Summer has always been my favorite season, even though the reasons have changed with the passing years. As a young child, summer gifted me with endless days. We played outside games of pretend and wiffle ball, drawing all the neighborhood kids until Mom dragged us in for baths and bed. And every week I walked to my small-town library and gathered as many free treasures as my toothpick arms could carry, reading on rainy days and under my covers at night with a flashlight after lights out.
I also turned a year older in summer. On my 6th birthday I was gifted with a 5 x 7 book that I was allowed to write in. I’d never seen a book devoid of words, let alone one with a lock and key. I confided all my secrets to “Dear Diary.”
As a teenager, my nights and days were mixed up like an infant. I had sleepovers where no one slept and set aside my diary for the important clutter of budding womanhood – sparkling blue eye shadows, vinyl record albums, and fashion magazines.
As a young adult in the real world of resort sales, I still loved summer for the fresh, locally- grown produce and the commissions I earned from the drove of leads responding to mass marketing flyers. I had no time for childish documentation of my busy life.
But somewhere around my 24th birthday, I walked into a bookstore intent on buying, not a diary, but a sophisticated journal befitting my maturity and need for self-discovery.
When I read those entries from long ago, a young woman’s angst jumps off the pages. My mid-life self wants to reach back in time, give her a hug, and tell her that all her cares will be resolved. New ones will take their place, though, but she should relax. She holds her stress way too tightly.
Somehow in summer, stress seems to lessen as the days lengthen. Everyone agrees that the pace of life increases with age and technological advances. Take advantage of the season that gifts us with a little extra time and daylight. Start journaling, a practice that forces you to slow down and contemplate.
First, pick out a beautiful book. You can’t snuggle up in a beach chair or hammock with a computer that commands fingers to pound furiously along its keyboard. Electronic devices have too many built-in distractions – email checking, Facebooking, tweeting, and gaming. But a pretty, spiral-bound book and a pen that fits comfortably in your hand begs for you to slowly scratch its surface and mine the nuggets of wisdom that await you.
Journaling is a creative process that costs you nothing, but the payoff can be huge.
Some are hard to define, but here I pinpoint 5 benefits that should motivate you to take action.
- Recognize patterns. Journaling helps me recognize when my thoughts have turned to worry so that I can catch them before they fly into fears. I’ve recognized certain thought processes that would’ve remained hidden in the recesses of my mind had I not recorded them. Sometimes, just the very act of writing down my concerns takes away their power. Journaling can extinguish your worries, point out pitfalls, show you hidden blessings, and help you gain perspective (. . . recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood – 1 John 4:6).
- Track progress. I convert my problems into prayers and track how they are answered. Some prayers take a long time to see how God’s delays were not denials, but were resolved for the betterment of the situation at the time. I’m reminded to give praise and thanks. I also track my personal growth. When I’ve been frustrated by my slow rate of change, I re-read passages from the past and see that I’m slower to anger and more patient and trusting than before. (Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus – Philippians 4:6-7).
- Listen for direction. After writing I sit, pen in hand, and actively listen. This takes discipline. I know the Creator of the Universe desires a two-way conversation, so I honor this by staying receptive to any direction I hear. At first, you’ll think you’re just hearing your own thoughts. Then, you’ll be taken in directions that scare the crap out of you, and you’ll know this is not your ego speaking. Through this practice I was led me to quit a job, have a second child, get a dog, start college in mid-life, write a book, start a business – all decisions I would’ve never made had I not listened to and trusted this direction. If you listen, you will hear. Maybe not the first time, but trust this practice and your life will change. (For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened – Matthew 7:8).
- Get Inspired. After practicing the art of listening, and trust me, it’s not easy, your creative self will knock down barriers and inspiration will rush through. I always thought I wasn’t creative because of a callous comment from my grade-school art teacher. I can’t draw or paint. But there are as many paths to creativity as there are trails in the Smokey Mountains. My logistical husband can discover simple solutions to complex situations using only a spreadsheet and the creative manipulation of numbers. Your journal will be a place to document inspiration before your conscious mind beats it down with can’t, but, or what ifs. (Be still and know that I am God – Psalm 46:10)
- Document your story. Story has become a central theme in my life in the past 6 months. I completed my spiritual-growth memoir. I participated in and wrote for The 3:15 Project, whose mission is to lead people into a closer relationship with Jesus through the writing, filming, and sharing of faith stories on the Internet. And even though I’m not a leader in the traditional sense, I was recruited to write for #bealeader, whose tag line is “Leading from where you are now to make others better.” Last week, I attended a retreat where women shared their stories of pain that brought them into closer relationship with God. These avenues of story are very different yet have the same mission: to provide quality content that leads people to betterment through the experiences of others.
My favorite C. S. Lewis quote is “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.’”
We all have a story that others may need to hear. Keeping a journal documents your tribulations and triumphs, so that you help others through their pain by showing how you came through yours. (Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have – 1 Peter 3:15).
It takes 30 days to form a new habit, and there are more than 60 days left in summer. There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens (Ecclesiastes 3:1). Make summer your season for a transformative activity. Start journaling today.
Mentoring Opportunity: If you keep a journal, share the benefits you’ve received and how you overcome time obstacles. If you don’t journal, what are your reasons?