Grow more: keep a journal

Christian formation describes that rich, deep and personal journey of change whose goal and fuel is God himself. Along this journey, we learn to live the abundant life Christ promised in ways that reflect him and bless others. We do this as we choose to submit the realities of who we are to God, becoming obedient to him and finding joy in surrender to him. There is a prize set before us and that prize is God himself, relationship with him and even becoming like him (1 Corinthians 9:24). The aim of spiritual formation is precisely this personal, internal growth of Christ within us, working its way outward.

There are many different ways in which we may intentionally create space for God to meet with us, grow within us and find expression through us. Most of these will include some sort of reflection, since being aware is critical if we are to grow and learn. As David Benner says, “The spiritual life starts with awareness ... we need to awaken and learn to see.” Developing the ability to reflect on our lives - our choices, our habit patterns and their consequences - is part of this waking-up process. This reflection is most fruitful when it is intentional, and I have found it to be particularly helpful to include the three following elements ...

1. write honestly

Keeping a journal is an obvious way to build some reflection into your life. There are many different ways to approach this sort of personal writing - your choice will depend on your reason for keeping a journal in the first place. Personally, I’ve found that I have to let go of the desire for my journal to look perfectly beautiful - like some creative piece of art I would be happy to put on display - and rather to simply embrace it as a place of jottings, scribbles and the odd coffee stain. If growth is the goal then more important than presentation is for your journal to become a place of honest reflection. 

When we start to reflect on our lives, we are presented with a choice: will we humbly face who we really are, as different from who we want to be? Journaling is a way to do this, providing us with a regular opportunity to ‘look in the mirror’, as it were. When we journal reflectively and with humility, this allows us to become increasingly self-aware. Humility reminds us to listen to God as we reflect, aware that we have much to learn. Journaling provides a framework for intentional and focused participation in an ongoing conversation with God (hide your journal from prying eyes, if you must!).

2. ask yourself questions

When we incorporate into our journaling specific questions designed to shine light on the many facets of our living, and we face those questions honestly, over time we are disabused of our illusions about ourselves, creating space for new growth. Richard Rohr says that the “constant problem we are to ourselves” is revealed to us through this process, and it “opens up new spaces within us for learning and loving.” The sense of personal humility that grows creates in us a greater appetite for God and his work in our lives, an appetite that is crucial for change to take place.

A good question can really help us to get to the heart of our own behaviour patterns and sticking points. Here are 5 possible questions to get you started:

  1. What are the behaviours I use to distract myself from those things I do not want to face?
  2. What habit patterns appear when I am under pressure and what does this teach me about myself?
  3. What do I genuinely love and how is this demonstrated by my choices and habits? What is my deepest, truest prayer for my life currently?
  4. What would life look like if I were fully present in my own life, not simply working towards the next thing?
  5. At what points in my life have things appeared to be going wrong, when actually they were going right? How did my faith experience those times?

3. invite others in

In addition to journaling and responding to specific questions, as we become willing to share our authentic selves with others, we are enabled to grow with their support. If you are anything like me, while you’re aware that we need others to be part of our growth process, it's not always easy to know how to invite others in. 

What might it look like for you to invite others into this journey of growing awareness? Think of those people with whom you already have good and growing relationship. Perhaps you could invite two or three of these friends to join you in a regular time of authentic, undefended discussion. Agree a question you will each make the focus of your individual journalling. Then each time you meet - over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine - you could talk through your personal responses to the question. What came up for you? How was this similar or different to what your friends found themselves mulling over? Not only is this a sure way to deepen these relationships, but you will be creating a hot house for growth in your own life.

We learn from listening to the others and “When we learn to listen,” as Henri Nouwen says, “our lives become obedient.” The conversation that emerges as a result of these intimate connections can lead us to experience our ordinary everyday lives in a more honest and life-giving way.

The formational effects of journalling are simple, yet profound. This is an easy practice to implement, yet can have far-reaching effects in people’s personal growth and in building community. Richard Foster argues that spiritual practices “are meant to bring the abundance of God into our lives.” I believe that is exactly what this personal and shared process of reflection and journaling can do for you too.


David Benner (2011) Soulful Spirituality: Becoming Fully Alive and Deeply Human

John Ortberg (2002) The Life You’ve Always Wanted: Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People

Dallas Willard (1988) The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives