5 Ways to encourage kids to Journal

Writing - Girl in CarThere is no doubt that keeping a journal has long been considered a spiritual and personal discipline.  Even the Bible have hints of the journal genre–from parts of Jeremiah and Nehemiah and the psalms to first-person accounts in the book of Acts.

Christian history is also fraught with examples in which the act of journaling has connected the people of God to the movement of the Spirit.  St. Augustine, Julian of Norwich, and Thomas Merton immediately come to mind.

If journaling is such an effective way to grow spiritually, therefore, why not teach our young people to do it as well?

In fact, if a young person is called to be a disciple of Christ and can write or draw, there is no reason for that person to not journal.  Sometimes, they–like us–simply don’t know where to begin.

Here are five ways to encourage children to journal:

1.  Provide writing prompts.  Too often, we hear children say that they don’t know what to write about.  If we want to encourage them to experience God, however, it would be wise to give writing prompts.

Some prompts may include having children write about what they learned in Sunday School or church.  Others may be more general, like having a child write about how nature or a church season (like Advent) can help us see God’s amazing creativity.

2.  Show children how to write their prayers.  This is helpful in two ways: First, writing prayers help a child communicate with God in concrete ways that are familiar and fun.  Second, writing prayers will widen a child’s perception of what prayer is all about.

Prayers are more than mere words we say at the dinner table or in church; they are conversations with God in which we can be honest and open with all of the feelings, experiences, and circumstances that we face.  Writing prayers down help us memorialize those conversations.

3.  Let children copy a few verses from the Bible and have them write about what they think the verses mean.  We are often surprised at how much children listen and learn when we think they are not paying attention; just imagine how much they will learn if they engage the scriptures in a way that is intentional and reflective.

Scripture tells us to “meditate upon God’s Word” daily.  If I remember correctly, there is no age-limit to this challenge–all of us, young and old, need to learn how to meditate on God’s Word.  Writing God’s Word can be just as important as reading or hearing it.

4.  Let children draw as a part of their journaling experience.  When I had my first-born, I was delighted to find that stores sell kid-friendly journals that have a blank spot on the top half of each page.  Children write on the bottom half and then draw a picture to accompany what they wrote.

Sometimes self-expression is best portrayed in picture form than in writing.  Our children should explore every facet of art and journaling in order to experience and learn about God.

5.  Keep project-specific journals.  Children can keep more than one journal in their arsenal of spiritual disciplines.  A child can keep a missions journal, a travel journal, or a prayer journal.  This encourages children to recognize that they can “meet God” in places beyond their church.

It also encourages children to “join God at work” in the world as we adults point out ways we’ve met God along the way.  Taking a vacation, for instance, doesn’t mean we vacation away from God.  We vacation as a way to be on mission for God, and a child can record those points of contact where–guided by intuitive adults–God shows up to be at work in the world.

A christian is never too young to start implementing spiritual practices.  Journaling, as one such practice, is good for the brain, heart, and soul.  And, as St. Augustine once quipped, it encourages all of us, no matter the age, to tell our story “for the love of Your love.”


6 Spiritual Bedtime Routines


A recent Yahoo News article highlights the bedtime routines of influential leaders.  From President Obama’s late-night security briefings to Stephen King’s obsessive habit of turning the pillows a certain way, it seems that everyone “in the know” has a routine that nurtures success.

What about caregivers?  We are so busy during the day, so what routines help us prepare for God’s new day ahead when things finally settle down at the end of an evening?  Here are a few recommendations:

1. Prayer.  Although many people pray at the end of the day because they forget to pray during the day, prayer is still a worthy endeavor in thanking God for the blessings along the way.

The solitude and quiet of bedtime prayers also gives the Holy Spirit room to work, and it is not uncommon for a rush of insights to come when we’ve finally given our brain permission to rest.

When you get a barrage of insights, write them down in a notepad, lest you forget.   Then, once recorded, turn them over to the Lord.

2. An Examin.  Prayer alone can be quite helpful, but one of our spiritual ancestors, St. Ignatius of Loyola, turned bedtime prayer into a practice similar to that of day-dreaming.  This practice, called the Examin, has a five-fold process that many Christians, Jesuits especially, still practice today.

First, when one goes to God in prayer, there is a time of gratitude.  Next, the person imagines standing before God and asks the Spirit to speak into his or her heart.

Third, as the imagery unfolds, insights are revealed.  Fourth, there is a recollection of the day’s deeds and confession.  Last, there is a short prayer of intercession.

The emphasis of an Examin actually rests on confession for the day’s events.  There is a proactive, spiritual cleansing that sets the heart right with God and lets the new day come with a clean slate.

