Do you ever find yourself going through the motions? You wake up, have devotion (maybe), rush through your morning routine. You go to work, come home, rush through your evening chores, and go to bed.
Rinse and repeat.
Each day feels much the same and nothing is distinct. If that’s you, it may be time for some self-reflection.
Recently for my morning devotions I spent some time in the book of Judges. In a few short chapters the theme became obvious.
The missing element was self-reflection.
Before the tenth plague in Egypt, God institutes the Passover. He gives them the instructions they are to follow. Then he tells them that the day the firstborn sons of Egypt are killed is one they should remember forever. It was to be a memorial for all their future generations (Exodus 12:1-14).
While they were still going through their difficult time, God told them to remember. Several other times in scripture we see the Israelites being told to set up memorials. They are also told to teach various things to their children. Why is that, do you think?
God knows the human memory and how fickle it was. He wanted his people to develop the habit of looking back often. Not in the “oh-I’m-so-vain” kind of way, but more of a “look-at-all-the-things-the Lord-has-done-for-me” way.
The same principle applies to us today. We need to keep a record of the things that happen in our lives. Human memory is fickle and writing is an aid to memory.
As I approach another birthday I find myself reading my old journals. One of the reasons is because my 2018 theme is "grow" and I’m curious to see if I’ve made any progress.
In my mind it seems as though I’m going through the same things repeatedly. Like the children of Israel I’m stuck in a time loop.
Here are my five reasons for keeping a journal:
1. To record highlights – At the end of 2017, I used Lavendaire’s format for self-reflection. I was shocked to realize that I couldn’t find many high points in my year. Did that mean that I had such a horrible year that nothing good happened? No, it showed how bad I was at documenting the good things.
When I’m having a bad day, words spew out on the paper. Everything is documented in stark black and white (or whatever color ink I happened to be using at the moment ). The good things were celebrated in “real life” but not documented.
After my 2017 experience, I pledged to do a better job of documenting those things that are good about my life. This will help when the tough times come.
2. To take note of lessons – This step is not about writing down the things that happen when you’re having a bad day. Well, there’s that part too, but after the lesson is revealed you have make a note of that as well.
Okay sure, there are some ‘bad’ days that don’t have a major lesson behind it. For example: you ran out of gas in the middle of cooking dinner for the family reunion. You had to spend two hours trying to find someone who was open and would deliver.
Is there going to be a big lesson? Not necessarily. It may be a note that next year you should get a second cylinder. It could be a challenge for you to find an alternative method of preparing some of the menu items.
Or it may be an opportunity to praise God. Be thankful that you had the money to pay for the gas. Be grateful that you were able to find someone to deliver the gas that you needed to finish cooking.
3. To check on your progress – Sometimes you don’t know how much you’ve changed until you look back at what you had written. This is not just advice for writers.
You can learn a lot about yourself by reading the things you write.
As I reread my journals this week, I was able to reflect on some ways in which I had matured. I also saw some areas that still need improvement (no, I’m not going to tell you what they are). My journals gave me valuable information that I can now use to implement change in my life.
4. To make a record of what God has done for you – A good chunk of my journal was written before I became a Christian.
As I read, I could see ways in which God was looking out for me. Like so many other persons, I went through a phase when I questioned his existence. I couldn’t see his hand or the things he was doing for me. But as I look back it’s so clear: my Heavenly Father loves me and has been trying to draw me to himself for a long time.
5. To work out
stressful emotions – This is typically what most persons use a journal for.
It’s the place where we are free to put down every thought and emotion that we would
not otherwise express. It’s our safe zone.
I have found that working things out on paper makes it a lot easier to express what's bothering me. Otherwise the person who has to listen to me experiences the full spectrum of emotions.
I recommend journaling as a way of getting your feelings out of the way. After you've done that you will be able to process what happened.
Let me add a note of caution here: keep your journal in a safe place. The contents can sometimes be explosive and may be misinterpreted. Similarly, if you stumble upon someone’s journal don’t read it.
A diary is a person’s “safe place”. It’s also a place for raw, unprocessed emotion. It can be dangerous if taken in the wrong context.
1. In hindsight things look different. The things that you struggled with won’t seem as difficult after the fact. It will be easier to catalog the lesson. Our written words often give a truer picture of the situation than our memories do. Have you ever noticed how sometimes the thing that you hated seems nicer in retrospect?
The Israelites were a good example of this. After 400 years of captivity God rescues them. They are travelling through the Wilderness on their way to the Promised Land. A year into this experience the people lament, “We remember the fish we ate freely in Egypt...” (Numbers 11:4-6).
In retrospect they only remembered the food. They forgot the harsh treatment and how they had cried out to God for deliverance.
2. You can learn much about yourself by remembering who you used to be. This sounds confusing but as we change our impression of self often evolves. When we reread our old journals it’s like taking a time machine and looking back at the person you used to be.
3. When we write about what God has done for us, we have a catalog of his faithfulness. This gives us hope when we’re going through new difficulties. Even if we don’t write about what God has done, reading over your experiences will show you his hand. You will see clearly how he had been working on your behalf all along.
Self-reflection is something that we should do often. It gives us a way of checking if we are going in the right direction. When the Israelites were led by Moses and Joshua, their history was repeated often. They had set times when they were to gather and think about what God had done for them and where he had taken them from.
When they did that they were closer to God. Meditating on God kept them from serving idols and gave them victory over their enemies. Turning their backs on God led them into sin and idolatry.
Those are my reasons for spending time reflecting on your experiences. What is your number one reason for journaling?