For a long time journaling has been my go-to spiritual discipline. Which is kind of funny because no one ever taught me how to journal. Somewhere along the way I realized that writing down what I was thinking, feeling, and hoping for, was a natural way for me to connect with God and start my day with a focus.
- Read – typically a Psalm and a passage assigned and aligned with the church calendar
- Jot – write down what jumps out
- Ponder – think about how the scriptures intersect my life…Is there a command to obey, a promise to hold on to, a confession I need to make?
- Pray – listening silently and then giving voice to my requests or writing them in my journal
- Read from another source and ponder some more – this time taking note of other pieces of wisdom helpful to my formation.
The process was definitely good in the moment and maybe for a few days at a time. But rarely did I go back through my stacks of journals to revisit: prayers prayed (were any of them answered)…significant passages (was I experiencing any transformation)…or find quotes that I wanted to utilize for personal motivation or talks I was giving.
But then I stumbled across one of these?
When I was in fifth grade and maybe sixth, this was the most awesome thing a kid could have in his desk. (Disclaimer: this was 4-5 years before the Trapper Keeper was invented) I don’t know why they were so cool though. Teachers seemed to hate pens and always wanted us to use pencils. Ah wait, maybe that was it! Multi-colored forbidden fruit at the tip of your fingers that you could annoyingly click your way from black to blue to green to red.
Now, over forty years later I have a rekindled love for the “Bic 4 Color.” Why? Because this corny looking ancient writing utensil from the 70’s has transformed by journaling practice. I began to color code my journal.
- Red = scripture references and verses that jump out at me Black = my thoughts Blue = quotes Green = people and issues I’m praying about
I still follow a similar format (read, jot, ponder, pray) but now it’s much more useful, helpful, and meaningful over the long haul. That’s the point, isn’t it? Following Jesus is as Eugene Peterson says, “A long obedience in the same direction.” There are starts, stalls, stops, and restarts. The voice in our head berates us with, “give up, you’ve tried, it doesn’t work.” But remember there is Another voice which is more like a whisper that says, “you can do it, I believe in you, begin again.”
I’m not saying my process is the only way or that you have to follow it. And I don’t mean to insult your intelligence by making such a simplistic suggestion. My point is that sometimes a simple change can transform a religious checklist item into a valuable spiritual practice. Maybe it’s time to start some familiar things over again with a simple new twist; walk through your neighborhood while you pray, fast something other than food, use a different translation of the Bible, get a new journal, or even buy a four color pen.