The Red Couch: Life Path Discussion

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To learn more about Life Path, please read the introductory post. Be sure to peruse The Nightstand in that post, which has resources for those wanting to learn more about the topic and themes of this month’s selection.

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After I got married, my parents drove up to our house with a trunk full of childhood memorabilia. Now that I had a garage of my own, I had to store these treasures. One box was filled with journals from middle school and high school. I didn’t get very far in reading them before I cringingly shut the box tightly and left it to gather dust in the garage. The angsty thoughts of my teenage self were just too much!

And yet, I couldn’t throw them away. There was something sacred about those journals and that time in my life.

Throughout Life Path: Personal and Spiritual Growth through Journal Writing, Luci Shaw iterates over and over again the importance of taking the time to reread our journals. Journaling isn’t for important events or deep thoughts. “The true journal is a commentary on all of life, and often it is the casual comment, the trivial event that is shown to be significant as you reread it later.” (p. 55)

The importance of rereading journals came to mind last autumn. My husband and I had a business decision to make and were going back and forth over the pros and cons. One day, he was flipping through an old journal and found that he had written we would make this particular business decision by the date he happened to be reading it. It didn’t help us get to an easy answer, but the reminder that we had actually been thinking and praying about this particular choice for years, gave us confidence in our final decision.

Shaw shares a story of a member at one of her writing workshops only writing on one side of the page. That way she is able to go back and write down reflections, insights, and revelations about her journey. (pg 69)

This interactive view of journaling takes our private processes and makes them less “morbidly introspective” and more of a spiritual practice.

“After spending time looking into our hearts, we take what we find there, either negative or positive, and express it to God, asking for his response, his correction. In that sense journal keeping is a form of prayer; we are ‘searching our hearts’ in God’s presence and asking him to ‘know our thoughts.’” (pg 70)

This practice of journaling-as-reflection rather than simple brain-dump is what shifts our writing from the immaturity of a high school book of complaints to a thoughtful reflection of our journey. I’m not saying my journals aren’t a dumping ground—nor does Shaw suggest we censor our processing—but by going back and reflecting, it feels more like a conversation between my life experiences and what God’s path is for me.

In fact, Shaw encourages us to write everything in one spot and resist the temptation to have themed journals. She argues that, “… it’s that I don’t want to split off the life of the spirit—my interactions with God—from the others areas of my daily experience.” (pg 86)

We are spiritual beings and by intertwining our processing, or minute daily noticings, and our written prayers, our journals take on the complex, integral nature in which God has created us.

We are not meant to compartmentalize ourselves and Shaw reminds us to journal in that same way-in a way that is personal, natural, and honors the person God created us to be.

So, I’m taking the time to go back and look. I’m rereading entries from a few months ago as well as a few days ago and am learning to honor the journey. I see patterns that can be broken and answers to questions that I may have missed otherwise.

Maybe I need to go out to the garage and dust off those old journals. As I flip through them with new eyes, I wonder how I’ll see God’s work through those teenage years-the ones that may have been embarrassing, yes, but also formed the woman I am today. I’m grateful I have markings of that journey.

When we honor that part of ourselves through our journals and when we take the time to look back in reflection, our life’s path becomes clearer and those pieces become more intertwined as we see how God is working.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. How do you journal? Do you have thematic journals or keep everything in one place?
  2. Do you go back and reread past journals? What insights have you found by doing so?
  3. How do you incorporate written prayer into the recording of daily thoughts and events?
  4. What encouraged or challenged you the most from this book?

 

REMINDER:

Our July book is I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up For Education And Was Shot By The Taliban by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb. Come back Wednesday July 6 for the introductory post. The discussion post will be up Wednesday July 27.  In the meantime, be sure to follow along in the Red Couch Facebook group.

 

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Annie Rim
Annie lives in Colorado where she plays with her two daughters, hikes with her husband, teaches at an art museum, reads with a few book clubs, and reflects about life & faith on her blog.
Annie Rim

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  • So, I’m getting married in August and have to fit all my stuff (and his) into a one bedroom apartment. So, I’ve been going through things and clothes and boxes I haven’t looked at in years. I came across old journals, I’m talking middle school journals from my first experiences of journaling. I tossed them aside in the trash pile without even thinking twice about it. And there they have sat for a week or two. You, Annie, have caused me to rethink throwing these journals out just yet. How fun it might be to see how I’ve grown spiritually, personal and with my writing. Thank you for this!

    http://www.littlelightonahill.com

    • Keri, I’m a notorious thrower-outer, but have kept all the journals I’ve used in the past 20 years or so. I do regret having thrown the old ones, especially prayer journals from high school and college. It would be wonderful to see specific ways in which God met me in those day — I really think you’ll be glad to have kept those old journals! And congratulations, by the way!

      • Thank you Michele! I think I will keep them now 🙂 And will probably take some time this week on reading through them!

    • I’m totally a thrower-outer. Buuuut…. I do keep things like that. 😉 When it came time to actually throw them away, I just couldn’t do it. And I think I’ll be glad for that.

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  • Thanks, Annie, for this recap of the book. I do go back and read old journals occasionally, and my motives are usually utilitarian because I tend to jot down great quotes that I’ve found in my reading — it’s quite a process to find them sometimes and involves asking myself questions such as, “Who was I pregnant with when I read that book?”

    It’s always surprising to me when I read old entries because I used to interact more on a feeling level with whatever was going on. Reading Life Path has made me wonder why I’ve become so factual — especially given all Luci’s directives to write it all down — even the ugly.

