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The Joy of Journaling: How My Self-Discovery Surprised Me! - by Lorraine Espenhain

The Joy of Journaling: How My Self-Discovery Surprised Me!

Sometime ago I decided to start keeping a journal. This was something that I never did before, but once I developed the habit of connecting with my journal on a daily basis, I found that my life began to change for the better.

One of the biggest reasons why I never kept a journal was because I would say to myself, “What’s the point?” Since then, I have learned a lot about the benefits of journaling, and I only wish that I had begun this wonderful practice years earlier.

Another reason why I never kept a journal was because I was always worried about somebody finding the notebook or journal in which I poured out my innermost secret thoughts.

Girly Journals, Dark Secrets

I remember when I was a little girl, my mother purchased pink journals for me and my sisters. I think I was only in the 4th grade at that time. I would write in it every day and then hide it beneath my mattress. Then, one afternoon, when I was playing in my girlfriend’s backyard, my twin sister and I got into a fight.

In retaliation, she announced to everyone in the group what I had written in my journal! Everyone in that backyard learned that I was “madly in love” with a certain boy in my class. Apparently, my sister had found my journal and was reading my entries on a daily basis.

What gall! What nerve! I felt so violated. Everyone in the group awaited my response; they were not disappointed. I stood on my girlfriend’s picnic table and then proceed to pontificate to the crowd everything that had been written in my sister’s journal as well!

Yes, little hypocrite that I was… I was just as guilty of invading her privacy as she had invaded mine. What goes around comes around. We were not always good little girls. But because of that incident, I never wrote in a journal again. Let’s just say that I had trust issues.

Getting Back in the Saddle

But this past year, I have decided to start journaling again, and I must say that I’m loving it!

Journaling is a powerful tool that takes you on a journey of self-discovery. By writing down your thoughts and feelings, you discover who you are, how you came to be that way, and why you react in certain ways or think the way you do.

Journaling helps us to identify problem areas and patterns in our lives that need to be corrected. It gives us the opportunity to empty ourselves of all of the thoughts, feelings, and emotions that are bottled up in our brains.

Journaling also brings healing. There’s nothing more rewarding and emotion-releasing then a nice venting session with a piece of paper. Sometimes, when you journal about painful situations that have occurred in your life, you might find yourself crying as you write down your thoughts and feelings.

But this is good, for you are releasing your pent-up emotions! You’re getting all of that negativity out. You’re forcing those negative emotional reactions, thoughts, and feelings into words rather than keeping all of these things bottled up.

Your daily journal becomes a sounding board for all of your thoughts, dreams, plans, and goals.

Personal Solutions without Personal Branding

I have also discovered that by journaling, solutions have come to my mind, and all because I was writing about the different problems that were in my life.

I’m sure that many of us have different people in our lives with whom we feel comfortable sharing our thoughts and feelings about different things. My husband is my best friend, and with him, I am completely comfortable discussing anything.

But very few of us share everything that we’re thinking or feeling with others – even with a spouse. In my own life, I have found out the hard way that it’s much safer to write your thoughts and feelings down in a journal than it is to share them with most people.

If you end up sharing your feelings and thoughts with the wrong person, you may find yourself being criticized, judged, condemned, misunderstood, or worse, labeled with a permanent marker. I think we’ve all experienced this in the past haven’t we? You shared something with someone whom you thought you could trust, and the minute you did, out came the label and that nasty permanent marker.

When things like this happen to people over and over again, they end up keeping everything bottled up inside because they find it harder and harder to find people whom they can truly trust. The journal provides a safe place for you to release everything you are feeling and thinking. It is a supportive friend with whom you can share your goals, plans, and dreams. It is a non-judgmental friend with whom you can get everything off of your chest and vent to without fear.

To me, this is much more cost-effective than professional therapy. A notebook, a few pencils or pens, and away you go!

Pen the Good Things

But journaling isn’t all about negative experiences, thoughts, or feelings. We should also write about the good things that happen to us, as well as the happy emotions that we are feeling.

One of the most beneficial things that any of us can do in our walk with Christ is to keep a spiritual journal. This one practice, more than anything else, has completely revolutionized my relationship with God.

Sometimes, when we read the Bible, the Catechism, a book about the life of a Saint, or any of what I call the “Catholic Classics,” it’s easy to just read the words, close the book, and get on with the day without thinking – really thinking – about what it is that God wants to change or develop in us through what we’ve just read. A spiritual journal forces you to slow down and think.

