The Value of Journaling

I began my first journal (or diary as they were affectionately called in 2001) in the third grade. I’ll never forget the ballet slippers on the cover, representing never-realized dreams of taking dance lessons and becoming the real life version of the French cartoon character Madeline. One of the first entries in this journal was announcing that President George W. Bush declared war after the September 11th attacks on the United States. My gel pen, so fitting for third grade, didn’t know then what war meant, only that it was happening and it was so sobering it deserved recording.

Over the years, I didn’t always write about war. I used the blank pages to note struggles with my mental health, fights with my parents, conflicts with friends. I wrote about death and life, broken hearts, spiraling thoughts, notes passed between friends at church, songs I believed would change the world. It became a source of hope for me in the dark places, it became a place I knew I’d never be judged, and I determined that through my journals I would let my future children know that I’ve been acquainted with everything they feel.

Last fall, I began this new-ish journaling method called “Bullet Journaling.” Bullet Journaling was made popular by Ryder Carroll, with the intent of creating an intentional way to be focused and productive while living with learning disabilities.

I had seen bullet journaling on Pinterest and around the internet, but I was always nervous to try it because most bullet journalers were artists who created intricate drawings to start the month and designed other clip art to carry their themes. I eventually bought one and tried it, and now I am hardly without it (and if I don’t have it, I’m usually looking for an opportunity to go get it).

One Size Does Not Fit All

The biggest lesson I ever learned with journaling is one size does not fit all. Just because one person uses dual brush pens to create beautiful calligraphy quotes on the pages of their journal, or writes only when they’re feeling a certain emotion, or takes class notes or sermon notes or grocery store lists in their journal, doesn’t mean you’re journaling incorrectly.

I’ve used my journal to record grocery lists and heartbreaks, memories of a traumatic past and celebrations, diagnoses and diet plans. The blank pages of a journal don’t come with a specific template. The lines are there, and between them is a space meant for you to fill with words and ideas and plans of your choosing. Work out tough parts of Scripture there. Work out tough conversations to have with family there.

Journaling Helps Us Be Intentional

Journaling is flexible to what you need, but all journaling leads back to the same goal of intentionality. Everyone who journals, whether bullet journaling or art journaling, traditional journaling or photo journaling, starts with an intention. Intention guides our goals and actions, and then journaling gives us a space to work those out on paper - a giant circle of intentionality.

Where do we get the desire for intentionality? I think it is rooted in God. From the conception of the earth, to the plan of redemption through Jesus Christ, all the way through eternity, everything God has done has been done with intentionality - namely, his intention to reveal himself to us  in real ways through what he has made (the planet and mankind and Scripture) and to be near to us through what he has done (sending Jesus to live an intentionally sinless life and lead us to life through his death and resurrection).

Feeling Understood

Intentionally, Jesus went through every kind of trial we would face so that we could draw near to him and feel understood. Isaiah 53 shares some of what Jesus endured:

“He didn’t have an impressive form or majesty that we should look at him, no appearance that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53:2, CSB). He wasn’t popular; the people hated him, rejected him, cast him aside, and didn’t value him (Isaiah 53:3). He wasn’t an image of health and wellness, but “a man of suffering who knew what sickness was… he bore our sicknesses, and he carried our pains” (Isaiah 53:3-4, CSB). He wasn’t treated with respect and dignity, but he was “oppressed and afflicted… taken away because of oppression and judgment,” (Isaiah 53:7-8, CSB). And the worst part of it all was that he never did anything wrong, but he went through all of that, and it was journaled out and recorded in the Gospels, for us. For you and me.

The English Standard Version says Jesus was “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” I specifically think of the time that Jesus was with his disciples and Mary came to him to tell him Lazarus had died. He was deeply moved, and he wept over his friend’s death (John 11:33-38). What these Scriptures tell us is that, whatever our affliction, trial, or pain, Jesus is acquainted with us, he knows us, and we can find empathy in him, “for we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin. Therefore, let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in time of need” (Hebrews 4:15-16, CSB).

When I started writing this, I got to thinking about the body of Christ, and how we are all given different gifts to be used to build up the body. Then I thought about journaling, and wondered: is it possible that those of us who journal and share our discoveries through writing are meant to use that for building up the body of Christ? Are we to be the ones who remind people that Jesus knows us and is acquainted with our struggle by our own drawing near to him and our knowing he is near?

My hope for my journals and my writing is that one day, my daughter can hold them in her hands and read an entry and know that she was never alone. More than this, though, I hope that she opens the Bible, reads the accounts and stories within it, and allows them to speak over her own heart and life in such a powerful way that she realizes that she has never been alone and she never will be alone. When I am not there to comfort her, and when I am not enough, Christ is enough. He knows us and is acquainted with us, and he is writing his love on our hearts like they’re the blank pages of a journal where he puts himself on display and shares with us in all of our moments.