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:
- 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?
- 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.Tweet
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 #mentalillnessTweet
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. @BrazosPressTweet
Holding You in the Light,
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.
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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.
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