I love to journal. Perhaps because of my passion for history and context. Often when I am traveling, one of the first things I do on a first morning in a new place is to take out my journal and write a few lines. It centers me, a habit similar to some who take out photos of family or familiar places and place them in the room. I have journals lined up on my library shelf dating back 38 years. I don’t write every day, like a diary, but seldom pass 3-4 days without anything going on a page.
People journal in many different ways, and even in different seasons of life. Sometimes one might write during very difficult periods, and then not at all for a year or more. My journal is a record of my own history, and the history around me. It also puts on paper a story of my relationship with God and others, and the greater story in the world. Countless times I have gone back to my journals, noting what books I read in that period (usually a journal covers 18-24 months on average) and even a dream list, both dreams as goals and dreams I have had in the night hours if particularly memorable.
As my wife and I leave on a ministry trip to Pakistan tomorrow, I went back to a journal from many years ago, in July 2001, just one month before another trip to Pakistan. At that time, I was going to meetings in the northern part of the country, in a place called Murree. During the week I was there in August, I went with a colleague to a small city called Abbottabad, just an hour or two away. We were visiting friends there, and it was now less than three weeks before September 11, 2001. Of course none of us had any idea what was to happen, but someone else in Abbottabad did. That was Osama Bin Laden, who was hiding out in the same city and not discovered for another 10 years.
Reading my journal of that same period, I came across a prayer I wrote for my life. I adapted it from a similar prayer written by Henri Nouwen for a friend who was entering the mid-life season of his life. For me, I had just turned 42 years old, and it seemed to fit so clearly what I was feeling and going through in that season. Here it is, as an example of something I wrote in a journal 17 years ago that can still live on today:
As I come to the halfway point of my life, I want to enter into your presence and recommit myself to you. During the last four decades, you have guided me and gradually brought me to a mature faith, to a new confidence in my gifts, and to spiritual adulthood. Along the way I have struggled with many things, trying to find my place in life, trying to find my place in my family, trying to find my place among my colleagues, trying to find my place as your servant. It has been a long journey with many joys and many pains, with many doubts and many hopes, with many moments of loneliness and with moments of beautiful friendship.
Now, as I receive the affirmations of colleagues in being promoted to a new role in my mission, I come again to ask you to lead me always closer to your heart, and to the hearts of those who are entrusted to me. Precisely because I find myself in a secure place, with good health and good friends, I am free to choose you again as my shepherd and my guide. Help me to be humble in the midst of a world that is so full of ambitions. Help me to be vulnerable in a world so concerned with power. Help me to be simple in surroundings that are so complicated. Help me to be forgiving in a society where revenge and retaliation create so much pain. Help me to be poor of spirit in a milieu that desires so many riches and aspires to so much success.
As I enter the second half of my life, I come to you with an open heart, asking that I may trust in the gifts you have given me and may have the courage to take risks in your service. I do not know where you will lead me. I do not know where I will be in two, five or ten years from now. I do not know the road ahead of me, but I know now that you are with me to guide me, and that wherever you lead me, even where I would rather not go, you will bring me closer to my true home.
Thank you, Lord, for my life, for my vocation, and for the hope that you have planted in my heart. Amen.
I’m thankful to have my journal of July 2001, and to have recorded that prayer. Now I desire to keep living into the spirit and reality of it for the rest of my life, the second half.