Thinking About Journaling in 2023? Read on …

Journaling is Primarily a Labor of Self-Love 

Journaling is a way to stay close to myself and to the God of my understanding. It is loving  myself enough to want to engage in the deep mystery and truth of my own self, not only things  of the past, but in the here and now. Knowing and recovering myself takes commitment. This  requires me to explore my basic wants and needs, my wounds and mistakes, my joys, gifts and  desires, and my relationships. I’ve needed to dig deeply to find my past and present yearnings  for clues, such as those I had when I was a child and young adult, and what it is I dream about now, even if I think I cannot attain it fully in the present. 

In the early years of my contemplative spiritual formation, I was invited to explore a  relationship with God by spending time in nature. Journaling in nature becomes contemplative  when I reflect on the mystery, awe, and wonder in the natural world. I’ve come to deeply know  that all of us – and all created things – are carriers of God’s light in the grand incarnation.  

My sense is that God never becomes unavailable, never stops facilitating our growth, and never  gives up on us. We can be awakened at any moment, and our journals will ground us in the  present, holding all the many threads, lessons, insights and experiences that have made us who  we are today. 

Journaling is Countercultural 

Over the years, I’ve found that tending to myself and my spiritual life is countercultural – even  in some spiritual and religious communities. Part of the difficulty is that so much of life is  geared to explore things outside of ourselves, often at the expense of searching inwardly for  answers. Being faithful to our responsibilities and finding that inner path of purpose that only  we are meant to find, isn’t easy. One reason could be is that we’re so busy doing for others that  we’re neglecting ourselves.  

I remember when self-care initially felt selfish. Yet, reprioritizing my activities became necessary for me to be able to sink into what was most deeply drawing the attention of my soul. Taking time to discerng my priorities also presented another obstacle: I was afraid to risk  others’ disapproval. Yet by committing to the process of journaling, my callings and my own  transformation continue to be revealed. 

Journaling is an Act of Radical Self-Care 

Nurturing myself helps me value and find compassion for myself, no matter what has  happened. Self-care strengthens my spirit as I find the courage to do whatever it takes to find support and make healthy changes. Caring about myself sends a signal to my soul that I am not  abandoning myself, that I’m worth the trouble, and that I won’t let myself completely lose the way.  

Being in a state of unknowing is not the same as losing my way. When I’ve lost my way  completely, I’ve probably abandoned myself for a long time. On the other hand, a place of  unknowing can include waiting for clarity or the next thing to be revealed. I may or may not  already have a sense of direction of where I’m headed, but I usually have a sense of trust and  peace. In the frame of self-care, I’m more likely to see my options more clearly. Journaling my experiences and returning to their important lessons provides a pattern of unfolding that  begins to show me how the divine operates in my life.  

Journaling Helps Me to Mourn My Losses 

A wise therapist once told me, “The way you get through trauma is to process it.” So it is with  sorrows, and maybe especially those I have not yet mourned. Grief is the pain inside us and mourning is how we give voice to that pain. An accompanying journal is one way that provides  the sacred space and time for mourning my grief; it allows me to plan what I need to do to take  care of myself during this important season, and to savor the growth and healing that follows.  Keeping a journal, attending bereavement groups, contemplative prayer groups, 12-step groups and individual therapy, as well as talking with soul friends, spiritual directors and spouses, are  ways to mourn and process grief with others.  

Journaling Helps Me to Find My Voice 

Through the process of inward listening and journaling, my spiritual growth is sustained.  Journaling strengthens my voice. My voice is an extension of the listening I do and the true self I  am discovering and living into. Not everyone will agree or approve of our voice, but we’re  learning that this is not as important as it used to be.  

Regular times of silence and solitude provide a way to listen and find my voice. Over the years,  my voice has become more consistent – both stronger and more authentic – by the surprising  discoveries I’ve made about life, myself, God, and others. As our lives unfold in and outside of our journals, we will know the places where we can no longer compromise, as well as the  places where we need to be challenged to grow. I’m convinced that discovering the God of my  understanding and my truest self are two of the most amazing, grounding, and life-changing  choices I will ever make.

Copyright © Jo-Ellen A. Darling. All rights reserved.

