Six Journaling Tips from Debbie Macomber

The beloved bestselling author explains how to start a prayer journal and why it will deepen your faith.

Have you ever wanted to journal? To open up your heart to God in the private pages of a book? To have that sacred conversation every day of your life?

I started journaling regularly some 40 years ago, at a time in my life when I felt led to grow closer to the Lord. In those years, journaling deepened my faith, even changed my life. I start at 4 a.m., before I eat breakfast or sit at my desk to work. I study the Bible, read a devotional or two and then pull out one of several journals and write down all the things that are going through my head. What I’m thankful for, what I’m worried about, who I’m praying for, what I’m dreaming about, what I’m unhappy about. I wouldn’t be where I am today—as a mom, a wife, a grandmother, a writer, a child of God—if it weren’t for this spiritual practice. It has formed me.

My journals are personal to me—unlike the books I publish. They’re so precious that I’ve stored the old ones in a safe. They are a witness to the prayers I’ve said, the many prayers God has answered and the prayers I’m still saying. I recently wrote a book to help people jump-start their journaling. Be a Blessing, I titled it. Journaling is a blessing. No, you don’t have to get up at 4 a.m. You don’t even have to do it in the morning. Just do it.

Make it a habit. I travel a lot for work and fun. (My husband, Wayne, and I just went on a dream-of-a-lifetime cruise to Antarctica.) My journals come with me. I might skip a day here or there, but that’s it. “Never skip two days in a row,” I always tell people. Why? Because when you make something a daily habit, you’re agreeing to open yourself up to the Spirit. Every day. It’s as though God knows exactly where to find me each morning. “Here’s what’s on my mind,” I can say. It’s right there on the page in ink.

Why write it down? Doesn’t God know what’s on our hearts? Of course God does. But it helps us verbalize it. I think about how Jesus often asked people to explain what they wanted before healing them. Not because the Lord didn’t know but because Jesus wanted them to articulate it. When I put down a prayer, it becomes more tangible to me. And when I write, I discover things about myself I might not have acknowledged without a journal.

Use pen and paper. Research has shown that we’re more likely to remember things when we write them down by hand. I’m glad to have a computer to compose my novels. It sure makes revisions easier to do. But journal-keeping is something else. Every week I pick a different Bible verse to memorize. And every day I write it down to help me remember.

Recently I was learning Isaiah 41:13: “For I am the Lord your God, who upholds your right hand, who says to you, ‘Do not fear, I will help you.’” I’ve had carpal tunnel syndrome in the past, and I was worried that it might be coming back. God only knows how much I depend on my right hand! Each time I wrote those words down, I felt them etched in my heart.

Be grateful. Declare your gratitude. Don’t just say it to yourself; make a record of it. There are plenty of mornings when I wake up feeling out of sorts. I’ve faced devastating losses and wondered how I could go on. Reminding myself of what I’m grateful for is essential. Every day I write down five things. And if I can’t think of five things, then I’m not being grateful enough.

Later, when I get together with Wayne for breakfast, I like to ask him, “What are you grateful for this morning?” “Breakfast,” he’ll mutter. Breakfast it is. “In everything give thanks,” the Bible says. Even on your worst days. Especially then. As you put down your gratitude, it becomes more real and changes your whole perspective on life. You will become a more grateful person.

See your dreams come true. took up journaling when I was struggling to become a writer. While the kids were in school, I’d pound out one novel after another on a rented typewriter—one we could barely afford. I sent those novels out and they came back, with one devastating rejection letter after another. What kept me going were those prayers I wrote in the morning: “Please let me publish one book.” “Just one book, God.” When we give our dreams over to God—and let go—there’s no telling what will happen. All I wanted was one book published. I could never have guessed that there’d be many, many more. Putting down a prayer is not only a way of recording it. It is also a way of giving it over to God and getting out of the way. Sometimes what happens is beyond our wildest dreams.

Put down the hard stuff. All my life I struggled with my weight. Even as a little girl, I was convinced I was fat. It didn’t help that Mom sent me off to school in third grade with a can of Metrecal instead of a peanut-butter sandwich for lunch. Imagine what that did to my self-esteem! I was Debbie the fat girl, Debbie with the slim, trim mom. The thing is, when I see pictures taken back then, I don’t look fat at all.

So put stuff down in your journal that’s hard to talk about, things that are impossible to share with anyone but God. My mom grew up during the Depression and had seen her parents lose everything. No wonder she was anxious and controlling. I remember when our youngest was born, our fourth child in five years, and Mom came out to help. She looked at me, haggard, sleep-deprived, and said, “These are the happiest years of your life.” I stared back at her in disbelief and asked, “You mean it gets worse?”

I didn’t laugh then. I can now. Because I wrote it in my journal.

Thank God for the time together. When the kids were younger, they’d come into the kitchen for breakfast and see me at the counter, writing in my prayer journal. “Mom,” they’d say with a yawn, “I’ve got a big test today. Pray for that.” I did, writing it down. I can’t tell you how many thousands of prayers I’ve recorded over the years, for friends, for my children, grandchildren, other relatives. Thumbing through old journals, I can see prayers that looked like they’d never be answered. I prayed for a brother to be healed of alcoholism, to no avail. Nothing seemed to help. I might have felt hopeless, but I didn’t give up. Today he’s sober. And I have written proof of how hard I prayed for him! Think of how journaling could change your spiritual life.

At the end of my morning session, I always thank God for our time together. It’s like signing off at the end of a letter: “Love, Debbie.” The words I’ve put down might pale in comparison to what God does with them, but it starts there. Every day.

         As seen in the June-July 2019 issue
         of Guideposts