In recent years, school systems have put a huge emphasis on kids participating in regular journaling exercises. This is a great plus for the community of faith as we encourage kids to make spiritual journaling part of their personal disciplines. Just as individuals have preferences on hairstyles, clothing styles, the sports they play, and a plethora of other partialities they have, the actual form that journaling takes is specific to the person doing it.
First of all, let’s just clarify what journaling, as a spiritual discipline, is. Journaling is when a person makes a record of something. That’s where the similarities end, because from there, what is recorded, how it’s recorded, and how much is recorded reflects the journaler’s personality, spiritual maturity, and pathway strengths they prefer to use in processing information.
The Bible is a collection of journaling. The Letters of Paul are full of descriptions of what is going on, his thoughts, and how he thinks certain issues should be resolved. David gives us insight into his personal spiritual journal through the Psalms—a poetic and musical journal. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John journal about many of the events they all witnessed, but each one gives us a different view, because they journal from a personal perspective. Much of the Bible can be viewed as God’s inspired Word being passed through the journals of these faithful followers.
Although I want to address intentionally equipping children to participate in spiritual journaling, the principles are just as relevant for teenagers and adults. So, if you’re not journaling, before you encourage your kids to start, try out some of the ideas and approaches yourself. There is great value in journaling … not only for today, but for tomorrow, and for years down the road. Spiritual journaling:
Helps to gain clarity. When you’re having a difficult time understanding a concept or a scripture, writing down your random thoughts and then reviewing what you’ve written can be very insightful. It’s like rotating a piece of a puzzle and when you hold it a certain way, you see where it fits all of a sudden. In times of confusion, journaling can be the instrument that helps you sort out what questions you actually need to ask. What’s not making sense? Where do I get lost?
Provides a safe place. There’s no ridicule or wrong in journaling. The words penned there come from the heart. They may be very raw feelings, but they represent personal truth. It should be understood that journaling is private and it’s something that adults should respect. Unless a child offers to share what’s written there, the privacy of their journaling should be guarded. When I journaled along with a group of kids, we regularly held each other accountable. Each time we met, I also gave them a chance to share something they had journaled. At first, very few of them read from what they had written, but after awhile, they really enjoyed sharing entries, especially those that were evidence of how they had worked through a particular issue. They recognized how God was working in their lives and were very comfortable sharing those journal entries.
Is a storehouse for years to come. One of the most valuable aspects of journaling is being able to look back. A journal is a record of spiritual growth. Through the comments and perspectives shared there, years later a child will be able to celebrate and embrace the journey that God has taken him on. It’s so rewarding to read about a spiritual struggle and then read months later how God has taken that incident and catapulted your spiritual understanding. That’s why it’s really important to date each entry in your journal. Without the words penned in the journal, it’s easy to miss out on recognizing where the spiritual journey has actually taken you.
Helps you meditate on God’s Word. Psalms 1:2 reminds us, “… his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he mediates day and night.” I think we all agree that it’s a good thing to stop, get quiet, and just ponder what God’s Word has to say … not so easy for kids many times, though. Journaling can help kids, especially those who have a difficult time quieting their spirits, so they can meditate on Scripture. As they contemplate what to write, their minds are stretching and reaching for thoughts that are deeper than surface, off-the-cuff, “church-y” answers.
Fine tunes our spiritual sight. When we look for God at work in the world around us, we see Him. When a child knows that they will be journaling, things that would normally go unnoticed are now God-sightings. Recognizing God moving in situations and lives that are near to the child is a source of spiritual strength and growth. Too often they don’t tap into that source of strength simply because they don’t notice. Journaling is a vehicle whereby kids pay attention and notice.
Articulate understanding and insights. Saying you understand something and being able to articulate it in the written word are two completely different things. Wrestling with words … just the right word … to say what it is that I’m actually thinking is mental exercise. But, as the words get rearranged and are hand-picked as a description, understanding of Scripture or something God is trying to teach a child comes into clearer view. Writing it down seems to help it make sense.
Is an expression of emotion. Journaling is a way for kids to vent their feelings to the Lord Himself. Understanding that what is written on the pages is between the child and God, and that God is big enough to handle any emotions that He created in us, can be a powerful tool for kids to have access to. Being able to express themselves, which may mean emotions that they’re not proud of or feel like others would disqualify, very often gives them a handle on the emotions that seem so out of control. Many emotions function purely as a way of saying, “I want and need to be heard” and journaling can satisfy that need.
