Each January, one of the most popular New Year’s resolutions among Christians is journaling. We’re inspired to journal because we want to see and understand more about God, ourselves, and the events of our lives. And there’s some selfish reasons, too. Maybe we dream about the idea of our family members discovering a pile of well-worn, leather-bound journals long after we’ve gone to be with Jesus, weeping at the hidden wisdom that has just now been discovered. Well, that’s vanity on steroids, but it shouldn’t stop us from writing in a journal. In fact, the romantic notions of journaling often stop us from starting at all. The most important thing about journaling is fairly simple: just begin writing on a regular basis.
Scratch that daily journaling appointment and schedule a weekly Saturday appointment instead
Here’s a key distinction with new habits: regular basis does not have to mean daily basis. For years I’ve set out each January with the goal of writing in a journal on a consistent basis. It’s the daily regimen that ruins me every time. Miss one day and I get anxious. Miss two or three days and my inner judge begins barking condemning epithets that I’m lazy and don’t care about writing. Despondent and discouraged, days grow into weeks, and before I know it, months pass between one entry and the next. All because I set a standard that was too high to begin a new discipline.
But Saturday affords a more leisurely pace to reflect on the events of the past week. Instead of pressuring ourselves to journal for seven days without fail, what if you resolved to journal just one day a week, every week throughout the year? That inner pressure quotient would diminish a great deal and you’d have that written record of thoughts that you want to read months and years down the road. Even more, you will see connections in your life of how God is acting and moving in ways you didn’t notice.
The practice of recollection
Journaling is another form of an old, wonderful practice called ‘recollection.’ St. Francis de Sales taught the practice of recollection as step 1 in his method of Scripture meditation. In the recollection step of meditation, a person selects a biblical image or phrase, or a name for Christ (i.e. ‘Prince of Peace’). After selecting an image, phrase, or name, one simply focuses on that image or name. Slowly, the mind collects thoughts and the Holy Spirit begins to speak through the image, phrase, or name. This practice of recollection gathers a variety of impressions into our hearts and minds and we see God and ourselves more clearly than before.
Journaling as personal recollection is simply gathering the thoughts, conversations, and events of the week into one place. We need the space to see what has transpired in a fast-paced, eventful week. The source of much anxiety and frustration is our inability to see and connect all that is happening in our lives. When we slow down our fast-paced lives, gathering disparate events into one place, we see more clearly where God is present in our midst.
Journaling on Saturdays prepares you for Sunday worship
In Christian tradition, Saturday has been observed as a day of preparation and soul-examination for the purpose of entering Sunday worship with a centered heart. Western Christians devote too little attention to the spiritual preparation that should be taking place before we attend worship on Sundays, but it’s a vital part of our discipleship and participation in the life of a local church.
Journaling every Saturday can be a way of taking on two habits in one: you’re forming the habit of writing in a journal and you’re preparing your heart for worship. Before the body of Christ gathers in one place, you can encounter Christ in a personal gathering space on the pages of your journal. As the Holy Spirit helps you ‘recollect’ the events of your week into one place, you become prepared to gather with your brothers and sisters in Christ.
After all, being gathered into community is the calling of everyone baptized in Christ. But being gathered before the gathering awakens us to the call of love within community. And that awakening can happen every Saturday before you greet your brother and sister with the peace of Christ on Sunday morning.