Posted by: David Stewart | December 26, 2014

What I learned from a decade of journaling

It started with a challenge. That’s so much the way it works with me. I hear about some heroically foolish endeavor with real or imagined benefits, and I’m in with it. Although unlike crazy dietary regimes or the 30 day challenge to do 100 push-ups per day, this is one I have kept with. It’s quite personal to me, so I’m not sure I will hit the “publish” button on this blog post. And I’ve reached a milestone of sorts.

10 years of notebooks filled. Time to go shopping for another MoleskineBack then, It went something like this: Read a few chapters of the Bible every day with the goal of listening and understanding what you might be hearing from God. Then write a short journal entry about it. The idea is to throw some dirt out there with some water, seeds and sunlight and see what happens.

The challenge was to do this exercise in personal meditation for five days a week, all year long. And if you kept with it, you will have found that you had read the entire Bible through in a year. If you miss a day or a week, no big deal, just pick it up again.

Spiritual journaling was not a new idea to me at the time. I probably first encountered it 35 years ago. People would tell me how excited they were about the kinds of insights they were getting from their journaling. But, I thought, hey, that’s just not for me.

Don’t get me wrong – I always felt like I needed a lot of growing. I would listen to my own thoughts or speech and regularly cringe at how awful I sounded in my own ears when I would interact with people. Periods of wallowing in bitterness and anger. Or flights of unrestrained ego inflation just to experience humiliation and regret. But writing a journal? That seems a bit too hard-core for me.

In 2004, after various fits and starts, I began regular journaling. The proof is in the stack of ten books I have filled up. I did a quick estimation, and it looks like I have written about 520,000 words. Over a half million words. And I’ve read through the Bible once a year for 10 years.

I won’t say every day brings brilliant insights. Sometimes it’s all I can do to scribble something obvious and move on. But many many times, I’m astonished by what I learn from what I write.

What did I learn from a decade of journaling? As the Rembrandts sang in the theme from Friends, “When it hasn’t been your day, your week, your month or even your year…” then it’s quite amazing to look back on what I was thinking about at the time. For example, 2010 was a really awful year for me – I was going through a massive breakup of some long-standing personal relationships, which was creating all kinds of pain. Today, the pain is but a memory, but the 2010 journal is a record of the pain, an atlas of sorts for the geography of suffereing. I tagged a bunch of the better pages with sticky notes for future reference. All of this personal reflection would have been lost without the journal and the habit of journaling.

I really have a long way to go. I don’t have it all figured out. I need to do a lot more reading and journaling and growing. But if you have been thinking about writing a journal or you tried at one time but have put it on pause, I would gently suggest that you pick up the pen and try it again.

I can’t recommend it too strongly, because frankly the way my brain is wired might not be like yours.

But for me, the turn of the year means its time to shop for a new notebook.



  1. […] I’m fairly selective the aspects of my internal spiritual landscape that I write about online. Mostly that kind of stuff goes into my personal journal. […]

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