Keeping a Journal – Why, and How!
One of the surprising discoveries of our family life has been the usefulness of keeping a journal or diary — at least one per family.
I tried keeping a diary when I was a kid, with limited success. My English teacher in high school introduced us to “journalling” for literary practice — an idea I didn’t really catch up with until blogging came around. Go looking for a “diary” in the store, and you’re likely to end up in the Lisa Frank section, full of rainbows and dewy-eyed unicorns, and not much to grab a boy’s heart.
But keeping a diary or journal has a long and honored history. One of our family’s treasures is a hand-written ledger kept by my great-great-great-grandfather to chronicle the goings-on at his South Carolina farm. It’s simple, not more than a line or two a day, but we read about the rhythms of planting, harvesting, plowing and ditching; about the seasonal floods and the Really Big One they had; about the texts of sermons and the days of sickness and celebrations with family.
the first Day of March 1851
Still Ditching in gum Swamp and halling cotton seed to Sumt. droping them 12 heeps to load 20 roas 25 steps plowing for corn in swamp all well
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2 to Day was the Sabbath and I went to hear the Rev. Mr. Tally preach and he gave a fine discours all well
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3 Still cleaning up gum Swamp and making the bridges about the ditches and the Dam or road finished the swamp Tapping for corn Still halling cotton seed in Sumter 3 waggons all well
It was mostly trivia then, but it’s priceless now … which hints that the journal we keep today may become a treasure to our grandchildren, too.
Several years ago I started two journals of my own. One was when I realized that most of my reading was newspapers and magazines; I decided I wanted to read something of spiritual value and something of professional value every month. I started a list of what I was reading, and it was a great help to improving my intellectual life!
The second was a practical matter — I had to keep track of daily activities so I could write weekly or monthly reports for my job. Like the reading list, it was a daily check for me — what had I done with my time for the day? Was it profitably spent, or was the time mislaid or wasted somehow? And it made sure nothing escaped mention when it was time for reports — or annual reviews.
Now, at the end of the year, my journal (which has morphed into more of a traditional diary) is the baseline for our family’s annual review. How have we spent our year? What has God done for us? What have we attempted for God? And what do we simply want to remember, both hard times and good times?
Maybe you already have a family historian. Maybe it’s time to find one! Or maybe everybody might put down a few thoughts once a day or once a week even, just to keep your memories fresh. Here are a few ideas:
- Library Thing — I learned about this website from a local pastor. It’s basically a cataloging program – you can index your whole library, or keep a record of books in a series you collect, or maintain a list of what you’ve been reading, like I do. A free membership lets you enter 200 titles, and it’s easy to download the list at the end of the year and clear out space for next year’s books. It’s linked to several other sites so it’s easy to find the title, edition, and even the cover image of the book you’re holding.
- Google Calendar — We began using this a couple of years ago when our different schedules — homeschooling activities, family businesses, church and employer and all — started running into each other. It’s a simple tool with some great features for planning ahead. BUT … you can use it as a time sheet or log, to record what you’ve done. And even if you use it the traditional, “what’s up next week?” way, you can look back at the end of the month and see what happened (or at least, what you planned to be doing!).
- The Reagan Diaries for inspiration — If you liked President Reagan, you’ll enjoy this thick volume, lightly edited by Douglas Brinkley. Even if you don’t like The Gipper, take a look at the book in the library or a bookstore (or Google Books even). For his eight years in the White House, Reagan managed to find time to write at least a few sentences every day; the only exception was while recovering from a bullet wound! This is both encouraging and convicting, Whenever I feel lazy about my journal, I ask myself if I’m really busier than the president — then I find time to write! (It’s also a good reminder that an effective journal doesn’t need to be a collection of page-long essays with moody photographs or hand-drawn illustrations — not if the grand design gets in the way of actually doing it.)
Our podcast talks about starting the new year with more Christ-centered focus – CLICK HERE to listen!