Mentoring Helps

Real Men Journal

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On occasion, I’m asked why I journal and what are some tips for getting the most out of it.  

Most guys don’t journal. I’ve heard some claim the word “journal” is a cloak for having a diary. 

“Diaries are for girls”

Diaries may be for girls, but what I’ve figured out is real men journal. Journals are for documenting life. The real and raw stuff of your emerging manhood.  Back in 1805, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark journaled their trek across the unexplored passage to the Northwest. Their expedition was called the Corps of Discovery.  Here’s an excerpt from Lewis’ entry: 

Sunday, April 28, 1805.

“Set out this morning at an early hour: the wind was favourable and we employed our sails to advantage. Capt. Clark walked on shore this morning and I proceeded with the party. We saw great quantities of game today; consisting of the common and mule deer, Elk, Buffaloe, and Antelopes; also four brown bear. One of which was fired on and wounded by one of the party but we did not get it;  the beaver have cut great quantities of timber; saw a tree 3 feet in diameter that had been felled by them.”

Credit to: Tales of the Mountain Men; Seventeen Stories of Survival, Exploration, and Frontier Spirit, edited by Lamar Underwood.

Picture the scenes Lewis is describing. The smell of the outdoors, wild animals, bear encounters. It’ll put hair on the chest of any guy with an adventuresome spirit.

In a spiritual sense, that is why I journal; to explore the frontiers of life with God. 

Back when I was 16, a good friend of mine from junior high was tragically killed. Kevin along with 5 other youth lost their lives on a Kansas highway when the station wagon he was driving filled with 8 kids pulled in front of an oncoming train. 

Sixteen-year-olds are not supposed to die. I was crushed. Devastated. My duplicit life was exposed. Wearing the Jesus mask was not working anymore.  I was one among 1500 people at the funeral filled with six caskets, God tapped me on the shoulder.  I looked back. Who was there? His Spirit whispered to mine.  

“I love you, David. I miss you. I want to spend time with you, but we can’t do that if you don’t seek me in the Word.”

Deep in the core of my soul, I knew that this pursuit of Jesus and me had entered a new chapter. 

“Ok, Lord,”  I whispered back. “I’ll meet you in your Word daily.”

I found my King James Bible under my bed, full of dust.  Honestly, those first weeks it was all gibberish to me. I had no idea where to start, or what it was saying to me. But, I kept after it. Jesus kept after me. 

My senior year of high school was hellish. Horrible. I was so confused. I naively thought reading the Bible daily was like a good luck charm. Surely, Jesus would make my days go smoothly if I read even one verse.  But, that was not the case. By December, I was considering suicide. I know it all sounds backward, but what I later realized, God, was tearing down my self-trust, shifting me over to trust in Him.  Still, daily, I pulled out the Bible. 

Fast forward to college. Age 19. I switched to a more legible version of the Bible and that helped tremendously. I guess I wasn’t wired for 1611 King James English.  My college-ruled spiral notebook became a place to jot down the date and what I was reading. Most of the time my journal was filled with questions and prayers. Short, to the point. Heartfelt. I often read the Bible at night (midnight or 1:00 AM) only to wake up at about 7:00 AM having slept on my Bible and journal, which were now a crumpled mess.

As time went on, the journal entries grew longer. My sense of bearings stabilized. God was up to something. With the help of the campus ministry I was active in, I learned some great Bible study skills that helped me see the relevance of the Word to my daily life. 

In the way of your testimonies I delight

    as much as in all riches. Psalm 119:14

The richness of the Word and the glory of God meeting me in some of my roughest times spurred in me a deeper value for Him than any riches this world could offer.

Beyond a doubt, my motivation for being in the Word compelled me more than anything else.

Every morning this thought goes through my mind:

The Bible is the inspired, living, and active Word of God. (Hebrews 4:12-13).  When I encounter the Word, the Holy Spirit wants to say something to me. Something about my life, the situations I’m facing, The issues my family and friends are going through. The guys I mentor. Jesus is there, In fact, the God of the Universe longs to be with me; to sit in His presence.  Why would I want to miss that?

