Learning How to Practice Life Transforming Journaling
Dr. Norman Wise
|The Serenity Prayer|
|God grant me the serenity|
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.
Amen. –Reinhold Niebuhr
Opening prayer and general discussion on journaling
“Life-based writing is one of the most reliable and effective ways to heal, change and grow. Your life journal, whether it takes the form of a notebook, computer screen or blank book creates a present-centered between the past and the future.
The power of writing is accessible to anyone who desires self-directed change. It requires no special talent, skills or experience — only a willingness to explore moments of ecstasy and moments of despair, critical illness and crucial life choice, psychological healing and spiritual discovery.
Journal therapy — the purposeful and intentional use of reflective writing to further mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health and wellness — is an effective means of providing focus and clarity to issues, concerns, conflicts and confusions.” Kathleen Adams LPC, RPT; http://journaltherapy.com/kathleen_adams.htm
“In addition to these and other emotional benefits, research has shown that journaling can have positive physical health effects. Expressive writing, whether done in a diary, notebook, or on a piece of scratch paper, can lower blood pressure, reduce depression, decrease the symptoms of asthma, arthritis, and other health conditions, improve cognitive functioning, and strengthen the immune system.
Dr. James W. Pennebaker, a professor in the Department of Psychology at The University of Texas at Austin and author of several books including Writing to Heal: A Guided Journal for Recovering from Trauma and Emotional Upheaval, has spent 20 years encouraging people to spend 15 to 20 minutes a day for a few consecutive days writing down their deepest feelings. Pennebaker helped pioneer a study of individuals using expressive writing as a method of healing. He found that short-term focused writing can benefit all types of people, from those dealing with a terminal illness to victims of violent crime to first-year college students.
In Writing to Heal, Pennebaker says, “People who engage in expressive writing report feeling happier and less negative than before writing. Similarly, reports of depressive symptoms, rumination, and general anxiety tend to drop in the weeks and months after writing about emotional upheavals.” http://www.4therapy.com/consumer/life_topics/article/9552/539/The+Therapeutic+Benefits+of+Journaling
Reflections on your life journey– Think of your life as a book
Divide up the different parts of your life in what seems to be a meaningful way to you. Give a title for each part of life
Early childhood: Living in insanity – 1-10
Middle childhood: Being an outcast -11-15
Senior Year: Reborn to serve – 16-17
College One: Growth in Grace & Religious Abuse – 18-20
The Dark Years: Death, Betrayed and Rejected – 21-23
Beginning Again: 24-26
The Death of a Dream: 27-28
Unexpected Success and Joy: 29-33
Choosing Virtue over success – 33-36
Unexpected Success and Joy – 36-39
New Vision and New Hope – 40-43
Finding hope in crazy times – 44-50
Success, sickness, betrayal, struggle, and hope – 51-54
Loss of friends, extreme time of sickness, death of my beloved -55-60
More losses, new beginning, uncertainty, and new normal – 61-63
Now under each section write out the three key events that defined this time. These could be either good or bad. Expand in your feelings about each event and its significance in your life. At the end give your life a title. ( This can also be seen as different worlds we which we lived.)
The Cathartic Journal entry
- Main Entry: ca·thar·sis – Pronunciation: \kə-ˈthär-səs\
- Function: noun – Inflected Form(s): plural ca·thar·ses \-ˌsēz\
- Etymology: New Latin, from Greek katharsis, from kathairein to cleanse, purge, from katharos – Date: circa 1775
1 : purgation
2 a : purification or purgation of the emotions (as pity and fear) primarily through art
b : a purification or purgation that brings about spiritual renewal or release from tension
3 : elimination of a complex by bringing it to consciousness and affording it expression
http://www.mytherapistnc.org/emotions.htm – See for a list of words for emotions
Think of a painful event. Allow yourself to relive the event in your mind. What emotions are you feeling? What is your self-talk around the event? Express freely your inner encounter with the event. This is an emotional vomit.
Go back to the event as your most wise and mature self. Speak healthy words to yourself as you are in the situation. Don’t be self-condemning but helpful and healing in your attitude.
