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What Do Old Journals Say About My Life? What Do Old Journals Say About My Life?

What Do Old Journals Say About My Life?

I have made a habit of journaling for most of my life. In the attic I keep a box spilling over with old journals – my life converted to ink. So often, as we reflect on our past stupidity, we ask ourselves, “What was I thinking?” My box of journals answers the question. So, over the Christm…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes

I have made a habit of journaling for most of my life. In the attic I keep a box spilling over with old journals – my life converted to ink. So often, as we reflect on our past stupidity, we ask ourselves, “What was I thinking?” My box of journals answers the question.

So, over the Christmas holidays, I retrieved the box of journals. 35 of them in all documenting the last half of my life.

Opening them brought fading memories to life. There were the stories of each of our children getting born. The excitement of our moves from Virginia to Florida and then to Georgia. The harrowing story of me getting fired and then starting AIM in the garage.

Old stories

Flipping through the journals, I found so many stories of times when Karen and I were desperate for God to lead us. What was going to happen? Then we’d experience miracles when God came through at the last second.

My journals are a crutch for my memory. Memory is a wasting asset. They say that the faintest ink is stronger than the strongest memory. We need memory and we need reflection if we are to avoid repeating past mistakes.

Not that journals are immutable – they can be subject to the vagaries of life. One year, coming home from church, I left my Bible and journal on top of the car. That was brilliant. They actually made it for the first half mile or so, and then when we retraced our steps, there were notes and pages scattered along the side of the road. I found the Bible, but the journal vanished like so many of my memories.

Locating reality

In a world where the echo chamber of social media is constantly telling us what to think, we need the slow work of recording our thoughts in a journal to sift through and locate reality. We need to then interrogate that reality, seeing it through the lens of God’s perspective.

As I spent time reading my old journals, I saw themes repeating themselves. Often I wrote out my prayers, asking God to lead me through hard times. Reading my journals, I saw the pain of failure, but then saw how God redeemed the pain.

Sometimes my world seemed to be collapsing around me. In my journal I would jump to conclusions, only to see that the conclusions were a result of my too active imagination. In fact, the world was often not imploding but getting better.

2021 Journal

As I prepare to start a new journal in 2021, I begin by skimming through the 2020 journal to glean any lessons or unfinished business that needs to be transferred to the 2021 journal. I begin by making prayer lists. Then I look for other lists that will help me organize my life. I am constantly making and reprioritizing To Do lists.

Who knows what will happen to all these journals when I die. What will people think about my thoughts? Karen insists that she will burn the journals. But I’d rather lay my life out there, mistakes and all, for people to learn from.

A new year is coming. Time to turn the page. Time to review old journals and start new a new one. Looking back, what do your old journals say about you?

Comments (6)

  • I have tried and failed to keep journals many times over the years. But I think it’s time to try one more time for memory’s sake.

  • Love this. It’s such a mix of great memories, solid reminders, and “wish I would have known”, every time I flip back through. Good reminder to keep it up

  • Like Taylor, I have tried journaling before and failed. Any pearls of wisdom, Seth? Or is it simply a matter of prioritization until you recognize the fruit journaling produces?

    • Well, sitting down with some time and a few prompts is helpful. If you’re interested, I’ll send you my ebook of prompts from last year. Let me know.

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.



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