What Bible Journaling Looks Like for Me
For Christians, this week is Holy Week, the final week in Lent when we remember Jesus’ last week of humanity and all the good and bad that went with those seven days. When we think about Holy Week and Jesus’ journey, it’s sometimes hard to get a good handle on what happened. Of course the events are simple and Catholics can take a look at the Stations of the Cross for a timeline of those last moments. But a timeline doesn’t always fill in the emotional, personal, and spirtual side of things.
I attended Catholic schools for most of my life, and I often wondered what I was supposed to be feeling when we would do the Stations of the Cross and talk about Jesus and His atonement for us. Is this a sad thing? A victorious thing? Do I have to feel bad all week and not take joy in things? What would Jesus like me to feel and think and do right now? What is Jesus telling me this week?
If you don’t have a terribly strong connection to Jesus, like I didn’t at that age, it’s so hard to understand His message for us and the kinds of things He wants for us to get out of His story. If we don’t know who Jesus is to us, all of this spiritual stuff is that much harder. Sometimes we’re behaving like we have a deep connection, but that can often belie a faith that’s not all there. A faith that reflects just the very top layer of the true depths beneath that God intended for us to engage.
And that’s totally ok! We all grow at different paces and no spiritual biography is ever a linear one. I’ve found some ways to really get to know Jesus and interact with Him in my life I’d like to share if you’re trying to figure out just what the heck to do with yourself this week.
+ Bible Journaling
Bible you like
A little bit of time
Now this is MY list of supplies for my favorite way to interact with scripture, so the supplies might look different for you! I really enjoy reading the New International Version (NIV) of the Bible. Of course I have Catholic bible editions saved on a Bible app I love (non-Catholics: we have a few extra books), but I like the readability of the NIV. I also like that it has simple language and very few footnotes. I am a very distractible reader, and like to have as little on the page as possible.
I love having a journaling Bible too. These are specially made for those who like to illuminate their Bible with all kinds of drawings, pulling out verses, washi tape, colored pencils, you name it. I just like the especially wide margins and pages that don’t bleed through. I tried decorating in the past and found it distracting for me. Others really like to use their Bibles this way!
In terms of highlighters, you can totally use whichever you like and color code the verses you discover. I have a pink and yellow highlighter. When I’m highlighting scripture, if God is talking it’s in yellow and if we’re talking it’s in pink. Super simple. This doesn’t have to be anything complicated unless you like complicated.
Now that the supplies are out of the way, how exactly do I make this work and how do I get to know God this way?
Through years and years and years of reading, I developed a method that works for me. Everyone interacts with scripture in their own way. This is just how it clicks best and a method I’ve been using for a long time.
The first thing I do is pick a book of the Bible that I’m feeling particularly drawn to at any given point in my journey. I let God help me out with that. Right now I’m slogging through Psalms, one chapter at a time, and have been for months. I’ve felt called to Isaiah recently, Exodus in the past, Romans, Acts, Luke, whichever book I feel like I’m drawn to at the moment.
Once I find a book, I stick with it, chapter by chapter, until I finish. Then I move on to the next book I discover.
I like to stick to a certain schedule and routine so I can make sure to have time set aside to dig in. Pretty much every Monday, I’ll pick up my Bible, turn to the chapter where I left off, and get started. You can try reading and journaling about a chapter every day, three times a week, once a month, every other month, whatever works with your lifestyle right now.
Once I block out that time, I start with Chapter 1 of my chosen book. I read through the chapter and highlight anything that sticks with me. It can be something I think God wants me to reflect on, something that I’m feeling, a verse I just can’t shake, a verse I don’t understand, however it strikes me. Once I get done reading and highlighting, I get to work on the journal part. And this is how I read every week. The next week it would be Chapter 2, and then Chapter 3, and so on.
I think it’s good to reflect on one chapter at a time, regardless of their length. It helps me to really think about what I’m reading and tease out every last bit of meaning I can find.
When I was 16, I read through the whole Bible in a year. That was a sprint, with a real structure and milestones. Now that I’m older, I like to have a more leisurely pace so I can really invest in God’s word. I’m happy and proud of that accomplishment, but I find I’m drawn to scripture in a different way right now.
