A wise man named Blythe Harper told me at nineteen that one of the smartest things I could do in my life was to keep a personal spiritual journal or diary.
I started practicing his advice on October 30, 1972. I’ve been doing it ever since–for the past forty-four years.
At the moment, I’m looking down at the yellowed first page of that record when my hand-writing was still young and vibrant, and the thoughts flowed like water!
I’m sure glad I heeded his advice.
You can also leave a legacy through journaling.
To the left of my desk is a shelf that contains more than four feet worth of those journals, painstakingly kept over four decades. The early years were written on college-ruled paper and filed in notebooks; the middle segment were penned into the pages of a Youth With A Mission Prayer Diary; the last ten years have been complied and stored on computer with a paper copy back up.
I’m really glad that I did it. These precious journals contain many things that are irreplaceable to me:
- They share the story of my growth as a young believer to a forty-plus year career missionary with YWAM.
- They contain my thoughts on many subjects, personal, theological, practical, and relational.
- They tell all the stories of my travels, ministry, and spiritual highlights over a lifetime.
- They record the details and records of all the people I’ve met during my life on all the continents of the world and in sixty nations–what a treasure!
- They expose my personal failures and struggles, and how God made a way out of them for me.
- They help me remember the many things that God has taught me and spoken to me over forty plus years of walking with him.
It’s amazing how much you forget in a single day, let alone a year or a lifetime. One of my current practices with the journal is to print it out at the end of every year and then use the month of January to read it through again and remind myself of the things God has showed me and what he’s doing in my life. I’m always amazed at how much I forget–if it weren’t for the discipline of writing.
That’s why they say writing is 20/20 memory.
Yes–I’m like everyone else–not always faithful to record in the journal. When I started out in 1972, I wrote something down everyday. But for years now, I don’t write daily, just regularly to record the highlights of life and keep the thread of continuity going. Sometimes I get way behind and have to catch up on a trip or long flight across the ocean.
But I always catch up and keep the tale building. It’s a tremendous benefit to my own life–even if no one else ever sees it.
One thing I use the journal for is to organize my time wisely–what the Bible calls “numbering our days” (Psalm 90:12). About thirty years ago I prayed about the possible length of my lifetime based on the ages of parents, grandparents and other factors–and settled on eighty-five years. There’s no guarantee, but that’s what I’m aiming for.
Then I decided to “number my days”–literally–and place the number of days that I’ve already lived and the number of days I could possibly live (up to age 85) on each entry page of my journal. The purpose was to remind me that life is short, there’s no time to waste.
Thirty years ago those numbers stood at 10,952 days lived with 20,067 to go. Today those numbers stand at 22,968 days lived, and 7,963 left. Looking at those stats almost daily places a great motivation in my heart and conscience to make my life count for eternity. At this stage in my career, the hands of the clock are turning faster and faster.
But besides the personal benefits of journaling, I figured out a long time ago that recording my journey might be a blessing to my family, my children and grand children, or anybody else who might be interested. Years ago God impressed me that journaling was a great way to leave a legacy to those who come after you–so that they can learn from your mistakes and be inspired by your victories.
That’s a great motivation to keep writing–for the help and encouragement of others–especially those who are your own flesh and blood. (Nobody else may be interested!)
Sometime in the future I’m going to put those journals into a book form that can be passed down to my ancestors. I want them to learn how I survived the death of my mother, the imprisonment of my father, how I found God at fifteen and was called into his service at nineteen. I want them to read of all of God’s miracles in my life and how he carried me through the trials and stressed that we all face. I want them to know that I loved God with all my heart and want them to love him too.
Even if I don’t get around to the book, the journals are there. They’re a permanent record that I’m sure someone will enjoy.
They won’t know much about the real me unless I tell them–and write it down for them to read. The cool thing about today’s world is that it’s pretty easy to put your thoughts in a book form. Computers make that process easy and it doesn’t cost much to self-publish. You can print ten copies for your grandkids or 100,000 if your life is a block-buster. By the time I reach eighty-five in 2038, they’ll probably have figured out a way to take my old written journals, and scan them straight into type!
It gets easier every year.
Journaling is one of the simplest and most long-lasting ways to leave a legacy to your family and friends– one they can hold onto and cherish for the rest of their lives–and pass on to others. As Francis Bacon once said, “Reading makes a full man…writing an exact man.” I want to “fill up” my descendants with the great news of God’s grace in my life–and the only way I can be “exact” about it is to write it down.
It’s that simple.
So how about you? You say you’re older and it’s too late to start journaling? How about doing a “recap” of your life that can be a blessing for generations to come. If you’re closer to mid-stream, why not get started with that wealth of life experience that can be a help to those that follow you.
And if you’re young, this is the time to begin. Take the wise advice I was given over forty years ago:
Keep a personal, spiritual journal.
It’s your legacy to pass on for the glory of God.