Journaling to Practice Honesty (Writing As a Spiritual Discipline Series)

diary photo

Today we welcome Inez Tan, a writer with MFA training and experience with the Augustine Collective, a student-led movement of Christian journals on college campuses. Inez talks about journaling as part of her spiritual life. Read other entries in the Writing As a Spiritual Discipline series here

I’ve been keeping a diary since the age of thirteen, after I read Melody Carlson’s Diary of a Teenage Girl series. Each book was framed as, well, the diary of a teenage girl, trying to make sense of school, friends, crushes, and so on. Though some parts made me cringe—like the way a bad girl character got into a motor accident but converted to Christianity on her deathbed—as a whole, the books weren’t sanctimonious about the ups and downs of adolescence. Most of all, what they showed me was that God was someone I could write to, like a friend.

I turn to my diary to practice being honest. I write to God about whatever’s on my mind—how I felt about an encounter with someone the previous day, what I thought about the news that week. I write with copious punctuation and in all caps when I’m excited or angry, and in deliberately illegible script when I’m embarrassed or ashamed. I let big tears splatter on the page if they’re falling. It’s not very impressive or dignified or sophisticated, but that’s the point. When I’m able to write honestly to God, I hear him say in response, I am with you always. I care about you.

Since college, I’ve felt called to write fiction and poetry, and to teach writing. I’m currently pursuing an MFA in poetry and teaching composition to undergraduates. Many of them see writing as a requirement they just need to get out of the way. Which is fine—but while they’re in my class, I also encourage them to see writing as a means of getting to know other people better, as well as themselves. Words aren’t meant to be used to deceive, to obfuscate, to confuse, to bully, or to harm—but to reveal truths, to clarify, to love and to unite. I wouldn’t have the conviction to say that without everything I’ve gained from more than fourteen years of diaries, that continuing correspondence with the good God who knows us better than we know ourselves and desires, somehow, to be in relationship with us.

On a practical note, I love a good writing prompt, and one I’d highly recommend for journaling is St. Ignatius Loyola’s Daily Examen. The five steps are clear and profound, beginning with the simple invitation to become aware of God’s presence, looking back on the events of the day in the company of the Holy Spirit. The rest of the Examen guides you through recalling the events and emotions of the day in the company of the Holy Spirit, prompting you to listen for what God is saying through them. I’ve found the Examen helpful for organizing my thoughts, keeping me from excessive introspection, and teaching me to appreciate the small, good things I would otherwise have overlooked.

The novelist E. M. Forster quoted someone as saying, “How can I tell what I think till I see what I say?” [Editor’s Note: an online version of the quotation can be found in this Google Books version of Forster’s 1927 book Aspects of the Novel, released by RosettaBooks in 2002, p. 152.] I live by those words, because writing ultimately reminds me that true insight comes from God.

Image courtesy of JeongGuHyeok

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Inez Tan

Inez Tan is a poet and fiction writer based in Irvine, CA and Singapore. She's currently pursuing an MFA in poetry and teaching at the University of California, Irvine. She also works with the Augustine Collective, a student-led movement of Christian journals on college campuses.

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