Let me show you how writing in a spiritual journal when you read a spiritual book can help.

Melissa pours herself a cup of coffee and opens up the Bible for her daily morning devotions. She happens to be reading the Gospel according to St. John. As she reads, she sees the words: For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16). But then, she opens up her spiritual journal, and she begins to write her thoughts in regard to this verse:

According to John 3:16, God loves me so much that He sent His Son Jesus to die on the cross for me. If this is true, why don’t I feel loved? Why is it so hard for me to believe that God loves me personally? Maybe it’s because so few people have ever truly shown me the love of God. I don’t know how to identify and connect with, or even relate to, God’s love for me when I’ve seen so very few patterns of it in my own life. How am I supposed to understand God’s love if I’ve seen so little of it in man?

Although this type of journal entry might seem negative at first, in all actuality it’s helping Melissa to process information about herself and her life, so that she can discover why she struggles as she does when it comes to believing in God’s love for her.

Journal writing leads to self-discovery, and this includes the whys behind our struggles. God wants this process to take place, because eventually, she will work her struggles out and solutions will come. The first step to responding to wrong thinking patterns and negative perceptions is to find out how we got there in the first place. Where does the root lie? When we discover those reasons, we have something to work with.

But if we never write about them in a journal, we’ll just go through life stumbling over and over and over again without ever understanding why.

Hello God, It’s Me…

Have you ever written a letter to God? This, too, can be very powerful. Many years ago, I remember sitting at my kitchen table in Philadelphia. For some reason, I had been struggling with prayer for the past few weeks. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t pray.

I would go into my bedroom, try to articulate what I was feeling to God, and the words just wouldn’t come. Instead, I would simply find myself staring at a wall. One day, I sat down at my kitchen table, took out a piece of paper and decided to write a letter to God. I found that I was able to articulate in writing what I could not, at that time, say to God in words.

It worked.

It gave me the breakthrough that I desperately needed. Halfway through the letter, I felt the comforting presence of God where I could not feel it before. The next thing I knew, I was blubbering. I put the pencil down, went into my bedroom and prayed. I found that I was now able to say what I could not say earlier, for writing had broken the dam; it had demolished the mental barrier.

When we journal, we must be brutally honest. This point simply cannot be overly emphasized. Don’t censor yourself. Write exactly the way you feel without holding back. Don’t spend precious time trying to come up with words that will water down your emotions.

Doing so will rob you of the intensity you may need to break free from a mindset that may be hindering you and keeping you feeling helpless. Only when we write what we are truly feeling and thinking will we receive the therapeutic benefits of journaling. Holding back completely defeats the purpose of writing in a journal.

Embrace the Empowering

Journaling has helped me to grow mentally, emotionally, and most of all, spiritually. It has helped my self-esteem like nothing else ever could, and has given me the confidence that I had always longed for, but never had.

Journaling is empowering.

When it comes to keeping a journal, people have different approaches. Some prefer to write in a journal or notebook, while others prefer a software program. Journaling programs are becoming quite popular because privacy is a real concern when writing one’s thoughts in a journal. Let’s face it. People don’t like the idea of someone else being able to read their thoughts.

A popular software program is called The Journal. What people like about this particular software is that it comes with a password known only to you, the one writing in the journal. No one can open it up and read what you are thinking. I believe this particular program even comes with a free 45-day trial and only costs $44.95.

I keep both types of journals. Sometimes I like to write out my journal entries in cursive writing. But other times, I like to type out my thoughts for the simple reason that I can type a whole lot faster than I can write.

There are times when I have a lot that needs to come out. Writing out a journal entry in long-hand during such times would simply take too long, and would leave me with horrible cramping in my hands, which would then hinder me from writing all that needs to come out.

When I have a lot inside of me that needs to be processed, I type out my journal entries instead. I find this to be a lot easier on my hands.

So, there you are, dear friends! It’s said that a life worth living is a life worth writing about. Go for it!

Buy yourself a notebook, a couple of pens, get alone with your thoughts, scribble them down on paper… and then feel the power!


About Lorraine Espenhain

Born in Philadelphia, PA, Lorraine now lives in New Mexico. She is a wife, homeschooling mother, religious instructor, and freelance writer with 200+ articles on Catholic.net. She also has her own children’s column at Agua Viva, her diocesan newspaper. Meet Lorraine
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