Tips on Journaling

Not a single word I write is inspired on the level of Holy Scripture. What I journal is a glimpse into the conversation Jesus and I are having. Somedays it’s quiet, ordinary, peaceful. On other days, it’s a torment of emotions, unanswered questions, pain, and tears.  Regardless, Jesus is my safe place and journaling helps me process what God is saying to my soul.

There are essentially two ways I approach journaling.

1. Topical.  Not every morning, but many, before I roll out of bed, I ask Jesus if there is anything, in particular, he’d like to say to me. Any scripture he wants to meet me in. Sometimes, he brings up an attitude or fear I’ve been hanging on to. We go to a passage he lays on my soul. Many times it’s a familiar passage. One where the pages of my Bible are worn out, and excessively underlined. 

 “Here again, Jesus.”

At other times, he speaks to me through a book I might have read the night before. Recently, I’ve been working through Jonathan Martin’s book ‘How to Survive a Shipwreck’.  A phrase pops off the page and as I turn off the lights, Jesus helps me ruminate over that thought.  Frequently, the next morning, he shows me a passage I haven’t read that speaks exactly to that thought. My journals capture what he is doing in my heart.

This topical process could go on for days, weeks, or even months.  I’m never in a rush to move on to the next thing if Jesus wants to continue a conversation with me on a certain matter. 

2. Systematic. Don’t let that word scare you. When I refer to systematic it’s usually taking a book of the Bible or a large portion of one and walking through it a paragraph at a time.  Recently, I’ve been listening to a series of podcast episodes by BEMA Discipleship.  Marty Solomon and his co-host Brent Billings were going through Matthew verse by verse. It opened my eyes to seeing the Scriptures in a way I hadn’t seen before. Bringing in the Jewish perspective gained me a fuller, richer view of who God is and what he wants to say to me!  Those journal entries reflect this growing understanding of God and his Word.

I’m in my fifth decade of journaling; one page a day. Part of it is my personality. Some call me boring, I call myself consistent!  There is no arrogance in me saying this, but I’ve probably missed a total of three weeks in these five decades.  (Having heart surgery is probably a legit reason.)

Yes, my journals have an anal part about them too, I guess. My son, Justin, likes to reference some obscure date in the past. 

“Dad, what did you do on March 13, 1997?”

To which I can pull from my journal shelf and report not only the time I got up and went to bed if I worked that day, any significant happenings if I traveled that day, and what the weather was like. I also share what scripture I read that day and a synopsis of what God and I journaled about. 

 He smiles and will call out another day in another year. 

There is NO WAY I am suggesting guys journal daily as if that is a badge of honor.  The point isn’t to fill up your journal just because a day passed. Looking over Lewis and Clark’s journal, it isn’t a daily record. Sometimes, a few days go by before another entry is documented.

The point is to journal the frontier God is taking you on as a man.

Jotting down encounters refines a man’s soul. Your masculinity comes forth.

Whenever I am going through a dry spell with Jesus, wondering what he’s up to in my life, all I need to do is take an hour, pull out my journal, and read random entries over the past 3-6 months. Invariably, my dryness is watered with the richness of who he is. 

You can write in a spiral notebook, a Moleskine, or one of those manly leather journals with a wrap-around leather strap.  God could care less. What matters to him is that you two connect.

Real men journal.

Warrior On!

David Riffel is the Founder and Executive Director of Having gone through his warrior years (18-30) essentially without a mentor, God has placed in him a heart for warriors, to come alongside them in various ways as they figure out life. David’s newly released book, Mentoring Warriors: Coming Alongside Young Men 18-30, outlines principles for mentoring and gives advice for warriors in six key areas of life: self-management, life skills, education/career, relationships, faith, and identity.

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