Friday, April 11, 2014

7 Lessons From Keeping A Spiritual Journal

Keeping a spiritual journal can be a great asset to growing in our relationship with the Lord Jesus. I began keeping a journal about eight years ago and it has proven to be one of the most fruitful practices I have. I am not an expert, but here are seven lessons I have learned through journaling.

Many of the saints kept journals. 
Journaling has a long-standing history in the Catholic Church and some of the greatest saints have kept spiritual journals. Two examples of well known saints' journals which have been published are St. Therese of Lisieux's The Story of a Soul and St. Ignatius Loyola's Spiritual Exercises. These journals, published many years after the saint's death, continue to be a source of  inspiration and encouragement to millions of people.

More recently, Blessed John XXIII kept a personal journal from the age of 14 until his death, which is available in a book entitled The Journal of a Soul.  Read more about his journal here. The personal notes of Blessed John Paul II, are also soon to be published in English. Through these spiritual journals, we are able to grow and learn from the interior lives of these great saints of our times.

A journal is not a diary, it's a prayer. 
A diary is a chronological accounting of daily events. A journal is much more than this. It is a prayer directed to Jesus  - an capturing on paper of an interior dialogue between the writer and the Lord. A journal is a place to capture one's own spiritual experiences and thoughts. Early on in my journaling, I found that it was easiest to stay on track with the spiritual nature of a journal by beginning each entry with the salutaion: "Dear Lord". In this way, my writing always takes the shape of a personal dialogue with the Lord, through which I often ask him questions, repent of my sins, and thank him for his blessings. Over time, I have grown to also use my journal to jot down scriptures or quotes from the saints which have touched me. I have inserted prayer cards and holy pictures that I have found along the way. By the time any single journal is complete it is bursting at the bindings with a rich expression of my own spiritual life that is singularly unique to me.

Blessed John Paul II Handwriting
--- 3 ---
Write in your own hand.
As tempting as it is to keep an electronic journal, there is something very powerful about writing your prayers, struggles, victories and dialogue with the Lord out in your own handwriting. Through the deliberate act of handwriting, your words take on a distinct shape and meaning that simply cannot be achieved if you type out the same words. Your handwriting is very real extension of you and it can display your emotions much more accurately than any computer "emoticon" can.

Keep it real.
One evening, I was sitting in the Adoration Chapel journaling my heart out. I had written a beautiful, pious, eloquent prayer to the Lord and I was quite proud of my words. After a time, I paused from my writing and sat quietly. During this pause, I had an interior sense that said something like this: "GET REAL, DEBBIE!" The words startled me. Huh?  Weren't my poetic words good enough?

The fact is, they weren't. The Lord has no need of our beautiful words - he wants our hearts, he wants our struggles, he wants our anxieties, he wants our sins, he wants our victories.  He wants us to be real with him. Jesus issues an invitation to all of us saying "Come to me all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest." (Mt 11:28)  Journaling is a powerful way to express our burdens to the Lord. Today, when I begin a time of prayer and journaling, I ask the Lord for the grace to be as "real" and honest as possible. It is only when my journaling  is "real" that I am able to experience more powerfully the Lord's healing touch and enter into his rest.

You aren't going to be graded. 
When I first began journaling, the perfectionist "straight A student" in me insisted on proper grammar,
descriptive adjectives and powerful opening and closing sentences in each of my journal entries. It took me quite some time, and many ripped-out pages of my journal to realize that I was not going to be receiving a grade on my journaling. In fact, the Lord has very little interest in grammatically-correct journaling and my insistence upon it was actually creating an unnecessary burden.

The point of journaling is to share your heart in a "black and white" way with the Lord. It is not an excercise in award-winning writing. In fact, editing your journal can often result in editing your heart and that is counterproductive. When you journal, write freely without agonizing over form, style or content. I can guarantee that all of your journal entries will receive the one page view you most desire - Jesus'.
Getting started can be difficult.
It can be daunting to sit in front of a blank sheet of paper and try to enter into a dialogue with the King of Kings. Fortunately, there is help available and lots of it. Find some journal starters, which are nothing more than writing prompts, questions or short meditations to help you focus your journaling.  They are a great way for begnners (and even more seasoned journalers) to get started.  Some great places to find (free) journaling prompts are:
Some things are worth saving.
Over the years, I have saved all my completed journals in a safe, secure and private place. From time to time, I go back and look them over. Each time I review them, I am struck by several things. First, the Lord really does answer prayers. Second, over time and with faithful perseverance, we do experience spiritual growth. And finally, God truly desires to communicate with us through our own prayers, through the sacraments and through his presence in other people. Whenever, I am feeling discouraged, a walk through my past journals assures me of God's steady presence in my life in a way in a tangible way.


  1. Plenty of good ideas and advice in this post. Thank you Debbie.

    It makes me wonder ... does God read our Blogs? I'd better re-check what I have written !!!

    God bless you and yours.

    1. Gosh - if he does I wonder if he will comment? You made me smile with that Victor! Thanks for visiting!

  2. I have written many journals over the decades, and I have saved them. However, I don't have much desire to reread them. I have tried a few times, but I don't find it particularly interesting or helpful. For me, I think it's the writing process that does something for me spiritually---the graces of the moment.

    1. Hi Ruth Ann - thanks for visiting and writing. I love how each one of is on such a unique journey - and the same spiritual practice can take on a different flavor in each individual person! A great testimony to the uniqueness of each of our relationships with the Lord. God bless you!

  3. Thank you for this post! It's just what I needed to give me a push! I have a private blog to document my kids childhood ( so more like a diary) and I have always loved to write. I have also kept a journal since my relationship with the Lord began ten years ago but I didn't always take it with me to retreats etc. bc Of its size and bc I tend to write quick and messy at those times so I have collected random papers/ notebooks/programs with my writing and have been meaning to transfer them into my official journal and haven't carved out the time to do it. Lately I've been feeling a tug on my heart to do this and even shared with my husband that I need his help with the kids to be able to do this bc I feel like the Lord put the desire on my heart bc he wants to tell me something important :) and now I randomly find this post! He is really getting my attention !!! Sorry for long comment thanks again!