Put this positive side in a different journal.
If you have a healthy vision of Jesus you can also seek HIM to comfort you in this painful time. Ask the living and true Jesus to visit your memory and heal it.
Take the verbal vomit part of your journal and destroy it. Do not reread it. Burn, shred, or drown it. But release it to God and ask for HIS peace to replace the place this had in your soul.
The unsent letter entry
Is there a person who hurt you or helped you that you never have expressed your feelings to? Maybe they have died and so there is no way to express your thoughts to them. Perhaps they are not safe and to approach them would open you up to new abuse. It has been found to be helpful for many people to write the letter we would like to send to them even if we never send it. This becomes a method to get emotional closure and mental clarity about an event.
“This morning I heard the news the people responsible for the murder of a friend had been caught. I felt relief & that somehow justice does prevail. It’s not that I was close to this man anymore, but I didn’t wish for those responsible to get away with killing him. It got me thinking about how different life might have been if this man had not been killed.
I wrote a journal entry, in the form of an unsent letter, to him today. I wanted to let him know I’d forgiven him for the hurt he caused in my life, mostly because I know I will never get a chance to tell him now, but also because I needed to write something about him in my journal that helped me let this all go.” http://www.blisstree.com/articles/freaky-friday-145-49/
Questions and Answers
The Problem Solving Journal
Emotions about the problem defined
Analyze the problem and possible answers
Contemplate on the answers and choose a course of actions
Experiment with your answer and evaluate its effectiveness
The Good, Bad, Ugly, and Dream Daily Journal
This is a more or less daily journal.
Each day write about the good that happened in your day. Write about what happened and how you felt about what happened. How did you act in a way that reflected virtue and character? What good came out of you today?
Also write about the bad that happened that day. What events caused you pain. Express your feelings about those events.
Finally examine your actions that day and take 100% responsibility for your words, your actions, your thoughts, and your attitudes. What did you do that was wrong today?
1Jn 1:7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
Group activity: Choose some people to on a daily or weekly basis share your journal in order to establish emotional bonding and intimacy.
Questions and Answers
The Spiritual Journal
A. Answering the question(s) daily – Where did I see God active in my life today? And/or What did I learn about God today? And/or How did an encounter with God transform me today? And/or A question for God.
B. My journey with God thru my life – Begin from your first awareness of God and then look to record your experience of God in your life from that beginning to the present moment. How has your understanding of God and yourself changed?
C. A weekend encounter: Answer these questions on a day or weekend dedicated to writing.
1. What do I believe about the character of God? Am I angry with God over something? Do I like God? What are my emotions connected to God?
2. Why do I believe in God?
3. What could I do to improve my experience of God’s love and presence in my life?
4. What is the greatest hindrance to my spiritual growth? Why is this hindrance a problem for me? How could I weaken its influence and power over my life?
5. How could I express my relationship with God in acts of love and service towards others?
6. Are my goals in life consistent with my belief in God and my moral standards? How should I alter my goals
D. The prayer journal – letters to God
Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplications
E. Paraphrase the Psalms
|Psa 4:1 Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness! You have given me relief when I was in distress. Be gracious to me and hear my prayer! Psa 4:2 O men, how long shall my honor be turned into shame? How long will you love vain words and seek after lies? Selah Psa 4:3 But know that the LORD has set apart the godly for himself; the LORD hears when I call to him. Psa 4:4 Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Selah Psa 4:5 Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the LORD. Psa 4:6 There are many who say, “Who will show us some good? Lift up the light of your face upon us, O LORD!” Psa 4:7 You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound. Psa 4:8 In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.||Lord hear me when I am talking to you! You are my righteousness. At times you have given me relief when I pray. I need that relief again. Have mercy on me Lord. I do not feel others understand me. I feel like I speak into the wind. Why Lord, is it so hard to be heard? Lord, help me believe that you hear me. Help me to see that you have separated me to experience your love. Lord let me handle my anger well. Let those who are angry at me process their anger well. Lord, teach me the wisdom of silence when I do not know that to say. Allow me to experience supernatural joy. Help me in my spirit feel your reassuring embrace. Lord, let my heart and mind know your calmness that goes beyond understanding.|
F. Lamentation journal
Lamentation, a prayer for help coming out of pain, is very common in the Bible. When we hurt physically, we cry out in pain; when we hurt religiously, we cry out in lament. A Psalm of Lament is an address to God: a complaint, a request, and usually an expression of trust. Types of complaints include: concerns with the psalmists own thoughts and actions, concerns with the actions of an enemy or prevailing attitude, and concerns with God’s action or inaction. They are cries of despair, anger, protest and doubt. They are the largest class of psalms and were a normal part of Israel’s praise and worship. There are communal psalms of lament and individual ones.
