Journaling to Discover the Stranger
By |   April 16, 2012 |   in Blog, Welcoming the Stranger |   2 Comments

There is a wise saying by Fr. Hilary Ottensmeyer that goes: “Until you are convinced that prayer is the best use of your time, you will not find time for prayer.” A few years ago, I found myself in a place that was painfully true of Fr. Ottensmeyer’s warning. I was stressed on several fronts—work life, family life, social life, and dealing with a complicated set of health issues. I was so busy and distracted that my prayer life had completely dried up.

I sought the advice of my spiritual director. Surprisingly, he didn’t give me a book or an article on prayer. He didn’t recommend a set of prayer techniques. Instead, he suggested I attend a three-day intensive workshop in journaling designed by depth psychologist Ira Progoff. What my spiritual director noticed was that not only had I lost contact with God—I had lost contact with myself. I was a stranger to myself. I didn’t know who I was before God. In-depth journaling might help.

Remarkably, Dr. Progoff’s workshop enabled me to welcome the inner stranger—to get back in touch with myself so that I had a basis for reconnecting with God. I found through journaling that I was really in a place of blocking out God. I didn’t want his perspective on me and my life because I was afraid of what he would tell me.


I found that through honestly examining who I was—and who God was—I was able to come to a place of sincere and profound repentance. As a result, I found a joy and a freedom returning to my life. I gained perspective and clarity. This clarity threw a light on the various stresses in my life and enabled me to simplify. But more fundamentally, I was able to return to God wholeheartedly. I had the motivation and the freedom to establish a prayer life that has sustained me through even more difficult times than those during which I attended Dr. Progoff’s workshop.

Join the Conversation:

How well do you know yourself these days?

Are you close to yourself before God—or do you need to welcome home the inner stranger?

Don Simpson:
Don Simpson is a certified spiritual director in Colorado Springs and is senior editor at NavPress. He is coauthor with Dallas Willard of Revolution of Character (NavPress, 2005). He also participated in launching Discipleship Journal and The Small Group Letter, and was cofounder of Helmers & Howard, Publishers.
    • Dana Qualls

      I have always loved to journal, however, I am at a loss as to how best to use this love in the best way to bring God deeper into my heart, so to speak. I like how you say here that we can welcome our inner selves. I would like to know more about how this is done.

    • Don Simpson

      Dear Dana,
      My experience may be unique, so please take what I say here as just one person’s journey. But maybe something I say will be helpful. In the era I describe in my blog (above), I found that I was rushing through life in a way that I was increasingly blind to myself. But I had the good fortune of coming upon a couple of short books on repentance, and they really helped to open a door to myself. My journaling (and my prayer life) changed direction markedly, then, and I began to get truly honest with myself — and therefore honest with God as well. This enabled me to “welcome the stranger” of my inner self, and it also opened a much wider door to God that I (in my self-deception) previously didn’t want to open. I have been helped by St. Augustine’s cry to God: “Let me know myself; let me know you.” John Calvin opens his “Institutes” with a similar desire. These men understood something important about the spiritual life: we really cannot know God unless we begin to know ourselves. I found that as I began to make repentance a way of life, I knew both God and myself in a much more profound and intimate way. The two books I found most helpful on repentance are: “Allow Yourself To Be Forgiven” by Karl Rahner and “The Way of Repentance” by Irma Zaleski.
      Yours, Don Simpson