1 Peter 5:7 – “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”
In this verse, Peter gives us a command, one that is absolutely essential for spiritual and emotional health. But he doesn’t tell us exactly how to do it. No doubt some approach comes to your mind as you read the verse, but more might be involved than would immediately register with you. This article describes in detail an approach that has proved invaluable to me in my decades-old walk with God. Read it and see if it can be helpful to you.
Journaling – what exactly is that? Here is the first definition found when Googling the term: “Journaling generally involves the practice of keeping a diary or journal that explores thoughts and feelings surrounding the events of your life.” As you look further at those online entries, you will find many emotional health experts describing the benefits of journaling. You will also find that a number of famous people practiced journaling as an important part of their lives. David writing his Psalms would be a familiar example. So, clearly journaling is something good and perhaps very important to us humans. But as the title suggests, doing it with God is a higher level, raising something good to something great. In this article, I want to share examples of journaling that have blessed my life and at times, helped me climb out of a deep pit spiritually and emotionally.
A Resistant Learner
My wife has journaled with God for decades, writing out her prayers on a daily basis. I resisted following her example for years, believing that I was more in touch with my emotions than she is and that prayer walks were quite sufficient to unload my burdens to God and find his solutions and directions. But eventually, my life became more complicated and the burdens overwhelming. On one memorable occasion, Theresa and I got into a spat that wasn’t pretty, and it was mostly me (nearly all me, to be totally honest). It was on day one of a three-day marriage getaway. She kept asking what was wrong with me and I honestly didn’t know. The next morning a long prayer walk didn’t put me in touch with what was eating at me, nor did the one the next day. I had two bad days, and I’m sure she must have had the same, having to put up with me.
The third day as we returned home, the first part of the trip was on a ferry from Nantucket to Cape Cod. For the two plus hours on the boat, I was typing on my laptop almost feverishly, pouring out my pain to God. That was one intense introduction to serious journaling with God. I discovered that journaling exposed my heart and soul like nothing else. We can be full of disturbing feelings and not be able to identify them, feeling terrible and not really knowing why. Times like this occur when too many different disturbances in our personal universe are crammed in together. Praying about them or talking to others about them is helpful, for it distills them down to about the size of our mouths. Writing about them (think pen and paper) distills them down to the size of a pen point. Then the minute details start to emerge, and we begin to see the issues much more clearly.
That particular day, now many years ago, I discovered the main areas of my burdens. I not only listed the areas; I gave each one a percentage of the total burden I was feeling. Something about getting it all written down and evaluating it started freeing me up and giving me hope. There was light at the end of the tunnel after all! As I prayed, God started helping me see answers to each of those five areas. My world righted itself and my wife’s better husband returned! That husband discovered that his wife’s approach to journaling was a hidden treasure that would bless him for years to come. It was a memorable boat ride and the start of my journaling with God. The truth is that I am more in touch with my emotions than my wife is and most of the time my prayer walks do accomplish what I need with God. But there are times that the victory of surrender simply will not occur without journaling with God.
The Latest Version
Let me skip to my last such victory, a very recent one. I discovered a somewhat new approach that really helped. It may help you. This year (2019) has been a difficult one for me, and for us as a couple. Although our marriage is doing quite well, other aspects of life have been seriously challenging, to the point of me becoming overwhelmed (again). Thankfully, Theresa and I almost always remain very united in facing challenges and we have this year as well. I won’t share those challenges in any detail but suffice it to say that I desperately needed a victory of surrender.
I started my trek in that direction by setting aside an open-ended period of time to write at my computer. After listing a number of my burdens with which I was in touch, it became obvious that they all fit into five total categories. They were: personal concerns; family concerns; friends concerns; church concerns; and world concerns (especially those in my home country, our current society). I ended up with quite a number of entries in each of these categories. Like Abraham, I had to face the truth before I could “faith” it. For the next two days, I re-read what I had written and added to it. I didn’t want to leave any burden hidden in the deep recesses of my heart.
On the fourth day, I highlighted everything in each category and hit the delete key. I was ready to surrender it to God, to “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). However, I left the category headings in place. For the next two days, I listed the most significant items under each category again that came to mind, a much smaller number than on the earlier list. Then I hit the delete button again. The next day (day 6 in the process), I found things to be thankful for in each of the five categories and listed them – the light at the end of the tunnel! I did the same on day 7. The following morning, I awoke with a feeling of complete peace and gratitude.
Receiving and Giving Back
Perhaps you are thinking, “Wow, Gordon, that’s a long process and a lot of work!” Yes, but well worth it. You may be built differently than me and maybe you don’t get as clogged up emotionally as I do. Good on you if that’s true of you, in which case your journaling can follow a shorter route (as mine does most of the time). But I know people well enough to know that many are like me – worriers who want to fix everything wrong with themselves, others and the world in general. My shorter prayer list has well over 100 individuals on it and my longer one far more than that. When I add too many personal issues to those concerns for others, it can reach the point of my being overwhelmed, especially if I am not processing my burdens effectively and consistently on pretty much a daily basis. Life does tumble in and too much of it tumbling in at once drives me to the kind of journaling process I have described.
Interestingly, this recent experience came at an important time. God is in control, always. We had scheduled some extended time (days) with a couple who is very near and dear to us. They came at a time when they were facing a similar place in their lives that I had just worked through – that overwhelmed stage. Our first time together provided the opportunity to not only listen as they shared many of their burdens but to share this approach I had just used in working through my burdens to yet another victory of surrender. Although the thought of writing down the details of painful experiences was not a positive one initially, the brother did what I recommended. I believe the writing, combined with much talking, was both cathartic and provided directions for further healing.
God is amazing – he allows us to experience hard times for at least two big reasons. One, to fight for our own spirituality and to grow though that fight. No pain, no gain. Two, to then share with others our challenges and how we found answers. We get help and we give help as a part of what the New Testament describes as “One Another Christianity.” For me, journaling with God is an essential part of his brand of Christianity. Although sharing my burdens with others is always an essential part of the process, sometimes only deep journaling with God will enable me to completely offload those burdens. I suspect the same is true for most of us.