Thursday, July 31, 2014

How To Begin A Daily Journal

Thoughts came to me this morning about my spiritual progress:  Am I making any?  How would I know?  I wrote recently about The Prayer of St. Francis, which I pray daily.  It begins: “Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace.”  I pray it, but am I?  What am I doing?  What could I be doing?  What does God expect of me?  Am I really growing in holiness, or just passing the days, in the same unhappy rut?
I recalled this morning how many saints have strongly recommended we end each day with an examination of conscience, asking ourselves:  how good did I do today?  Did I sin?  Did I fail God?  What do I remember as being important to me today?  I’ve read how Pope John Paul II always ended his day with an examination of conscience --- and perhaps as a result went to confession much more frequently than I do --- and he was a pope!  And, he also was a man I deeply admire.
I’m reading a book right now titled:  Pray, Hope, and Don’t Worry.  It is just short stories describing the hundreds of documented miracles attributed to Padre Pio, a humble Italian monk.  He could discern spirits like no one I’ve ever heard of before --- he often threw men out of the confessional: “You’re not sorry!  You don’t want to change your life!”  And afterwards they realized they agreed with his assessments.
How much do I want to change my life?  Does it take a mystic to tell me?
I know people who are not satisfied with their lives.  Read my words on the side of this blog; that was my feeling at one point in my life.  Many people want to make better use of their lives.  The culture says get more money and more things and more sex and you will be happy.  Really?  I had those things; they didn’t make me happy, not happy inside the real me.  I had things that gave me physical pleasures, but the emotional joy of knowing that I --- me, the real me that no one sees, but me --- I did not have the joy of knowing that my life made a difference.  And I had a yearning for that feeling.
Many saints, including St. Ignatius of Loyola whose feast day is today, recommended keeping a daily journal, to keep track of our spiritual progress.  As I wrote in a recent book review, he devised a formal set of rules to help a person discern spirits affecting his life:  Is this of God, or not?  Is God telling me something, His will, or is what I feel or desire merely my will, what I want?  How can I tell?  With Ignatius’ rules, and daily journaling of your thoughts, he showed how you can find answers to those questions, and make REAL spiritual progress --- and find joy in your existence.
Today I thought on those things, and I’ve decided it might be good for me to start a journal.  But what shall I write about: A nightly examination of conscience?  I’ve tried to do that and failed; my best thinking is not done at day’s end.  Often, then is when I do little thinking --- that’s why some older people are said to have Sundowner’s Syndrome, when their dementia worsens as their mind tires at the end of the day.  No, I think morning is my time to think deeply, critically.  Perhaps I shall decide to rise 10 – 15 minutes earlier each day, say a prayer, and then write some short thoughts on my prior day.  That might work for me.  Or perhaps, since I visit a chapel most days for Evening Prayer, maybe I’ll add 10 minutes then.  Despite being tired, God’s presence DOES often speak to my soul; maybe He’ll help me understand.  Maybe I’ll see which time seems best for me, after trying both for a while.
A task for me today will be to find a journal.  But I think once I begin, I will need to have a rigid order to my thought process, a true examination of conscience, with questions to be answered, like a lawyer might ask:  just the facts, not ramblings.  (I do enough rambling on this blog!!)
Thinking on it this morning, it seems it might be good for me if my soon-to-be daily journal has two areas of focus:  God Opportunities, and My Opportunities --- His will (perhaps?), and my will.  Under each heading I’ll just list the opportunity I had during the past day, and a short note of how I answered that opportunity – a scorecard on how well I’m living my life, day by day.  Like perhaps I might write this God Opportunity:  Pray for Mary’s mom (which Mary had asked me to do) – failed (I forgot).  Or:  Visit a nursing home (the mom of a friend) – passed (I visited her for a while, and made her smile).  And under My Opportunities I might write:  Exercise – Passed!! (Okay, that was easy today, I had an appointment with my personal trainer).  Or perhaps:  Pay the bills --  Failed (I don’t know why I procrastinate, I just do).  And under My Opportunities I might also list:  Read a book --- failed (This I often fail, because I DO read books every day, often wasting valuable time, to give myself personal pleasure.)  Under God Opportunities I will list things which may have been His will, and how well I answered the opportunity.  Under My Opportunities, I will list things which may have been MY WILL ---- done without consideration of God’s will, often the selfish things I did for earthly reasons, the things I should be open to doing LESS of, not more.
I think in writing, I’ll try to focus on the God Opportunities, because I know I often miss them, in part because I don’t look for them.  If you have never sought to see God’s Opportunities in YOUR life, should you try to start a journal like this you may be unable to think of any in a given day.  I’d counsel you to have patience.  Start this journaling exercise with a prayer, and I’m sure that gradually God will show you the opportunities you had during the day, to love His children, which is a huge portion of His will for you.  And, perhaps after a while you might even notice those opportunities as they occur --- and do something about them!  The point of this journal is to make me (and you, if you try this), to know God’s will in our lives, to try to change our lives to be more aligned with that will, and in doing so find more joy in our lives.  It’s a scorecard, and hopefully over time we’ll notice we’re hitting more home runs.
I think I may enjoy doing this daily review, once I’m firmly in the habit.  And maybe I’ll remember the questions more readily, and ask them of myself more bluntly:  Do I want to do more of God’s Opportunities, or more of My Opportunities.  What do I want:  more of GOd, or just MOre, period.   I’ve often had “more” in my life, and in the end I realized how “less” it really was. 
I want more God. 


  1. I like the idea of a journal. I used to keep one - until I started blogging. Every now and then i get out my old journal and look at it. It brings back good - and not so good - memories, and sometimes I pause and wonder, Did I really think that?

    The structure you plan to give yours seems wise. Good luck!

  2. I guess it is another God-joke that last night I began reading the book titled: Finding God in All Things, by William Barry, S.J. It is about the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius. In the introduction chapter he says that the exercises are for people who want to sharpen their awareness of "the finger of God," Who is trying to catch our attention every day. He also notes that Ignatius kept a journal of how God impacted his day ---- much like the "God Opportunities" I propose to look for.

    Reading the words, I felt affirmed in the correctness of what I propose to do. (And your affirmation didn't hurt either :-) )