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Journaling Articles : Journaling as a Tool to Redemptive Living

Journaling as a Tool to Redemptive Living

By David L. Russell, PhD

The main focus for most of us when it comes to journaling is self-reflection or self-analysis. No surprise here since the starting point is always with the individual. Regardless of whether you're a journaler or not, everyone should be actively involved in a healthy dose of self-analysis. It certainly doesn't take a PhD in Philosophy to ask those sixty-four dollar questions like, "Who am I?", "Where am I going?", "Does life have meaning?", etc. I certainly encourage everyone to engage in this kind of deep reflective analysis. That being said, I would like to encourage us all to journal beyond the scope of mere self-reflection. I am not suggesting an either or approach, but rather a both/and. We begin with self-analysis and then, through clarification, we can turn our attention to affecting the world around us.

After wading through a myriad of books on journaling, I have found that the overwhelming focus has been on "Self." Suggestions and topics such as,"finding the real you" and "writing about yourself" are typical self-centered topics that often seem to have little follow-up to them. What good does it do for any of us to journal our way into self-realization if we then fail to take it to the world around us? This brings me to the topic of this month's newsletter, "Redemptive Living."

I began thinking about this in great detail after reading a heart breaking book by Thomas Debaggio, Losing My Mind: An Intimate Look at Life with Alzheimer's (Free Press, 2003). It's a very well written book in a journaling style that combines self-reflection and words of redemption for the reader. Debaggio gives us a glimpse into the inner world of his torment as he begins the nightmare journey into the world of this crippling disease. What you find in his self-analysis is an admonition for the reader to never again take for granted even the simple things in life. In the following example of Debaggio's writing, we find him lamenting the fact that there were things he wished he had told his parents before they passed away.

"I am sorry it took so long to find myself and understand how much I loved them. All I have left are a few weak memories, and now it is too late for their boy...Memories tell us who we are and where we have been and they warm us and provide direction. In later years, the old memories remain to offer familiar anecdotes and the safety of the past...My memories are slowly disappearing from places inhabited for so long...Our immortality, such as it may be, is not contained in what we dreamed or the secrets we kept; it is how our friends and loved ones remember us." Thomas Debaggio (pp. 206-207).

The last line, pertaining to how we will be remembered by friends and loved ones, gets to the heart of this month's newsletter. Think of the impact our written words can have on generations to come. When I speak to older people about the value of journaling, insofar as they can leave a piece of themselves behind, I try to convey the kind of positive impact it can have. Throughout the book Debaggio is challenging the reader to seek wisdom and to pay close attention to the finer details of life. This wisdom comes from the cost of a man who is losing his ability to reflect on these things. What a wonderful gift Thomas Debaggio has given to the world. An autobiographical yet redemptive work that could help change the lives of so many. The question we all need to keep in mind, is how our own lives can be used to effect positive change in those around us. I look at journaling as an excellent opportunity to develop character and integrity. Yes, of course this begins with self-analysis, but as I look deep into my soul and assess who I am, I continually ask questions regarding the kind of person I will be remembered as and whether or not I am contributing to the cultivation of the part of the world I have been given.

I recently found a big box in my parent's basement that contained diaries and letters from my mother's parents and relatives. As I read the content of my Grandma's diary, it was as if she was sitting next to me telling me about life. I never knew her since she died when I was less than a year old. There were insights about her daily experiences and ideas on how to live well that have contributed greatly to my life. She died a painful death, but in her writing, she spoke of her faith in the Lord and how he would come at night to comfort her. She reflected a great deal on the Bible verse that speaks about God giving us a song in the night (Job 35:10). I also found a stash of letters my uncle Clell had written to my Grandparents during World War II. Some of these letters contained accounts of the D-Day Invasion, and the Battle of the Bulge. He speaks of his fears and the horrors of war accompanied by heartfelt comments of how he missed his wife and family. Many of his insights in these letters are centered around his concerns for the kind of world in which his children would have to grow up. Sure, these were letters and not journal entries, but the writing is exactly the same as a journal. He wrote words of redemption that the rest of my family now cherishes.

If we keep in mind the people to whom we are accountable and to whom we are responsible, journaling takes on a new perspective. We begin to see that it's not only about "me," but about others. Redemptive journaling enables us to give of ourselves to greater things and to other's needs. In my own opinion, it boils down to gaining wisdom, and in wisdom we find the source of virtue and goodness that makes our lives fuller. If we wish to be remembered fondly and with affection and to be remembered as virtuous people of character, we have the maximum opportunity to use our skills and love for journaling to help accomplish this goal. Of course, it will take more than mere words to change our lives. Putting the things we learn through self-analysis to use is a necessity. You've heard the old cliché "talk is cheap"? How true it is. Seeking truth and wisdom as we journal our journeys will keep us on the road to redemptive living. •

Copyright 2004 David L. Russell. All rights reserved.

David Russell completed his MA in Philosophy from the University of Detroit, and his PhD in History, Religion and Philosophy at the Michigan State University. He currently serves as the CEO of Westvon Publishing, dedicated to providing unique educational products. He is the editor of, a site dedicated to teaching everyone the importance of journaling and is an accomplished bluegrass musician, playing banjo with the Mike Adams Band in Michigan. He currently resides in Livonia, Michigan where he oversees the operations of Westvon Publishing north.

Updated 1/6/14