I cannot possibly be the only person who finished my formal education roughly two decades ago and still feels a hankering to stock up on school supplies every September…and I’m not talking about purchasing folders and markers for my school-aged children! Anyone with me?
The shortening days, the cooler nights, the transition from peaches to apples and the diving into school-year rhythms: all of these changes beckon me to crack open a new notebook, delight in the smooth line of a fresh pen, and enjoy the smell of just-sharpened pencils.
In the spirit of the back-to-school season — and the thrill of new paper goods that it often entails! — I though I’d share with you some tips that I’ve honed over the past few years on how to keep a spiritual journal. Journaling gives you the excuse to pick up some supplies of your own — maybe a new set of colorful pens, and a journal like — and much more importantly, it provides an opportunity to pray, reflect, and get to know God in a new kind of way.
Here are five ways I use my:
Make a prayer list
You know all those times when you tell a friend or acquaintance that you’ll pray for them? And you know how easy it is to forget to keep up with regular prayer for these folks? Well, I’ve remedied the issue for myself by keeping a list of the people for whom I’ve promised prayers in the front of my journal.
In fact, I reserve the first few pages of any new journal for this prayer list, knowing that I’ll add names to it over the course of the months that I’m using the notebook. Each time I sit down with my journal, the first thing I do is read through the list, offer prayers for the names and concerns I’ve listed, and thank God for answered prayers.
Memorizing Bible verses has been such a boon to my spiritual life, as having the word of God engrained in my mind enables me to turn to it literally any time. For instance, ever since committing 1 Corinthians 13 to memory, these verses are the words that course through my thoughts in moments when I’m feeling irritable, gossipy, cantankerous, or otherwise unloving. The refrain works wonders in helping me to bite my tongue, lower my voice and do whatever it takes to be a more loving wife, mother and friend.
People have all, but my go-to method is writing the words over and over again in my journal. Since writing takes longer than speaking or thinking, journaling Scripture helps me slow down and really process the vocabulary and structure of a passage. For me, this helps the words stick in the sieve of my mind.
Reflect on Scripture or other spiritual reading
Another way that I use my spiritual journal is to reflect on Scripture passages or other writings that I’m not necessarily memorizing but that I’d like to understand more deeply.
When I sit down with my journal, I usually have either my Bible or a devotional that I’m currently working my way through with me; I’ll spend a few minutes reading, and before long, a word or phrase pops out to me. I write down the word or phrase, ask God to open my heart and mind, and then journal the ideas and thoughts that come to mind as I consider the word.
Sometimes I’ll do a little research to find out the context of the passage or other relevant information, and I’ll take notes. I’m not particularly systematic about how I reflect on Scripture or other writings; for me, the point is to devote time and mental energy to examining God’s word and applying it to my life.
Write freely on the feelings of my heart
A lot of times, I use my journal as an ongoing letter to God in which I write anything and everything that is on my mind and in my heart. I share my frustrations; I list my worries; I describe the highlights and lowlights of my past week.
It’s like I’m penning a letter to an elderly aunt, or writing an email to my cousin…except that I have absolutely no filter and no reservations about sharing everything and anything. I never finish a letter to God without feeling freer, lighter, and closer to my creator.
Use a prayer prompt
Sometimes I open my journal, and after praying over my prayer list, I draw a complete blank. No verse or passage stands out to me as worth memorizing at the moment. No words or phrases pop out from the daily readings or whichever book of the Bible I’m working my way through.
I feel like I have nothing new to say to God. While all of these feelings could be argued with (all verses are worth memorizing! We can say anything — new or not — to God!), I find it helpful in moments like these not to force myself to do something I’m feeling uninspired to do, and instead, take the guidance of someone else in what I choose to pray for that day.
There are many lists of prayer prompts available on the internet, like this, or this list of , and they offer a concentrated collection of topics for journaling and prayer. Favorites that I’ve ended up using before include: pray for your siblings, pray for an enemy, pray for your goals, and pray for your neighborhood.
It goes without saying that are not needed to have a healthy and full relationship with God. But for me, the act of writing helps me concentrate and connect with Jesus on a deeper level; it helps me integrate the Word of God into my life through memorization and reflection; and it gives me the ability to look back on my prayers of the past and to see how my spiritual life has evolved over time.
For all of those reasons — and for the fact that it means I get to keep buying school supplies! — I don’t have plans to stop journaling anytime soon.