Every time I open the bottom drawer of my desk, I see a stack of journals with colorful covers; I cannot resist a pretty notebook. One of them has a design of pastel flowers, another is a deep, velvety purple, one is covered in soft red leather. There is only one problem with these journals: all of them have pages torn out. There is no writing in any of them. What happened here? I am about to tell you the story of how I began as a destroyer of fine stationery and ended up using journaling as part of my daily prayer life.
My younger daughter has kept a journal as far back as I can remember. She insists that it is great for her mental health and since she is now a licensed therapist, I think she is onto something. I had a rocky start though when I tried to follow her lead. I began. With the journal covered in pretty flowers. You might as well have a nice-looking product, right? Well, that was my only smart move. My first attempt at writing looked like this. “Today I did errands all morning. Then I had to finish the laundry. I did not feel like cooking, so we all went out to dinner.” My next few pages were pretty much along the same line, more like a list of daily chores as suggested by a housekeeping magazine. Did I want to keep a record of ho-hum activities? No, I did not. So, I tore out those pages and gave journaling a respite. I would come back to it later, I was sure. Time passed and I decided to try again. I thought that it was better to record my emotions instead of listing what I did each day. So, attempt two began. To celebrate my renewed writing venture, I bought a new journal. (Are you beginning to see where all those notebooks came from?) This time I found myself scribbling angrily, “Why can’t anybody but me put gas in the car?” Or “Once again, there is an inch of milk left in the jug!” Sometimes I was a little more positive and I might burst into a “The leaves are just beautiful right now!” Still, I knew this was not a fulfilling project and rip, rip, rip went the pages. How come I could not get the hang of this??? What was I supposed to write?
Then Covid came along. I read an article about keeping a gratitude journal. The idea was to write down, preferably at bedtime, at least three things you were thankful for, and they could be very simple. At the time, my husband was dealing with a chronic disease, so my first entry was:
1. I can breathe.
2. I can move.
3. I can think.
I realized that I had taken a lot for granted and so that night as I wrote I thanked God for these three things. Each night since then, I do the same but sometimes I have a longer list. Nothing is too small. “A great cup of coffee.” “Two blue jays at the feeder.” “A parking spot right in front of the store!”...all became material for my journal. I never struggle to find something. Now here is the magic part. Once I began to list my blessings, I began to be aware of more of them. At first, I was making a conscious effort to find things so I could have my list of three. But now, it is automatic. I see all these good things everywhere and I know I have to thank God for them. As a result, I am a much happier person and I feel like I have a better relationship with God. But I have expanded beyond just gratitude. (It is my journal so I can make the rules.) When I find a prayer that I like, I will add that to my pages. I might have some random ideas I want to “talk” to God about, so I include those too. Once I got going with acknowledging my blessings, I no longer struggled with what to write. I also like to look back now on previous years. How did I feel when this happened? How did I cope when I was sad or sick? I can actually learn from my own experiences, and I am sure this is God, whispering in my ear.
Here is the final piece of magic. You do not have to be a good writer or even have a real journal. A notebook will work fine (Although, I still have plenty in that bottom desk drawer if you say the word.) Maybe you are telling yourself that you had no interest in keeping a journal to begin with. You already have too much to do; you do not want anymore. But remember, it is just three things to write down, less than your grocery list. Wouldn’t you like to have a simple way to pray, to make you feel more content, to increase your happiness? If you can make yourself give it a try, I think you will find many rewards. Good luck and let me know what happens!
Blessings on you all!