There is little 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 they 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.”