I ’ve always liked words. I’m an external processor by nature, so I like to talk. I also love to read; whether it’s history books, fantasy fiction, poetry, or most anything else, I’ll read it. This includes the long emails with all the details and the entire workbook (300+ pages) for our annual denominational meeting. Words help me to understand and to process.
So it might seem strange to hear me say that I’m not a very committed journaler. I find it helpful because it gets my thoughts out of me and onto a page, but I struggle to make it a daily practice. For some people, writing as a spiritual practice means journaling, chronicling their days, processing their devotional lives, or recording their faith journey in a consistent way. But for those of us who don’t journal by nature—or with regularity—how can writing be a spiritual practice? As I’ve just admitted that journaling isn’t my “thing,” I’m clearly not the person to suggest that everyone should be writing regular journal entries as part of their spiritual life.
However, I do often write things down as part of my devotions and my prayer life, and that way of writing has helped me greatly. I don’t write pages about my daily interactions or the antics of my children, nor do I detail my inner turmoil. Instead, I write down four categories of things:
1. A Bible verse. This can be a verse that I’m focusing on, one that stood out during my reading, or even one that I’m struggling with.
2. What God is teaching me, or what I need God to teach me. This can be anything, from the general to the specific. It can be related to the Bible verse, or not. I simply acknowledge one thing that God is teaching me or one area where I need God’s help.
3. What I am thankful for. From my family to the great dinner I had last night, anything and everything that I am thankful for gets written down.
4. What I am praying for. This helps me to be specific as I pray over time and to look back on the prayers that have been answered. I put anything or anyone that I am praying for down on paper.
These four categories help me to know what to write and streamline my thoughts and prayers. I don’t usually spend a lot of time doing this kind of writing. It doesn’t take long, and I don’t have to outline every detail. But writing things down helps me to remember them, and naming gratitude and the things I’m learning from God helps me to internalize that closeness with God in a different way.
In times when I have lots of concerns and people to pray for, this kind of writing helps me to focus on God as the center of my life. I can share my heart and ask for prayer, but I’m also called to look at my own life and examine it for joy and growth. This is what discipleship and spiritual practice is about. Drawing near to God. Naming God’s movement in our lives. Praying for ourselves and others. And knowing that, in all of this, God is close to us, trustworthy, and able to handle all we bring. If you love words or if journaling hasn’t been the devotional tool that works for you, I would suggest that you try writing down four things, and see if writing as a practice can hold new meaning for you.
Stephanie Soderstrom is coordinator for Short-term Mission for the Reformed Church in America. You can connect with her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.