3. Journaling.  Useful in recording the day’s events, journaling is simply another way of praying to and worshiping God.

We write, and the physical movements of our hand and pen inspire us to sacrifice our daily living unto the glory of God.

4.  The physical act of getting ready for next day.  Successful people have shown great discipline in this task.  Sometimes, it includes drawing up a “to-do” list, as well as prioritizing time management for the next day’s schedule.

It can also help us put God back in the center of our lives by remembering what we’ve neglected or overlooked, and need to focus on.

Sometimes I do this while ironing a shirt I will wear the next day.  Another person I know does this while removing her make-up for the day.  The physical actions accompany a spiritual commitment to get a fresh start with God and with others.

5.  Letter writing.  There is something precious about receiving a hand-written letter in the mail.  Letters communicate a level of care and concern that exceeds most things we have in our life today.

Letters keep us in touch with family, long-lost friends, and acquaintances.  It re-connects us to the outside world, re-orients our minds to the needs of others, and re-imagines our lives as interdependent in God’s larger community.  It is cathartic to write, and it is cathartic for the recipient to read.

6.  Spiritual Reading.   One of Bill Gates’ routines is to read at least an hour before bed.  Presidents Obama and Theodore Roosevelt are infamous for reading hundreds of pages into the night.

Spiritual reading is invaluable for Christians who need the slower, methodical rhythm that such encouragement offers.  It is, as all of the routines imply, another way to worship and honor God with our time.

As you go about your day, remember that routines are the life-blood of the human soul.  They help us align ourselves to God’s Spirit and put into practice those things that matter most in our life.


The Spiritual Discipline of saying, “No!”

just-say-noMolly and her mother, Esther, live right down the street from one another.  They have a good relationship, and they’ve become closer since Molly’s father passed away a few years ago.

Without Molly’s father around anymore, Esther is demanding more of Molly’s time. Molly loves her mother, but she is getting frustrated with having to care for her when she–Molly–should be home taking care of her own children.

Molly’s husband said something about it recently: “You spend a lot of time with your mother, and you’re not here when the children and I need you most.  Your mother needs to learn how to be more independent.”

Now Molly is frustrated with her husband and, like many caregivers in the sandwich generation, feels torn between two worlds.  She doesn’t know what to do.

Before Molly gets more resentful, it would be helpful for her to learn a new spiritual discipline: that of saying “no.”

All of us have a penchant for people-pleasing, and so many of us have been taught that we are valued–and valuable–when we care for others.  We care for our loved ones, our children, and friends in need.

When we take care of people at the expense of caring for ourselves–and our immediate families–then we need to stop, listen to the Spirit, and learn to set boundaries so that we don’t burn out.

The spiritual discipline of saying “no” is one of the hardest to practice, but it is one of the most critical in maintaining a healthy relationship with God and with others.  It is a practice important for families, for loved ones; and, it is even important in the workplace.

I know of a bridesmaid and bride who stopped talking to one another years after the wedding because the bride demanded too much from the bridesmaid.  The bridesmaid chose to say “yes” to everything she was being asked to do instead of being honest enough to tell the bride that she felt used and manipulated.

The bridesmaid enjoyed being in the wedding party, and she longed to make sure the bride had the best wedding ever.  The lack of boundaries burned her out, however, and she stopped participating in the relationship once the wedding day had passed.

All the bridesmaid had to do in order to save the relationship was practice the art of saying “no” to some of the things she was being asked to do.

One of the best ways to practice this spiritual discipline is to try it on the small things in life.  When a loved one whom you trust asks you to do something that’s easy–say, go to the store or participate in a dinner party–politely, but firmly decline.

Give a general reason, but be positive: “That sounds like a good opportunity, but I have a previous engagement at that time.”  You have the right to keep your “engagement” confidential, even if the engagement only amounts to you staying home to watch a favorite movie.

Another way to practice this spiritual discipline is to keep a calendar in which you block off time for work, recreation, rest, and other obligations.

I find that if I don’t write things in my calendar related to my family, I either forget about them or I don’t make time for them.

It’s better to write down appointments no matter how innocuous than to forget or break a promise to a loved one who is counting on you to be somewhere at a specific time.

This includes making time to catch up on rest.  I block off Saturday nights for some good “me time.”  I don’t make plans, and I don’t make promises about that time.  It’s my night to rest before having to preach the next day.  If a friend asks to spend time together, I look for another time to do so.

I know this is harder when you are actively caring for someone or need to help someone who relies on you, but saying “no” will improve and salvage the relationship in the long run.

What good is it if you always say “yes,” but your spirit grows in resentment towards a loved one who needs you to be honest, healthy, and whole?