Originally published May 16, 2018
Between the autumn of 1977 and the spring of 1994, I kept a personal journal. I’d write about a wide variety of topics, ranging from Scriptures I’d read in my Quiet Time (frequently taken out of context and misapplied) to practical jokes I played on my friends. For the most part, however, I wrote about my disappointments, my frustrations and my fears. Toward the end of that 17-year period, I realized that journaling served mainly to fuel my self-pity. For that reason, I abruptly quit writing it.
Perhaps some people can journal without focusing on themselves. Those people should certainly maintain journals! Their journals offer rich treasures to those who read them. But I suspect, especially in this culture that exalts feelings and believes in following psychological principles, that most people use their journals for the purpose of venting.
After 17 years of venting my feelings, I woke up to the fact that venting only keeps a person’s attention fixed on his or her problems. Venting through a journal is even worse, in my opinion, because the act of writing slows down the thought process, prolonging the focus on a subject. So when someone uses a personal journal to ruminate on their feelings, should it surprise us that we wind up wallowing in self-absorbtion?
Self-absorbtion, however, is the antithesis of Biblical Christianity. Christ demands that His followers actually die to ourselves for His sake.
34 And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? 37 For what can a man give in return for his soul? 38 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” ~~Mark 8:34-38 (ESV)
Popular evangelical teachers promise us “our best life now” and romantic dates with Jesus, urging us to get in touch with our feelings. They advise hurting women to stay home from church on Mother’s Day and write their feelings out “to the Lord.” What horrible advice!
Honestly confessing our feelings to the Lord is one thing. Job, David, Jeremiah and Jesus all had times of pouring their hearts out to God. But in so doing, they invariably wound up acknowledging His sovereign right to order their circumstances according to His will. They ultimately turned their eyes away from themselves and back to Him.
If you keep a personal journal that revolves around your disappointments, frustrations and fears, please consider the possibility that it may be locking you into patterns of self-absorbtion. If possible, turn your journal into something your descendants can read to find Christ. Let them see that, no matter what your circumstances, He remains faithful and deserves the glory.