Journaling helps us to think the unthinkable thought
Writers have the opportunity to be immersed in what James Moffett calls "chaos"—the complexities and apparent contradictions of their inner thoughts and their topic. It is a chance to think unconventional thoughts. Writers have the freedom to think the previously unthinkable, to be politically incorrect, to learn something. It is inherently messy.
Mina Shaugnessy writes that the mess is a sign that productive thinking is taking place:
The writer must be allowed something of a frontier mentality, an over-all commitment, perhaps, to get to California, but a readiness, all along the way, to choose alternative routes and even to sojourn at unexpected places when that seems wise or important, sometimes, even, to decide that California isn't what the writer really had in mind.
Often our journals are a wonderful mess of new thinking that goes beyond "stock response." Private writing can help us have new thoughts and gives us an opportunity to further develop our thinking. They contain the seeds of our growing thoughts, beginnings that expand our perspectives.
Journaling distills insight for us to share
Journals can be a wonderful source of insight. We can learn from our experiences as we write privately about them. Then when we find an insight that we want to share, we can take what we've learned and write about it for all to see. We can "go public."
The Bible has several examples of God telling people to keep a spiritual journal. It says, "At the Lord's direction, Moses kept a written record of their progress." Moses obeyed God's command to record Israel's spiritual journey. If he had been lazy, we would be robbed of the powerful life lessons of the Exodus.
Don't just write down the pleasant things. Record your doubts, fears, and struggles with God. Sometimes the greatest lessons come out of pain. In the middle of a painful experience, the psalmist wrote, "Write down for the coming generation what the Lord has done, so that people not yet born will praise him."
We owe it to future generations to preserve the testimony of how God helped us fulfill His purposes on earth. It is a witness that will continue to speak long after we're in heaven. So as you re-read your journal, if you find that there is wisdom there that you want to share, do take the time to craft a blog post, or write a book, and make it available for others.
Journaling fosters focus
Margaret Guenther in her book, Holy Listening-The Art of Spiritual Direction, writes: "I urge people to make a list, or at least notes, because writing fosters focus and specificity."
Journaling helps us examine our lives
Perhaps the idea of examining your thoughts and attitudes for motives that are less than stellar is a foreign concept to you. We seem to have gotten away from this practice, but it is essential if we seek to grow.
Journaling also gives us opportunity to consider how we are living: are we living according to our own values or just doing what everyone else is doing without giving our choices any thought? Socrates believed that the unexamined life is not worth living. [Quoted in Plato's Apology (38a5-6)]. As Christians we are taught that we ought to examine ourselves regularly so that we can be discerning regarding ourselves, being aware of the actual state of our own goodness and readily acknowledging our need for forgiveness and help ( I Cor. 11:28ff). Emotional intelligence requires that we own our own stuff.
Our journals are an excellent place to examine ourselves. And as we see our shortcomings and failures to be who we want to be, the door opens to true humility and living with others with criticism and more grace.