This summer we are taking 10 weeks to read together David Mathis' book Habits of Grace. Each week different people will post their thoughts and reflections following our reading schedule. This week Nick Dawson shares some reflections on Chapters 11 and 12. You can download a PDF of the 10-week reading schedule here.
“Maybe you never thought of journaling as a possible means of grace,” writes David Mathis. “It seemed like something for only the most narcissistic of introverts, or cute for adolescent girls, but impractical for adults.”
Exactly, I thought, before a wry smile crossed my lips. Why the wry, you ask. Because my two youngest daughters (Lyndee, 21, and Noelle, 19) though not adolescent by any means, both have kept journals for several years. They write down either verses that stand out to them during their Bible reading time, or their thoughts about the day.
That is journaling as a means of grace. And I deeply admire their dedication to journaling and to how God is at work in them through various means of grace.
Journaling (chapter 11) and Silence and Solitude (Chapter 12) as habits of grace are not habits in my life. They are the most difficult of the Christian disciplines because, I think, they require me to spend time in deeper thought and introspection. God, what are you saying to me, teaching me; how are you challenging me to think and act? Important questions for the Jesus follower, for sure.
Journaling and Silence and Solitude take time and brain power that I would rather spend, say, contemplating solutions to the Mariners’ inconsistency, or figuring out how I cast a vote for presidential candidates that most of this nation’s citizens loathe.
Mathis himself states that “Jesus left us no model for journaling; he did not keep one,” and that journaling “is not essential to the Christian life.”
And yet Mathis next states that “no single new habit would enrich [my] spiritual life as much as keeping a journal.”
I will admit that there was a time that journaling became a means of grace that God used at an important and difficult time of my life. Honesty before God, spilling out raw emotion and writing down my heart-felt trust that He would walk with me through this trying time to the end (and He did), was truly life giving.
Once that episode passed, however, the journal was tucked away into a cabinet.
While journaling is an excellent way to process difficult times, those are generally not in the rhythm of everyday life. Mathis addresses that well. Keeping a journal, he writes, “can be greatly beneficial in ripening our joy along the journey….Journaling is a way of slowing life down for just a few moments, and trying to process at least a sliver of it for the glory of God, our own growth and development, and our enjoyment of the details.”
And then the kicker: “Journaling has the appeal of mingling the motions of our lives with the mind of God.”
So I just might start a journal. I’ll keep my entries short at the start, as Mathis recommends, and take some moments – minutes – to contemplate what God is saying to me through Scripture reading, or in a Sunday morning sermon, or maybe after some minutes of Silence and Solitude.
Oh yeah, about that.
I’m the kind of person who, as soon I crank the engine in the car, turns on the radio or CD player (though it invariably is already on). Talk radio, sports talk radio, Switchfoot or Third Day, doesn’t matter. Noise is good.
My daughter Noelle used to ask me, “Dad, what do you think about when you’re driving?” Huh? How can I think about anything when Brock and Salk are discussing the Seahawks or Third Day is singing that “salvation is calling” (with the volume turned up). Notice, by the way, that she used to ask me.
To me, silence and solitude is a walk in the woods with the dog after six inches of snowfall, and that rarely happens around here.
But, again, Mathis reminds me how important silence and solitude are as means of God’s grace to my life. Jesus, Himself, often got away to pray and commune with God the Father. How much more important is it for me.
So turning off the radio in the car, or staying off of Twitter while walking the dog, are two ways I can cut down the noise. But just cutting down the noise isn’t enough, and neither is just listening to our own thoughts. The most important voice to hear in the silence, writes Mathis, is God’s. As a Christian, I very much need to “hear him speak, with even greater clarity, in his word.”
Silence and solitude “grease the skids,” he writes, …for more direct encounters with God in his word and in prayer.
For me, it’s time for more of those direct encounters with God.
Nick Dawson loves Jesus, his family, a sliding triple, and the smell of fresh cut grass and a new baseball glove.
Study & Reflection Questions:
1. Refer to the section "No Wrong Way, No Obligation." What transforms journaling from a common practice into a habit of grace?
2. List some of the motivations for journaling. place a star beside the items on your list that apply especially to Christians. Circle the motivation that best represents your incentive for journaling.
3. How can journaling serve as a help to both your mediation and your prayer life?
4. Make a plan for journaling if you don't make a regular practice of this habit already. Draw four blank journal pages on a sheet of paper. Title one page "My Goals," another page "Types of Entries I Plan to Use," and another "My Schedule." Fill in each page with the appropriate information. Title the remaining page "My Discovery." Practice journaling for a few days and then return to describe what you discovered about the habit of journaling.
5. Craft a brief practice journal entry. Write at least one sentence of a prayer or a meditation on truth or a reflection on today's events.
1. Read Matthew 4:1; 14:23; Mark 1:35; and Luke 4:42. What spiritual benefit did Jesus derive from purposefully getting away? How does observing Jesus' retreats affect your perspective on making time for your own retreats?
2. Reflect on and complete the following statements:
a.) My instinctive response to silence and solitude is...
b.) This response reveals my desire to/for...
c.) This response reveals my fears of...
d.) This response reveals my sins of...
e.) I need the Spirit's help to grow, heal, and overcome...
3. Pretend you have 48 hours away, by yourself, at a retreat center nestled in a beautiful outdoor setting. Modest meals will be provided three times each day. You will arrive early afternoon on Monday and depart late morning on Wednesday.
Draw a page from a personal planner on a sheet of paper. Include calendar space for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and a space marked "Notes." Enter your hourly schedule for these three days in the calendar space. List in the notes space items you would bring to your retreat. Perhaps look at your real calendar and make plans for an actual retreat.