I am always alert to learn new ways to improve my journal and life story. I was immediately intrigued with an articleby Colleen Harrison http://www.ldsmag.com/article/1/13328 about “the sacred act of recording your life.” The author took this topic from a scripture written by Nephi, the son of Lehi: “And I know that the record which I make is true; and I make it with mine own hand; and I make it according to my knowledge” (Book of Mormon – Another Testament of Jesus Christ, 1 Nephi 1:3).
According to Harrison, there are numerous “genres” (forms) of “Personal Life Writing,” which include the following: writing personal letters, keeping a “log” in a day timer or on a calendar page, diary entries or “expanded log entries” (more details of events), journal entries (“reflecting, interpreting, and even prayerful pondering”), personal essays (“reflections on virtually any subject or theme), autobiographical essays (“life story in increments), and memoirs (taking a “slice of your life and reflecting on it from your current point of view).
The most important thing we can include in any of the forms of personal life writing is honesty about the things that happen in our lives – whether those things were in our past, our present or our future. To be of any value to ourselves or anyone else, the things that we write must be true according to our best knowledge and memory. Harrison suggested that her readers ask questions such as “What do I need to get honest about in my past?” Then we should write about that experience with some form of life writing. We could write a letter – whether or not we mail it – to a person in our past or we could write about the experience in our journal.
Harrison suggested the following prompts: “What things in my past still cause me upset? Specifically, what things, events, happenings, etc. caused me fear? How about what made me mad? Or sad? What about things that I feel responsible for (i.e. – guilty, ashamed)?
“Or you can focus the same questions on your present. What in your present makes you afraid, worried, upset, mad, sad, guilty, ashamed?
“You can even do the same thing about the future! What do you picture in your future that makes you feel any of those feelings? Shall I rehearse those feelings again? It’s really easy to forget them. We want so much to forget them, to pretend that they don’t happen to us, to pretend that we’re living in such a way that they don’t bother us or matter to us. But the truth is they do. It is because of those feelings that we are as troubled as we are, even though we are doing all … of the right things according to our personal value system.
“Pretending there’s nothing saddening, maddening, frightening, guilt-tripping enough in this life to honestly admit to myself and to God is what keeps me unsettled, upset….
“Writing … centers me. It focuses me. It gives me clarity to identify the `voice’ of peace and hope and willingness and sanity amongst all the other voices (trains of thought) running through my mind. … I believe this voice of peace, hope and sanity is the voice of the Lord Jesus Christ” as the prophet Alma testified: `And now I say, is there not a type in this thing? For just as surely as this director did bring our fathers, by following its course, to the promised land, shall the words of Christ, if we follow their course, carry us beyond this vale of sorrow into a far better land of promise.’
“This makes personal life writing – especially journaling – a very spiritual experience for me…. Journaling helps me slow down and possess my soul (my thoughts, feelings, life experiences and perceptions) with patience.”
Like Harrison, I have learned that the simple act of stopping all my busyness and writing something – anything – down on paper helps me to think more clearly about the situation. I often write the things that I would like to say to people, particularly those who upset me, and I try to write in clear and concise sentences and paragraphs. By trying to explain by written words, I am able to think through more clearly how I feel, why I feel that way, and even how long I have had those feelings. I have found on numerous occasions that the simple act of writing my feelings dissipates the problem and frees me to go on with my life.
This practice is good with either positive or negative situations in our lives. Sometimes I am overflowing with gratitude for a particular blessing in my life and want to share the blessing with my posterity who may read my journal. When I write the experience, I try to explain it as though I was sharing the event with my grandchild or great-grandchild, and I ask myself questions. What do I want my posterity to take from this story or situation? How can this experience strengthen my posterity? What lesson did I learn that I can pass along to the rising generations? When I have a negative experience, I try to write about it in a positive, uplifting manner; I share how I overcame a difficult situation in order that my posterity may understand that they too can do hard things.
President Spencer W. Kimball counseled the youth of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to keep journals. “Get a notebook, a journal that will last through all time, and maybe the angels may quote from it for eternity. Begin today and write in it your goings and comings, your deepest thoughts, your achievements and your failures, your associations and your triumphs, your impressions and your testimonies. Remember, the Savior chastised those who failed to record important events” (“The Angels May Quotefrom It,” New Era, February 2003, pp. 32-35). http://www.lds.org/new-era/2003/02/the-angels-may-quote-from-it?lang=eng
I am very grateful to Harrison for sharing the various genres of personal life writing. I am grateful to know the difference between the types of writing and that each form has value. Like President Spencer W. Kimball, I encourage you to get a notebook and start writing about your life. You are a very important person who has value, and your experiences can help someone else only if you share them.