Journaling is my most valuable ally in the discernment process. Time and again I’ve gained clarity about the movements in my soul and my interaction with the world by engaging in reflective writing. Not long ago I attended a conference aimed at healing deep-seated pain. One evening I felt a strong urge to write, although I was unsure about what needed to be expressed. Sitting on my bed in a tiny monastery-sized room, I opened my laptop and, tentatively at first, typed What can I say which might capture what is swimming around in my heart?
I began to explore the hidden pains which still needed the Lord’s healing touch. I wrote in free verse, suspending the need to form sentences and to edit my thoughts. This was about letting go. By page two my pace had picked up and my writing had turned into a rant, which was okay because no one would be reading this but me. By page three I felt a bit of conviction about my childish reactions but I allowed myself the freedom to keep going. By page six I was finished, the raw pain released and somewhat disarmed by having been expressed.
After a break I returned, ready to finish the process. I put a two columned table around my rant, which freed up the right side of the page for my response. Working slowly this time, I pondered the raw words which lay before me and expressed forgiveness to those who had caused me pain. After an hour I was done. The dis-ease I’d been carrying all day long was stilled, and I fell asleep wrapped in the shalom of my Father’s presence.
An Ideal Opportunity?
Just this week another subject needed the discerning power of pen and paper after what seemed like an ideal opportunity came across my path. Stepping into this opportunity would require a big commitment, so it was important to discern whether I would be following God or my own self-interest in it.
I pulled out my journal and wrote, Lord, is this on your heart for me? I surrendered myself to God’s guidance and began to process my thoughts. Starting with the rational reasons to take up the opportunity, my words flowed easily. As my thought process unfolded, a feeling of calm confidence rose up in my soul.
I continued to write, wondering if I was entertaining a self-seeking attitude. Again the words came easily as I tested my motivation and affirmed it was pure. I could discern no resistance, no clues that I would be moving forward on my own and, therefore, away from God. I thought about the people I would need to come alongside me to make this dream possible, and three potentials came to mind right away. My enthusiasm for this project was growing by the minute.
Through the work of reflective journaling I gained clarity about moving forward. Believing that this opportunity is a provision from God (something I’ve actually long prayed and waited for), I asked for continued guidance as I stepped out in faith. In this instance, as in the previous one, the practice of journaling led me closer to my Father’s heart as I explored my inner world in his presence.
Have you ever used reflective journaling as a tool in discernment? What were your results?
What are the questions that stir in your heart, after reading Elizabeth’s experience? What are the things that you might need to take to God?
Elizabeth de Smaele is a certified spiritual director, raised and trained in Canada but living in The Netherlands. The founder of Deeper Devotion Ministry, Elizabeth specializes in individual spiritual direction and interactive workshops in contemplative spirituality. Her newest initiative is Getaway with God weekends, guided retreats for women.