In school, kids are usually given a prompt and given ten minutes to write whatever they think about that pertains to that prompt. It could be a sentence starter and the child goes on to write a short story from there. Or, it might be an old adage, like “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” that the child has to free-write about. A spiritual journal is similar in that you’re writing whatever you can mine from your brain, but the focus is different. It’s important that the child keep in mind that there is a purpose to their spiritual journaling and that purpose is to keep them on their spiritual journey with God.
I’d like to suggest a variety of forms that spiritual journaling can take. Just like anything else you do all the time, if it’s always the same, you tend to lose interest. If you jog every day, changing your route can make a big difference on how quickly the time passes and what you notice on the way. If you like to read, there’s something special about the first day that’s warm enough for you to sit on the patio, enjoying the sunshine, while you crack open a new book. You can change up journaling by doing a few simple things.
Provide different kinds of notebooks and writing utensils for the child to use. Kids who have a high word smart intelligence naturally love to play with words. But, one of the things that bring them additional joy when they write is being able to use a variety of papers and pens/markers/colored pencils. So, in August, when the stores are full of school supplies, purchase a few extra special writing elements that you can randomly present to the kids. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at the boost this gives their journaling discipline.
Let the kids decorate and personalize the cover of their journal. The traditional college composition books (you know, the black and white books full of lined pages for your essay questions) make great journals for a couple of reasons. Right before school starts, you can usually purchase them for 25¢ … that’s a winner! And, the covers are sturdy enough that you can cover them with sticky paper or glue pictures on them without them disintegrating.
Encourage short-term types of journaling. Do a certain type of journaling for one month; then change. This gives the kids an opportunity to experiment with and find the type of journaling that is most beneficial to their personal spiritual growth. Some of these short-term journaling experiences are:
- Book of the Bible. The child will concentrate on reading one book of the Bible. Each day they will respond in their journal to what part of that particular book they read. It may be that during the month that they’ll actually get through the book of the Bible more than once, which will reveal new insights in their second time through.
- God-sightings. Every day the child will think about how they saw God working in the people or the situations around them.
- Prayer. The kids will write their prayers and write about how they see God answering prayer. Encourage them to write to God about their relationship with Him, rather than listing the things they want God to tend to.
- I learned today. This is one of my favorite things to journal. Every day I am aware that God is teaching me something. I’m also learning something new every day. Recognizing that I’m learning about God each day is an exciting thing to write about (and it keeps me from feeling too old.)
- Random Scripture. Take one verse. Read it and respond. Read it again and respond again. These verses don’t have to be connected.
- Spiritual theme. Show the child how to use the concordance at the back of their Bible. Choose one topic and then read one of the verses listed under that topic each day. Respond to that verse.
- Prompts. When you present the child with a blank journal, already have a question written on each page. Make it something fairly general that will allow them to write in a variety of directions.
- Seasonal. Journal during the summer, Christmas, or Easter. There are special insights that can come through concentrating on what these special seasons mean in a child’s life.
- Online journaling. Some sites, like YouVersion, have places on their Bible websites to keep a personal journal. What a fun way to change things up!
- Sketch. Younger children who cannot write fluently may want to sketch their journals. Or, once a week, a child can express themselves in their written journal by sketching what they are thinking about.
- Verbal Journal. Some children are so uncomfortable with writing that journaling is more of a negative experience than a positive one. There are some options for these kids. Voice-activated journaling is now possible through electronic devices. Using one of these instruments can give a child who struggles with writing the same experience through sharing verbally.
- Video. This is a wonderful option for kids who find writing difficult or who are just more verbal. Keeping a video journal can be done in private and has many of the same benefits … if not more. Through video you can also see yourself, your body language, and you can talk faster than you could actually write down the thoughts.
Journaling can be great fun while helping kids grow closer to the Lord. Some kids will latch onto this spiritual discipline with excitement and others will shy away. Your responsibility is to introduce the possibilities and encourage your kids to find ways that help them connect to the One who created them. Journaling is definitely one of those great tools that they need to know about!