just for books, to submissions in a computer file. I probably should keep just one journal, but not sure I could. I like your idea of writing where something is stored on your computer! I’ve sometimes spent too much time hunting, although in recent years my computer files have become very specific, and that helps. Praying that we will always recognize the manna God gives us each day!

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  20. Michele, have you considered the voice program, Dragonspeak? I used it years ago, and am trying to relearn it again. It does take practice and is so slow at first that I go through periods of giving up, but I have a lot of arthritis in my hands, so I keep trying.

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  21. My own practice of journaling is spotty – I’ll go along taking Bible study notes and keeping a prayer journal for a time, and then leave off for awhile and I’m not really sure why. I like some of your suggestions for WHAT to journal, and perhaps writing about something different rather than stopping will help me be consistent in recording God’s daily faithfulness to me.

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  22. Journaling has been such a blessing for me in different seasons of life. I have been writing letters to my toddler in one journal, I use another to jot down things I want to discuss with my Christian counselor and then notes after I meet with her, I journal gratitude. I too have been wanting to track my answered prayers more consistently! And I love the idea of copywork. I think that would help me slow down and savor beautiful writing. I will need to try that out!!

    Elena
    https://elle-alice.blogspot.com

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    1. I have journals for each of my four sons, and I still add to them a time or two each year.

      Copy work is the best tactic for learning from the Greats! And I want to do better at tracking answered prayers as well. I scribbled one yesterday: Locket–lost and found! PTL!

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    1. Ha! If you could see what a hot mess my journal is, romantic is the last word that would come to mind, but I have seen some pretty amazing journals by others. Just Lovely! Glad you are considering taking the plunge. Just do it your way and it will be most helpful.

      Liked by 1 person

  23. I used to keep a diary but it became less personal and more jottings of places and people as an aide memoire. Now I rely on my blog to remind me of what I get up to. I have been tempted by bullet journals as they look so pretty and organised but I think it takes a while to set up. Thanks for linking up with #DreamTeam

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  24. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with me and many others over the years.
    I would like so much to receive your printable and after four tries with my email address (by which I receive your regular postings), I tried my husband’s email address and that didn’t work either. This has been a problem before when I have asked for your printables but I can’t remember now how it was overcome.
    Your weekly blogs are inspiring me to get more involved and consistent with my journaling. I’m 82 years old now and have many thoughts I would like to put down on paper while I’m still able. God has indeed blessed you with a creative mind and the vocabulary to share with others. I pray now that He will show you how to continue to use those gifts in spite of needed adjustments. Thank you for sharing with all of us.

    Liked by 1 person

  25. I’m so glad you’re pushing through your Parkinson’s challenges. My dad has it and has had his own struggles. One day at a time.

    I like your ideas here. I get intimidated by the blank pages. But some of your suggestions are specific and get the mental gears going.
    Thanks for sharing this at the Sunday Sunshine Blog Hop 17, and your post will be featured tomorrow!

    Laurie

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  26. I’m sorry that Parkinson’s has made writing difficult, Michele. I loved this glimpse behind the scenes of your journaling practices, especially the part about “copy work.” The fact that you record unique vocabulary and sentence structure to improve your writing doesn’t surprise me a bit—one thing I’ve always admired about your writing is your ability to turn a phrase so beautifully! I started keeping a book journal a couple of years ago, in which I write down titles, authors and dates of completion. The closest thing I’ve come to very intentional journaling is my prayer journal, which I type in Word and save in monthly increments. I’ve done this for many years, and just the other day I told Randy to just delete all the files when I die. 😂

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    1. I remember that you journal in Word, and I am actually considering that as an alternative to paper and pencil, but wonder if if will be as satisfying. I do love my paper, but the hard work of making legible marks that I can decipher later may end up convincing me to go in that direction. So far, typing is not a problem.
      And there’s always the convenience of that post-mortem deletion!

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  27. I love journaling, but really need to make a daily habit out of it. Thanks so much for the reminder! That Mary Oliver quote is so true. #PoCoLo

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  28. What stood out to me was “…prayer acts like spiritual weightlifting.” I agree that it’s meaningful to record the answers to prayer. It’s a vivid reminder of God’s goodness and love.

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  29. I came across an old journal from our road trip on the West Coast of the US in 2002, it contained details about feelings and emotions on parts of the trip as well as the name of places we’d eaten in etc. It was very frereshing to read and I’ve dug out other journals to remind me about other periods of my life.
    Thanks for joining in with #pocolo and hope to see you back soon.

    Liked by 1 person

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