This article originally ran October 28, 2022 on the Spirituality & Health site
Feel relaxed and connected after spending time writing down your thoughts and feelings? You have unknowingly tapped into the spiritual benefits of journaling.
In the back closet of my house stands a large filing cabinet. Inside the cabinet are nearly five decades of journals, going all the way back to my senior year in high school. Those journal entries, along with our family photos, are my most valued possessions.
Journaling: Therapy You Can Afford
I’m a strong advocate for therapy. During my time as a working minister, I often referred people to therapists. Therapy can be enrich your life, revitalize your marriage, and (literally) save your life.
In America, psychotherapy costs between $100 and $200 per hour, depending on where you live. But whenever people express concerns about the high cost of therapy, I tell them it will likely be the best money they ever spend. Psychotherapy is an important investment in yourself.
If seeing a therapist is truly cost-prohibitive for you, there is an alternative. I like to call journaling “therapy you can afford.” I write in my journal about twenty minutes a day, six days a week. Packets of composition books sell on Amazon for $2.48 each. I typically use four composition books a year, which represents an annual cost of $9.92 (plus the cost of a pen). In comparison, two hours a week with a professional therapist would cost between $10,400 and $15,600 per year.
Although a journal cannot fully replace a professional therapist, for me and millions of others, journaling provides exceptionally helpful, affordable therapy. Journaling aids me in making important life decisions, helps me navigate hard times, allows me to celebrate joyful times, and provides a tangible record of my life. For example, after I retired, I went back and read through all my journals. That experience provided a meaningful life review and also helped me plot new directions for the future.
Why Journaling is Spiritually Beneficial
Along with being a calming and grounding practice that helps us keep a record of our lives, journaling also offers significant spiritual benefits.
1. Journaling creates the silence needed to encounter God/Spirit
Our homes are often filled with nonstop noise from televisions, stereos, cell phones, appliances, and computers, in addition to outdoor sounds like traffic, sirens, and lawn equipment. It’s difficult these days to “be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).
There’s a fascinating story in the Bible (1 Kings 19) about the prophet Elijah going into the wilderness to find God. As he stands on a mountain waiting for God, Elijah encounters a fierce wind, “But the Lord was not in the wind.” Then came an earthquake, “But the Lord was not in the earthquake.” Next came a great fire, “But the Lord was not in the fire.” Finally, Elijah heard “a still small voice.” And in that still small voice, Elijah found the presence of the Almighty.
Setting apart the time, solitude, and silence needed for journaling allows spiritually inclined people to hear the “still small voice” of God/Spirit within them. This sacred practice allows us to “be still and know” the Other in our midst.
2. Journaling allows you to pour out your deepest thoughts and feelings to God/Spirit
Journaling provides people a consistent forum for expressing their thoughts, fears, joys, pains, challenges, and longings to the divine presence of the universe.
For example, last year my best friend died by suicide. For over thirty years, he and I constantly communicated with each other in a rare spirit of authenticity and vulnerability. To say I felt devastated by his death would be a massive understatement.
In the weeks and months that followed, I poured out my shock, anger, pain, and sadness—along with my eventual healing—in the pages of my journal. That practice, more than anything else, put me in touch with the healing presence of God and gave me the strength I needed to walk through that overwhelming loss.
3. Journaling provides a vehicle for expressing gratitude to God/Spirit
Gratitude, more than any other spiritual practice, connects people to the Divine. And journaling is the best way I know to express gratitude on a regular basis—for the smallest gifts of life to the largest. Research has proven multiple times that frequent expression of thanksgiving, especially through journaling, brings joy, contentment, and happiness to people. It also helps them grow spiritually.
How to Access the Spiritual Benefits of Journaling
Although much could be said about the practicalities of journaling, in the end it’s not a complicated discipline. Buy a notepad, pick up a pen, find a comfortable place, and begin writing. There are no rules.
Find a schedule and style of journaling that fits you—and write. As you do, remember to listen for the “still small voice” of the Divine that resides in every creature. Over time you will discover that journaling is an exceptionally life-giving spiritual practice.
Earlier in this article, I told you that upon my retirement, I went back and read all my old journals. Upon competition of that project, I wrote the following words in my journal:
After reviewing the past 45 years of my journal and reflecting on all the ups and downs of my story to date, I have come to a simple conclusion. So far, in spite of the inevitable struggles of living, my life has mostly been a good ride, and my primary response is one of deep gratitude. The Talmud says that over a lifetime a person should have a child, plant a tree, and write a book, and I’m glad to have done all three. At this season of life, I am a husband, father, grandfather, friend, writer, and child of God, and it is more than enough.
Author bio: Martin Thielen, a retired United Methodist minister and writer, is the creator and author of www.DoubtersParish.com.