They follow this general structure:
- Address and introductory cry: Identify the Lord as the person to whom the Psalm is addressed.
- Complaint or Lament : Articulate the problem and ask the Lord for help.
- Confession of Trust: Verbalize your trust in the Lord.
- Prayer for Deliverance: Request deliverance, or God’s intervention in the problem.
- Praise: Offer praise and thanksgiving to God for God’s many blessings.
Take some time and reflect on how the last week (or a time frame of your choice) has been for you. Make note of the predominant emotions you have been feeling during this time, in particular the more negative ones. Reflect on a particular situation or recurring theme that you know has been causing you distress, pain or anxiety and that you feel is beyond your control. Imagine that God is with you and that He has given you complete freedom to lay it all out, to complain fearlessly without judgment, in order to get it all off your chest.
With a piece of paper and pen, invite God’s presence and follow the steps outlined below.
- Address and introductory cry: Identify the Lord as the person to whom you are addressing your complaint. Request for His presence as you express what is on your heart.
- Complaint or Lament: Articulate the problem you are wrestling with. Detail how it is affecting you, the pain it is causing, and ask the Lord for His help.
- Confession of Trust: Verbalize your trust in the Lord. Share your hopes that He will come to your aid, that He will be present with you in your situation.
- Prayer for Deliverance: Request deliverance, or God’s intervention in the problem.
- Praise: Offer praise and thanksgiving to God for God’s many blessings and faithfulness.
WHAT SHOULD I INCLUDE IN MY SPIRITUAL JOURNALING?
Bible verses, sermon notes, or phrases that have a special meaning for you. Explore your feelings as you study the Bible. Experiences that have been meaningful to you should be added. New awareness of God’s revealing himself to you should be included.
The Dream Journal
Keep a journal by your bed. When you wake up and remember a dream then write down as quickly as you can the dream. Especially do this if a dream repeats itself on a regular basis. Dreams are windows into the subconscious. Sometimes if a troubling dream is written down it will stop because it has been “heard”.
The Life Questions Journal
Why is there something rather than nothing?
How do you explain human nature?
What happens to a person at death?
How do you determine right and wrong?
How do you know that you know?
Or any other Question you care about.
The Healing Journal
Focus on a part of my inner life that is hurt. This could be a focus on a traumatic event that occurred and which now I want to deal with. Or it could be me listening to myself and then giving myself the counsel of my most wise self. There is in each of us a “most wise self” who we could ask for help in resolving emotional pain. This is a record of allowing the part of our soul that is hurt to be listened to by our most mature self and then be given compassionate and caring “self counsel” concerning the feelings, struggles, and confusion of our lives. One can also seek God to guide us to wisdom that will help solve this problem. Just be careful about becoming dogmatic about what God said to you.
I don’t want to journal
Intimate small group conversations in what would be healing and growth relationships can bring about many of the healthy aspects of journaling if we can develop such communities of compassion, trust and truth.
“When we honestly ask ourselves which persons in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares” (Henri J.M. Nouwen, Out of Solitude: Three Meditations on the Christian Life).
“Harry Stack Sullivan, the founder of interpersonal psychology, used to say it takes people to make people sick and it takes people to make people well. I am not sure about the first part of that saying; the bent-ness sometimes spoken of as original sin makes my brokenness something I cannot simply lay off on other broken people. However, surely it is true that if I am to heal at all, it will be through being known and loved by other people.”
Questions and Answers
Final thoughts on Journaling