Journaling Your Way to a Stronger Life
By Kathy Bornarth, M.A., LPC
When our youngest child prepared to leave for college four years ago, the “Empty Nest Syndrome” was far from my mind. I knew other parents who had difficulty accepting their new lifestyle, but I eagerly looked forward to more time with my husband, the freedom to travel, and a release from school activities and obligations. What I didn’t expect was the feeling of loss that would accompany my new life.
As a Christian counselor with 15 years of experience, I knew that my feelings were normal. Life changes and their accompanying transitions can be exciting and overwhelming. I trusted that God had new plans for me. Yet even with this head knowledge, my heart was confused and unsure of what to do next. I knew my job was to let go and move on, but the circumstances were new to me. I was in the middle of the transition.
It was at that point my “counseling self” encouraged my “parenting self” to start a special journal about my new transition.
I have always been a journal keeper. Journaling gives me clarity and direction during times of transition, loss, and achievement. Once recorded in my journal, life experiences come into focus.
If you are experiencing a life transition – a child leaving home, a job change, losing a loved one, dealing with a medical condition – you will undergo several stages of change, much like the stages of grief. Use this three-step journaling process to help you navigate the life transitions that come your way.
Step 1: Clarify the Change
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). Write this verse in your journal. As you move from a familiar place to a new place during the transition, you can cling to the knowledge that God has you in His arms. Your circumstances are changing; His love and provision for you are not. It is okay to close the door on the past and open yourself up to the next step of your journey.
Use your journal to clarify the change: What are you leaving behind? What benefits will you gain by letting go? How can you close this chapter of your life?
Step 2: Navigate the Desert
Just as Jesus, Moses, Joseph, and David each faced a wilderness experience, your life transition may be a spiritual and psychological desert for you. God allows such times to grow you into the character of Christ as you wait for His deliverance. During this time of disquiet and uneasiness it will be crucial for you to engage in good self-care, reach out to friends and family, and to journal regularly in order to move past your pain, uncertainty, and fears to find peace.
Use your journal to help you navigate this period: How are you taking care of yourself? What can you do to be good to yourself? What friends can you go to for support? Are you praying regularly? Are you writing in your journal on a regular basis? How does your writing help you sort out your feelings? How can you exercise more patience with yourself? What does your time in the wilderness feel like and look like?
Step 3: Evaluate Your Acceptance
“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess. 5:16-18). You can move well through your transition when you allow God to pilot your journey – and partner with Him in that process. Self-examination and trust are a key part of this process.
Use your journal to evaluate your level of acceptance: What am I doing with my time? Have I turned over my fears to God? Am I thankful for this time in my life? Do I have any regrets?
As you journal through life’s transitions, move back and forth through each of the steps. You will see progress, even in small changes.
Then one day you will realize that you are not where you once were. You are in a new place – one that you’ve transitioned to in a healthy way.
Your next step in that new place? Journal about it, of course.