When I was a young man, about ten years old, I was enamored with the Book of Mormon. One of the defining features of the Book of Mormon is that the ancient prophets and warriors wrote records on metal plates. Actually, the Book of Mormon is a translation of some of those records. (See Exodus 28:36; Exodus 39:30; Mosiah 28:11; Mosiah 8:9.)
I was at a book store and I saw a small pocket-sized book with a seal and a key. I did not want my parents or my pesky brothers or sisters reading my record. I also fancied myself as a secret agent. I was intrigued at making my own secret ink and made a pen with a quill from a crow’s feather. I even carved a stylus with my pocket knife and made plates of clay, but it did not work out so well, because they broke, and besides it was hard work. The “key idea” resonated with me, because it was so easy. I did not know the process was called journaling. For me it was just something fun to do. In those days only girls kept diaries, the idea of a “diary” seemed effeminate, but record keeping (journaling) was fascinating and manly.
Of course, today it is much easier to keep a journal/diary. We don’t have to form plates by melting down gold or brass or etch our writing into a tablet of clay or metal. Today we can just go to a bookstore or art supply store and pick up a hardbound book with blank paper that makes great journals and diaries. I like unlined, acid-free paper, because it can last a lifetime. These are usually found in art supply stores.
Today, I have no idea what happened to my childhood journal. When I was a senior in high school, I decided to give it another shot, after I discovered a similar book with a lock and key in a department store. I was not particularly consistent in writing, but wrote something at least every week.
I recently looked over that journal and was amazed at the stuff that was so important to me then and had a great time reading it. I see how much I have grown over the years and even learned a few of the details I would certainly have forgotten, had I not written about them in my journal. Because of this journal, I likely have much better insight into the problems those children and teenagers face and a great recollection of my earlier life. I have empathy for those teenage years of angst. I think sometimes as adults we forget much of those years and our experiences. Growing up I could have benefited from having the journals of my parents, but they did not keep them.
When I went on my Mormon mission about a year after high school, we were told that we should keep a journal of our mission experiences. I and my companion, Elder Klein, visited the BYU bookstore and found ourselves journals. It was a large book with lined blank paper. I was diligent and kept a journal. At times I wrote every day, other times weekly and perhaps just a summary. I wrote about all kinds of things, and my scrapbook sense made me want to make it interesting.
Since I went on a foreign Mormon mission, when I saw a product that was also sold in the United States, I took the label and added that to my journal. Products like Quaker Oats™, Nestlé’s Nesquick™ chocolate drink mix, even a unique product we used every day or occasionally, a piece of clip art perhaps a newspaper clipping or a program, or a business card of a member or contact or even one of a fellow missionary.
Initially my journal was just a blow by blow account of my day, but eventually I also wrote spiritual experiences. I was also careful to include full names, addresses, pictures, and even letters from home.
Scrap booking was not something people usually did in those days, but I started off with a current picture and decided to leave the first several pages blank so I could add pictures, post cards, postage stamps from my letters and even bus tickets and other memorabilia. I thought it would be interesting later in life, just like my high school journal, that I found to be so amusing and interesting.
There is also a more serious side to journaling. Mormon Church president Spencer Kimball (1895–1985) wrote in a church magazine in 1978—
“We renew our appeal for the keeping of individual journals. … People often use the excuse that their lives are uneventful and nobody would be interested in what they have done. But I promise you that if you will keep your journals and records they will indeed be a source of great inspiration” (“Hold Fast to the Iron Rod,” Ensign, Nov. 1978, 4).
I know it is true firsthand.
During my mission I went through one 8 ½ inch by 11 inch journal and three oversize journals. They are a treasure trove of information and serve to strengthen my testimony and inspire me to do better. I have been able to send Christmas cards, birthday cards, and write letters because I had the foresight to include names and addresses. I have also kept letters written to me filed by the city name I was in, and now have a fairly well documented history. Additionally, now with the development of Facebook, several of my investigators and several of the people we baptized have reached out to me. They are amazed I have such a great recollection of my mission experiences. Some people I met in Argentina have been brought to tears that someone actually remembers them after more than 30 years. They have also told me stories about me that I did not write down that were both humorous and enlightening.
I treasure these journals, and even today I still keep a journal, although there have been years when I did not. Now, I wish I had. I have found that keeping a journal unfolded new insight, new awareness, gave me an opportunity to let off steam when I was upset or discouraged, and sometimes my writings were more like an open or on-going prayer to God for help and thanks. I have also written about childhood experiences and things I remembered years later. Curiously, I have benefited over the years from reviewing my old journals.
I can see how I have grown and how diligence in small things can make a difference in my life today. I also think that at some point, those who come after me may also benefit by learning about my life, trials, successes and other things about my life.
Further proof for me is demonstrated in the popularity of genealogy. Mormons have always been big on genealogy because of their belief that families are the building blocks of heaven. The Plan of Salvation tells us that everyone, both the living and the dead, will have an opportunity to accept or reject the gospel. Temples are the outward manifestation of that belief. A person achieves exaltation, not singularly, but with his family that is sealed to him or her for time and eternity either by a covenant made by his parents in the temple or later sealed in a temple ceremony by those with authority. i.e. the Melchizedek Priesthood.
Some of my ancestors also kept journals. I have had an opportunity to read some of them. Their stories are an inspiration to me. Even though I did not personally know them, I feel like I do, because I have read their journals. They are not just names in my family tree; they are real people with real life stories, struggles and successes. Having the opportunity to read and learn about them gives me a sense of satisfaction and love for them that is hard to describe.
Of course, I have always kept in mind that my journals will someday be read by someone other than myself. I do not write incriminating things or dwell on negativity when I write. That would defeat the purpose of writing a journal. I write about inspirational things, how I arrived at decisions or choices in my life even mistakes I have made that I realize someone else might benefit from my experience. I do not gloss over my shortcomings, but at the same time do not dwell on them either. I am committed to keeping a journal.
I have a personal testimony of journaling. Even if a modern day Prophet like Spencer Kimball had never admonished LDS Church members to write their journals, I think it is a great idea anyway. I have gotten so much joy out of doing it and reading the journals of my ancestors.
Moreover, our Christian tradition tells us that God dwells within us. (See 1 Corinthians 3:16.) I have heard it said that God is also “in the details.” My journal is for me a silent written prayer that gives God a chance to work his miracles in a subtle way through my written words, that they may enlighten and help my family, relatives and literally may turn the hearts of the children to their fathers. (See Doctrine and Covenants 2:2 ; Doctrine and Covenants 110:15; Doctrine and Covenants 98:16; Malachi 4:6; 3 Nephi 25:6.)
From my perspective it is an inspirational thing, an opportunity to grow, understand and appreciate what have been my challenges, successes and even failures. It has been a blessing and inspiration for me, gives me clarity, understanding, empathy, and helped me along my spiritual and mortal journey. Here is what a church leader recently wrote about keeping a journal—
“Daily reflecting upon and recording the impressions that come from the Spirit serve the dual purposes of helping us (1) to recognize our personal encounters with the divine and (2) to preserve them for ourselves and our posterity. Recording them is also a formal recognition and acknowledgment of our gratitude to God” (Elder Paul B. Pieper of the Seventy, “To Hold Sacred,” Ensign, May 2012, 109).
I bear personal testimony based on my own experience. I know journal writing does all of these things. I know church leaders have been inspired to instruct us on the importance of journal writing.
This article was written by Mel Borup Chandler, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.