After highlighting, I open my journal and copy down the highlighted verse that most impacted me on the top of my journal page. I also like to date that page, so I can kind of look back on it in the future and have a better idea of what was happening in my life at that moment.
The act of copying verses really helps sink them into my heart. I think the physical act of writing, one letter at a time, helps me focus, quiets my mind, and allows the words to be written on my heart a little bit better.
After I copy the verse and date the page, I start the journal entry as a letter to whichever member of the Trinity I’m feeling that day and with whatever term of endearment I feel like using. Some days it’s “Father God,” other days “Abba,” other days, “Jesus.” It changes depending on where I am in my journey and Who I feel most comfortable approaching. I’ve been blessed with a real desire in my heart to connect with the Father, so that’s Who has been getting my attention most lately.
Once I address the journal entry/letter, I let everything free flow out of my heart and on to the page. Some days I begin by writing about the verse I copied, what I think about it, how it struck me, maybe asking God how I can apply that to my life.
Some days I launch into the nitty gritty of my day. I can talk about how frustrating traffic was, how I’m losing my patience with my family, how I’m tired of being tired all the time. Those are the concrete, daily life entries that need to be said so I can get that all out of the way.
I like to think about the mundane letters as a way to spill out everything so I can focus on God, like the Israelites did at the Temple. Sacrifice things that matter to your daily life so you can focus on the Presence of God in His Temple. I don’t think those words are wasted and believe that if they are important to us, they’re important to Him.
Some days I ask lots and lots of questions, some polite and some not so polite, some things that are burning on my heart and are frustrations, and some things that I’m genuinely curious about.
Other days, I might just rage and rage at God. I might take out all my thunderous anger on Him because He’s the only one Who can take it. And the only One who can take it away.
I think the last category of entries is when I just get lost in His Presence and write any words or phrases or images He puts on my heart. I might thank Him, praise Him, whatever. Those are the best entries! I love resting in His Glory and seeing and hearing things that are altogether supernatural. I’m not the kind of person who embraces a charismatic vibe, but the mystic thing really speaks to me. It’s such a joyful way to connect to God on another level.
I think the most important thing of all is to approach this as honestly and authentically as possible. Vulnerability is key. Whatever words I have on my heart, whatever feelings, whatever paths my mind takes me, I lay it all down at His throne. It’s hard at first to be fully vulnerable, but some practice and habit really help break down those barriers. It makes His heart joyful when we set it all at His feet and allow Him to lift away our burdens.
And that’s it! Little by little, week by week, verse by verse, year by year, I get to work my way through God’s heart. I get to have a better idea of what He asks of me, what He speaks to me and over me, and how He wants me to live this life. He gives us such a simple gospel. It’s good to strip away all the academic stuff, the translations and interpretations, the official pronouncements of scripture, and just pasture a little in His garden. Those things are great and important, but if they’re not engaging our hearts, then I think maybe we’re not getting the fullness of His Word.
It’s in this way that I fell head over heels in love with God. It’s just that simple. I read and read and interacted and poured over and savored and engaged in His Word, and I just fell so hard for the Man at the center of this story. My love for the Father just took off when I started seeing Who He really is in the Hebrew Scriptures, how He was speaking to us, to me, all along. And Holy Spirit just kept writing on my heart as I was reading, copying, and journaling His Word. The words of Jesus that came from His earthly walk endear me to His Heart and help me understand Him better.
It’s something that has really had the greatest impact on my faith, and it’s not complicated at all!
Some people out there really connect with God in the rituals of their faith. Some connect through repetitive or meditative prayer practices. Some interact with God out in the world, through lakes, and streams, and oceans. Some use music to allow Him to speak to their hearts. Some hear Him clearly in service to others or championing the forgotten. I find Him, clearly and sweetly, speaking to me through His Word. It’s a good thing to try out all of these things. It’s even better to find the one that speaks to you in the words you need to hear and practice it often.
Take my Bible journaling practice for what it is: a favorite practice in a simple faith. I really encourage you to try it for yourself. And don’t give up after a month or so. Really stick to it for a solid block of time! I firmly believe that your heart will never be the same again. And that’s really what Holy Week is all about: interacting with God on a day by day basis, letting Him speak to our hearts, and letting Him tell His story over and over so we can find a fresh outpouring of His love in every moment of our lives.