Journals: To Read or to Burn?

I wouldn’t actually be completely horrified if you read my journals. I might reserve the ones that cover the last five years or so, simply to respect the other characters that feature inside their covers. And, well, because they might be a bit embarrassing for me.

Or maybe very embarrassing at points.

Somehow, I always had this notion that someday someone would read them. After all, I loved the Dear Canada books simply because they gave me a window into a world from other times through the brief journal entries of an ordinary girl like me. I got a thrill thinking about some great grand descendent digging up my purple-penned words in some dusty attic.

Then, as I got older, I considered how maybe someday we won’t be allowed to own Bibles, but maybe journals could be the perfect way for hiding Scripture, because what KGB officer ever looked inside a teen girls diary? So, I copied verses as I found gems and thrilled all over again that I could maybe be part of something bigger. I like mysteries and intrigue and the good guys sneaking under the noses of the bad guys.

In Passion and Purity, Elizabeth Elliot writes that she coped through all the uncertain years of courting Jim, not by journalling all her emotions and whining (although she did some of this), but by focusing much of her journalling on truth, copying Scripture, writing prayers.

I admired this focus. Through all my teenage angst, I made this rule for myself, “End with hope.” I copied more Scripture. I wrote poetry. I wrote prayers.

Right about now, you’re probably not wanting to read my journals anymore (if you ever did). No, you’re probably thinking that the only person you’d meet between their covers is a pious, prig.

You’d probably be mostly right. I’ve reread those journals. The fourteen-year-old me had some profound and pithy things to say. She sounds much more holy than the twenty-eight-year-old me.

But then, fourteen-year-old me and sixteen-year-old me, and eighteen-year-old me spent a lot of time trying to be the right person for everyone. She spent a lot of years polishing the perfect face.

I still catch glimpses of her in the mirror. She looks scared. She doesn’t believe she’ll be loved if people know she’s needy and broken. She becomes defensive when people misunderstand her. She believes that if she can somehow rationalize and tidy up reality that it will somehow become good. She’s scared of her own emotions: she’s quite sure no one else wants to see them either.

Graciously, God has dropped women into my life who’ve shared with me not only their wisdom but also, their great and complicated emotions. He’s given me women who’ve scrawled beside my tidy journal assignments, “How did this make you feel?” and “Why do you think you were silly to feel that?” He’s given me women who’ve shared their flaws with me, women who burn their own journals for the betterment of society.

And in the process, I’m slowly learning to journal messy, to place the big emotions, all scrawly and ugly on the page, where they can be cleansed by Jesus. It’s like extricating a sliver from under a fingernail—slow and painful enough that I often avoid the blank page for weeks on end. The confessions come in brief sentences, somewhere after another Bible verse, swaddled in by a prayer, followed by a to-do list or some sort of pithy, theological thought.

I’m learning that the swarming fear, questions, and shame lose their power when they’re confined to words. Ugly words, yes, but not a reality I need to remain with. Rather, one to be acknowledged and released in the light of God’s truth.

I expect I will always write to find the silver lining. I expect I will always search for the beauty in the ugliness, the hope in the pain. I suspect this is a gift.

I suspect, too, that it will take me a lifetime to become more authentic than proud, more loving than afraid, more holy, and more whole.

I know I’m not alone.

5 Comments on “Journals: To Read or to Burn?

  1. I also relate to the expectation that someday my journals will be read. But I never thought of hiding Bible verses in my journal. In fact, I kind of expect that, God forbid, should His Word ever become illegal, I think most of us would find our journals being seized along with our Bibles, based on what I’ve read about the USSR searches. (May we never have to find out the hard way!) Having journaled for a long time, I enjoyed this post — and the reminder that honesty with ourselves is just as important as honesty with others! I’ve found that writing the negative stuff often makes me remember the counter-truth. Which I can then write down to keep myself focused, at least in the right direction. And now I’m rambling. 😀

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  2. I love this, Yolanda! Perhaps this is a writers’ thing, this secret expectation that someday someone will be reading our journals? I’ve had it too. I have been rereading journal entries too, and I echo what you said–the 14 year old me sounds much more spiritual at times and certainly more tidy than the 22 year old current me. But letting go and using my journal to process life has been so healing.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for this! I was asking myself recently if I should burn some of mine. But, although some chapters are better left in the past, they still deserve a place in my history somehow. The existence of each journal is evidence of the hours we have spent processing life lessons, developing as a person, and ultimately, growing closer to God. Don’t burn them, Yolanda!

    Liked by 1 person

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