    I journaled prayers in high school and college, and that was a pretty intense thing for me. I haven’t ever been able to return to it with the same intensity, and, for me right now, it’s important to be saying words to God — out loud whenever I can find the space to do it.

    I’m always encouraged and challenged by Luci Shaw’s writing (just finished reading her new book: Thumbprint in the Clay), and it has made me realize just how much my thinking is helped by writing. I can actually start writing about something (a decision, for instance) without a clue about what I want, what makes sense, or where I’m going to land, but the process of writing it all down actually seems to give form to my thoughts.

    • I love that you ask “who was I pregnant with?” I keep a separate quotes book but have to go back through my “real” journal to find those quotes. 😉 It makes for some good reading.

      I think that’s the beauty of journaling. People who don’t know me well think I’m very factual and intellectual because that’s how I process a lot of my life. But, I am a deep feeler and that definitely comes out in my journals (and with close friends…) I’d love to be confident enough to allow those feelings out into the world. 😉

    • There’s actually a Luci-quote that goes with this final thought, and thanks, Lisa, for jarring my dormant memory. It follows your page 86 quote and is actually borrowed from the poet, Denise Levertov who describes the writing process as NOT seeing and then beginning “to search for words to say what he sees: [but instead] he begins to see and at once begins to say or to sing, and only in the action of verbalization does he see further.”

      I love this idea that we are not only transformed by the act of writing, but we are also put into a position to see more of what God wants to show us.

  • About a year ago I reread my childhood diary, and discovered I wasn’t as spiritually mature as I’d remembered myself being. ha. Life Path has renewed my commitment to keep journaling (and rereading more!), even if in just small ways, and to include more feelings about the facts (ditto what you said, Michele).

    Some of my favorites from Luci Shaw:

    * As a writer, I have always felt that to “write what I see” was a special command to me. A writer must be an attentive observer of whatever life-experience is granted him or her. p 38

    * In my journal I am thinking my thoughts in God’s presence. What better definition, really, is there of prayer? p 73

    * Thinking often follows or accompanies writing rather than preceding it. p 86

    * Until we write, or speak about what we see, we may not know what it is, or why it is important. p 87

    * Don’t wait to “be inspired” to write. Start. p 89

    I’ve finished reading the book, but haven’t finished the writing suggestions. I hope to continue to. A great inspirational book—thanks for choosing it for us!

    • I’m glad it was such an inspiration! The artist, Clyfford Still, often went back and sketched a paper-pencil rendition of his “finished” painting. It often confuses visitors at the museum who think you have to sketch or rough draft something first before you can do the final product. Still’s practice and point was that we’re always changing. Even when something feels finished, it may not be and we can always sketch more. Anyway, “Thinking often follows or accompanies writing rather than preceding it” reminds me of that…

  • This is great, Annie! I’m so happy to see you here. I like that Luci thinks journals shouldn’t be separated by themes. And yes, I’ve gone back to read some journals I kept when our children were young. I like reminders of different times and perspectives. Good discussion here.

    • I know my journals now will be eye-opening when we’re not in the midst. 😉 Even though Luci talks about writing everything – even the bad – I try to censor that a bit. I don’t actually want to remember all of the feelings I have toward bedtime, etc. 😉

  • I haven’t read the book – but I might add it to my pile! I used to keep different journals with different themes, but then in the last few years I just started putting it all in one and my self feels more integrated with doing so! With the exception of one journal for song lyrics exclusively. Journaling in my childhood definitely kept some things stronger in my memory – although I’d have to make a transatlantic trip to check my accuracy as those journals are at my mum’s house!!

    • I definitely still keep “outlier” journals, but do try to keep them mostly streamlined. I think it’s so important to remember our own perspective as children. I know I see things differently from my parents sometimes – and that’s ok!

  • I loved the book and was challenge by it because journaling has been so beneficial to me (journaled since I was little) but I write so much “officially” online that my journaling has gone away a lot lately. But for me, I do journal a lot of prayers and it has been a really vital part of my time with God and so without it – my time with God is not the same. It definitely inspired me and revitalized my practice, which still ebbs and flows right now with time constraints.

    I keep all my journals in a box in the garage and occasionally do read old ones. I also have a journal each for my kids and write letters in them on special occasions or when something memorable happens. Reading these, for me, is so special and I hope it will be for them some day.

    I have had more thematic journals, which felt fractured. So I am integrating again and hoping this helps me keep my spiritual, writing, inner life all feeling more united.

    • I’m wondering — when do you plan to give your kids’ journals to them? I had thought that I would pass mine on when they got married or moved out of the house for good. But I haven’t given my oldest son his journal yet — and I find myself still writing in it! Not often, but after his wedding, when his son was born . . . I just had to write him a letter. I’m curious about whether you’ve thought about this aspect yet . . .

      • Michele, I love that. I had thought upon graduation. My mom didn’t do a journal but did this beautiful thing my senior year. I would wake to find quotes about life, faith, or little notes from her all year in my room. She put them all in a book by year’s end. But you are so right – I was definitely not ready for all the words by 18. I don’t know that I would have appreciated it then and there was so much more about my life that my mom probably observed that I needed to know. We’ll see…:)

      • That’s a great question! I have journals for each of my girls and have wondered when I’ll give them. (We have lots of time!!) I was kind of thinking when they’re in their 30’s…. I feel like I finally was able to look back on my childhood with a more gracious lens by then.

    • I feel like some thematic journals are necessary – mine for the girls or for certain notes for specific groups. But, my daily writing is all in one place. I definitely went through a pause when I started blogging but soon realized I needed to journal AND blog since my blog is definitely edited for a wider audience… There is something freeing about just writing.