A common topic of discussion on this website, for young women but also for some young men, is figuring out whether or not you should serve a mission. Figuring that out requires knowing how to get answers to your prayers, how to receive and how to understand the spiritual promptings you receive from God. Keeping a journal is one thing that I have done throughout my life that has helped me develop the skill of recognizing the Spirit of God and learning how to interpret the inspiration and revelation he gives me.
As I have kept my journal, particularly of spiritually promoting experiences, I have had an increased number of spiritually experiences. And as I have written down and acted upon the promptings that I think might be from God, I have learned how to better distinguish the personal revelation from God compared to my own desires, feelings, and thoughts. My personal journal keeping has been an important part of my spiritual journey, and I believe it can be a big help to young men and women who are trying to determine God’s will for them.
Journal Keeping Before, During, and After My Mission
Prior to my mission, my journal keeping was sporadic, and when I did write in my journal it was about day to day events in the life of a typical teenager. But a rarely wrote about spiritually significant things. Still it planted the seed of a great habit that would eventually grow into more faithful and faith promoting journaling. During my mission I kept three journals. One was a notebook that I kept with me and in which I wrote about once a week during my mission. The other journal was one that my parents helped keep for me by saving all my weekly letters to home. Third was a bit of a surprise to me when at the end of my mission, my mission president presented me with the letters I had written to him weekly throughout my mission. These journals have been of infinite value to me. I treasure them and have referred to them often as I have told the stories of the people, places, and events of my mission.
As I have gotten older, my journal keeping has evolved and improved. While a week rarely goes by without writing in my journal, I have never been able to accomplish daily writing in it. Though I do make notes, almost on a daily basis, which I later copy into my journal. Whenever I have a profound spiritual promoting, I pull out my mobile phone and write it down in a notes app on my phone. I even do this frequently at Church. Later, when I am in front of my computer, I copy the note into my journal and elaborate on it with more detail. Over the years I have received countless impressions from the spirit and by writing them in my notes app and then putting them in my journal, I remember them better and I am better able to apply these personal teachings from God in my life.
I encourage you to try this method. When a thought comes to your mind and you think it might be a whispering from the Spirit, wherever you are, jot it down on your phone or on a piece of paper. When you have more time or a better opportunity, refer back to that brief note and write it out in more detail in your journal. Elder Richard G. Scott, former member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, gave similar advance once when recounting an experience from his life when he attended the lesson from a humble priesthood leader in Mexico City.
“In that environment, strong impressions began to flow to me again. I wrote them down. The message included specific counsel on how to become more effective as an instrument in the hands of the Lord. I received such an outpouring of impressions that were so personal that I felt it was not appropriate to record them in the midst of a Sunday School class. I sought a more private location, where I continued to write the feelings that flooded into my mind and heart as faithfully as possible. After each powerful impression was recorded, I pondered the feelings I had received to determine if I had accurately expressed them in writing. As a result, I made a few minor changes to what had been written. Then I studied their meaning and application in my own life” (To Acquire Spiritual Guidance, Oct 2009).
“When our children were very small, I started to write down a few things about what happened every day. Let me tell you how that got started. I came home late from a Church assignment. It was after dark. My father-in-law, who lived near us, surprised me as I walked toward the front door of my house. He was carrying a load of pipes over his shoulder, walking very fast and dressed in his work clothes. I knew that he had been building a system to pump water from a stream below us up to our property.
He smiled, spoke softly, and then rushed past me into the darkness to go on with his work. I took a few steps toward the house, thinking of what he was doing for us, and just as I got to the door, I heard in my mind—not in my own voice—these words: “I’m not giving you these experiences for yourself. Write them down.”
I went inside. I didn’t go to bed. Although I was tired, I took out some paper and began to write. And as I did, I understood the message I had heard in my mind. I was supposed to record for my children to read, someday in the future, how I had seen the hand of God blessing our family. Grandpa didn’t have to do what he was doing for us. He could have had someone else do it or not have done it at all. But he was serving us, his family, in the way covenant disciples of Jesus Christ always do. I knew that was true. And so I wrote it down, so that my children could have the memory someday when they would need it.
I wrote down a few lines every day for years. I never missed a day no matter how tired I was or how early I would have to start the next day. Before I would write, I would ponder this question: “Have I seen the hand of God reaching out to touch us or our children or our family today?” As I kept at it, something began to happen. As I would cast my mind over the day, I would see evidence of what God had done for one of us that I had not recognized in the busy moments of the day. As that happened, and it happened often, I realized that trying to remember had allowed God to show me what He had done.
More than gratitude began to grow in my heart. Testimony grew. I became ever more certain that our Heavenly Father hears and answers prayers. I felt more gratitude for the softening and refining that come because of the Atonement of the Savior Jesus Christ. And I grew more confident that the Holy Ghost can bring all things to our remembrance—even things we did not notice or pay attention to when they happened.” (O Remember, Remember from October 2007 General Conference)
“We urge our young people to begin today to write and keep records of all the important things in their own lives and also the lives of their antecedents in the event that their parents should fail to record all the important incidents in their own lives. Your own private journal should record the way you face up to challenges that beset you. Do not suppose life changes so much that your experiences will not be interesting to your posterity.
…Your journal is your autobiography, so it should be kept carefully. You are unique, and there may be incidents in your experience that are more noble and praiseworthy in their way than those recorded in any other life. There may be a flash of illumination here and a story of faithfulness there; you should truthfully record your real self and not what other people may see in you. Your story should be written now while it is fresh and while the true details are available.
…Get a notebook, a journal that will last through all time, and maybe the angels may quote from it for eternity. Begin today and write in it your goings and comings, your deepest thoughts, your achievements and your failures, your associations and your triumphs, your impressions and your testimonies. Remember, the Savior chastised those who failed to record important events (see 3 Nephi 23:6–13).” (The Angels May Quote from It, October 1975 New Era)
The scriptures themselves are in large part the journals of the prophets. The Book of Mormon prophet Alma once said this of the scriptural records he was keeping: “And now, it has hitherto been wisdom in God that these things should be preserved; for behold, they have enlarged the memory of this people, yea, and convinced many of the error of their ways, and brought them to the knowledge of their God unto the salvation of their souls” (Alma 37: 8). A journal can do the same for you in your personal life. It can improve your memory, particularly of your blessings from Heaven, and preserve the knowledge you receive from God through His Spirit to aid in the salvation of your soul.