My List of What Journaling Can Give Us

Since we’ve catapulted into 2022, some of us are once again in some measure of lock-down, as we deal with a renewed spike of the Corona virus. Yet, we are learning that this is the “new normal” and we must work at living in the pandemic without closing ourselves off totally to friends, schools, workplaces, appointments, etc.

Being a big believer in the journaling process, I think it’s a perfect time to try it out and keep it going as we hunker down to winter and wait for signs of spring. Chapter 1 in my book has plenty to say about that, but today I want to give you a list of the many benefits journaling can provide — whether you see it as being connected to a spiritual path or not.

I suggest you meditate on these ideas as you begin writing. Write even a single sentence per day — what is important to you, bothering you, what you need, or what is sustaining you through this time.

My list of what journaling can provide:

  • A place to share your honest and deepest thoughts and feelings
  • A regular practice of checking-in with yourself
  • A growing conscious awareness of what is happening in your inner world
  • Insight into your life and who you are becoming
  • The discovery of your True Self
  • A way to honor what has happened in the past while planting yourself firmly in the present
  • A place and time to release your tears
  • A way to recognize and honor your deepest longings
  • A path to find compassion not only for others, but also for yourself
  • A path to finding the freedom and courage to be who you really are
  • A place to figure out what you need and want

In addition, journaling:

  • Enables you to become committed to yourself and your own life
  • Gives meaning to your life by reflecting what is important to you
  • Can help you to release fear-based thoughts, feelings, and perspectives
  • Can be used as a spiritual tool for life
  • Provides touchstones to authentic spiritual experiences, such as when you connect with a higher power in your life

Questions for Journaling:

  • What is causing you the most stress?
  • What do you need right now?
  • Can you give even a part of that to yourself?
  • How are you going to do this, i.e., what steps do you need to take? What risk are you willing to take to give yourself what you need?
  • Who or what can help you with this?

“At this critical juncture, it may be important to stop pushing yourself. You may need to take a break and give yourself time to heal.

You don’t have to give up every-thing, but you probably need to figure out what takes priority in your life.

Everyone’s circumstances are different.

Only you can name where you must continue to give, as well as where you must, or are able, to let go.”

Chapter 3, Figuring Out What You Need, p. 88

Copyright © 2022 Jo-Ellen A. Darling

Gratitude: The Main Staple for Thanksgiving

Gratitude is not only one of those necessary staples of the spiritual life, it is the centerpiece of the feast that we can practice on ANY given day, not just on Thanksgiving. We can feast on gratitude anytime and always — when life is going badly or when it’s going great.

Having gratitude for “what is” also teaches us humility in a real sense: we can’t always change the circumstances in our lives or the lives of others, so we surrender and accept the reality that we have little control of other people’s choices in life. In letting go, we feel the blessing of transcending our problem-thinking and compulsive ways of behaving in the world. Many have come to know this as grace – a blessing from a higher power — a state of mind we know as serenity.

Gratitude is like gravity in the spiritual life: it grounds us to something deeper than what we normally see. Gratitude gives us eyes to appreciate our own lives and what we already have. There is ALWAYS something we can be grateful for. Practicing gratitude is a way to seeing what is truly important. This can affect how we prioritize our life: to whom we need to lend a hand, to what causes we want to give.

Photo by Mumtahina Tanni on

This year, my husband and I are giving to the World Food Program, the food assistance branch of the United Nations headed by Executive Director David Beasley (see link below to read his 60 Minutes profile). Put yourself in the shoes of people living in conflict: besides not enough food to eat, poor hygiene, water systems, medical care, and every other type of assistance we take for granted are completely out of range for these civilians. They surely can’t survive without food.

Beasley is often on the frontlines of famines and food insecurity the world over. Right now the people of Yemen, Ethiopia, and Afghanistan are in trouble and he and the United Nations workers are doing what we are unable to do. But there IS something we can do.

As we sit down to eat this holiday, let’s remember all those who are food insecure and remember how incredibly fortunate we are to take our meals for granted. Please give to your local, national, and international food banks this holiday season.

A Blessed Thanksgiving to You and Yours,