I'm participating in a writing group that my friend, Matt, put together for people who are looking to be encouraged to write more frequently. This is the second of 8 "assignments" I'll be posting as a part of this project.
The tall man shifted his weight nervously as he eyed the journal from across the room. His face expressed a mixture of bravado, anxiety, and doubt. Though his straight back and squared shoulders were an attempt to display confidence, his fingers betrayed him, as they continuously curled into fists and opened again.
His obvious ambivalence mirrored the mixed reviews he had heard over the years anytime the discipline of journaling arose in conversation. Some said it was one of the more helpful and meaningful experiences of their lives. They said it helped them clear their minds, understand their own thoughts, and free themselves of the heavy burdens they had been carrying. It was those words that had prompted him, in a moment of deep angst, to find a journal … any journal.
But now, as he tried to prepare himself to sit down and write, he began to doubt all the good things he had heard. Maybe he had chosen the wrong one? This one had a tree embossed on the cover. Was that too feminine? Maybe he would feel more comfortable pouring his thoughts into a journal with a compass or an anchor on the front … perhaps just a black moleskin would be easier for his ego to accept. The words of the critics darted through his mind: “Journaling is for women.” “I tried journaling once, and writing out my problems just made everything worse.” “Journaling is just writing about your feelings and what you did today, it doesn’t make anything different.”
“I’ll just try it out this once,” he mumbled as he crossed the room and pulled out his pen. “No one needs to know.” It felt awkward, sitting there, trying to figure out where to begin and exactly what to say. At first he only wrote direct responses to some suggested journaling prompts he had found somewhere, but after a while he found himself chasing rabbit trails – mentioning random events and small details he hadn’t thought of in ages. As he closed the book and stood up, he decided he would try it again, just a few more times. It wasn’t really as uncomfortable as he had feared, and it had, actually, been a bit of a relief to get a few things off his chest.
In the following months, he began journaling regularly. It was nice to know he could say whatever he wanted and it would be stored away privately where no one else would ever see it. Surprisingly, though, he found that being honest with his thoughts and feelings in one place made it easier to be honest with them elsewhere. The journal didn’t judge his stories. He had been afraid that being able to see, on paper, the kind of person he was would send him into a spiral of despair. On the contrary, bringing his secrets into the light had seemed to make them more manageable – he was able to see them as separate from himself, something he could overcome instead of a part of his very being. It was freeing.
About a year later, as the man sat to write again, he realized he no longer had as much to say as he once had. For the past few months he hadn’t been writing as frequently, and today he thought that maybe it was time to put the journal on the shelf for a while. It had helped, but his life was different now. He no longer felt he needed to spend as much time exploring his motives and problem-solving … he just knew it was time to move on.
The journal sat quietly on the shelf, absorbing his words into her pages so they disappeared, as if written in magic ink. He didn’t know that she silently cheered him anytime he walked by. He didn’t know that, even though this journal held many secrets for many, many people; she would think of him as her mind flipped through the rolodex of past authors and wish that he, along with so many of them, would someday jot a small note – just an update about how life had progressed.
It’s a funny thing, being a counselor. My clients see me writing notes in their files, but they probably don’t realize that their stories are being etched onto my heart. Over the years some of their names and faces fade from memory; but the weeks or months or years that they spent pouring out their hidden thoughts to me continue to shape me. I hope they know I am honored every time I am invited into the vulnerable places of their lives. I hope they know I think of them, root for them, pray for them. I hope they know they matter.