Journaling: A 4 H approach…

Posted by on Dec 8, 2015 in Blog | 0 comments

Most of us want to grow spiritually, but aren’t always sure how. One path many find helpful is journaling. I have been using it to varying degrees for over 30 years. My journals have become trusted friends, reminding me of insights I have gleaned, things I have been challenged about, and ways in which God has broken through to me when things seemed bleak.

You probably agree that journalling about your journey with God is worth doing, but might be feeling, ‘great idea, but in practice how do I go about doing this?’

First the basics. To journal, you need a journal (how profound). For some this will be a beautiful book to write into, for others an electronic storage system will be more natural. It really doesn’t matter – so long as you have a method to capture your thoughts and to which you can return at will.

Then you have to have some thoughts to capture. How do these arise?

Often out of an encounter with scripture. Read a passage. Less is sometimes more, and a chunk both small and large enough to chew carefully and to mull over is usually best. And as always when reading scripture, fire your questions at the text. What is it about? Which characters are present? How do you think they felt about what was happening? What was their context? In what way was it similar to our own? In what way was it different? Why has this passage been recorded? Why did the original writer make this record? What would the original readers have thought when they read it? Understand the text, but feel it as well. What is its mood? What is the emotional tone? Why?

It is great to interrogate the biblical text in this way, and we will learn so much as we do. But it is important to allow a second process to begin. The Bible is the Spirit’s book. We should expect God to speak to us through it. And as we do, a shift occurs. The book we start interrogating now interrogates us. It challenges us about our life and attitudes. My students at Vose know that I frequently say, ‘The book that we are examining is the one that examines us.’ This is the most exciting albeit threatening stage, and it is a mistake to try and bypass it.

Not that journalling only takes place in the context of Bible reading.

We will probably journal best after a time of reflective prayer. It could be that some scriptures spring into our mind during this time, but they won’t have been the focus. We are simply examining our lives conscious that we do so in the presence of God. We wait to hear the voice that will come – a voice that will usually only be heard if we allow ourself to become still and quiet enough to hear even the faintest whispers from God. For while God is capable of speaking in a booming voice, the consensus of believers from Elijah onwards has been that the still small voice is more common.

It may be that your journalling is neither in response to reading scripture or prayer… life happens, and stuff happens… sometimes very quickly. There are times when we just sit and ponder… or sit overwhelmed, and engage in catharsis through writing about what we are feeling. All good… it’s your journal, your record. In truth, it doesn’t even have to be a journal about your journey with God. Some people journal about their marriage, or children, or to help them come to terms with a significant loss, or to help them understand what is going on at work, or whatever. But I am committed to people journalling about their journey with God – so that’s where my focus is.

So how do we set about writing down what happens. Some like a freestyle approach. Record it however you like and in whatever form you like. Fair enough. But sometimes a bit of structure can be liberating and help us to get a little more from each experience. It is here that I find the 4 H approach helpful.

The 4 H’s are head, heart, hands and holy. They provide simple headings around which to cluster our thoughts and can help to make sure we have asked the most important questions.

Under the H as head I jot down what I have been thinking. Intellectually, what are the problems I have been grappling with, or the new insights I am struggling to fully understand? Or is there a new piece of knowledge that I must explore a little more? Or if there is a specific problem I am trying to solve, what can I learn about it that might help me to find a way forward.

H as heart remembers the old saying that ‘the heart has its reasons that the head knows not.’ It is true. Much in life cannot be sorted at an academic level. We need to listen to our heart. What do we feel about this? Why? While my feelings are my feelings, am I happy to own them, or do I need to note them as an area that might need healing – a zone where God might want to do a deeper work in me. And because I am journaling, I jot it all down. Years later it might help me to spot some patterns I might otherwise have missed. Or with delight I might recognise that the troubling emotions of envy or anger or disappointment or despair have lifted. Or I might have to ask why I no longer have the joy I once so obviously had. It will all be there, in the trusted record I am building day after day (or week after week – for not all journalling is at 24 hour intervals).

Hands are fairly self explanatory. It dives into the realm of what I am being challenged to do. And because I am journaling the challenge, I can’t get away from it. When I flip back over the pages, there it will be, begging me to ask, ‘So did I actually do this?’  And if I did, what was the result? And if I didn’t, why not? And if not now, when?

Holy records those most important of moments – those times when we sense with a deep inner assurance that God has spoken to us. Holy moments, transforming moments. And let me be crystal clear about this. No, they don’t occur every time we pray, or read the scriptures or journal on our reflections. CS Lewis famously noted of Aslan, the lion who represents God in his Narnia series, ‘but he is not a tame lion.’ And God is indeed not a tame lion, and is not at our beck and calling. But for all that, God is not silent. He speaks often enough. And when we sense what we are being told, we must not forget it. Write it down as a holy encounter. And be willing to live in the light of it.

Well… enough for one post. If your are not journaling your journey, why not put a toe in the water… make a start. It could be the start of a spiritual discipline that proves transforming.

As always, nice chatting…

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