Try the spiritual equivalent of making your bed.

by Kathryn Haueisen

“IF YOU WANT TO CHANGE THE WORLD, start by making your bed.” Admiral William McRaven’s 2014 commencement address at the University of Texas, Austin, went viral with this secret to success. I believe journaling is the spiritual and emotional equivalent of making your bed. This simple, short routine offers mental, physical, emotional and spiritual benefits that help us process yesterday and prepare for today.

Research from the University of Rochester Medical Center verifies that journaling is good for our health because it helps us:
• manage anxiety;
• reduce stress;
• cope with depression;
• prioritize problems, fears and concerns;
• track symptoms to identify triggers and learn techniques to manage them; and
• give ourselves positive self-talk to override negative messages.

If journaling is new to you, try these tips to get started:

1. Set a timer and journal for 10 minutes at the same time every day. Write “I can’t think of anything to write” if you’re stuck, until a new idea occurs to you.

2. Start each journal entry with the same few words, such as the date, day of the week, your location and the time of day.

3. Then write “Yesterday” and record what you did the day before. Now your brain is engaged and ready to help you write about what’s transpiring in your life.

4. You might also write your responses to a daily devotion from Christ in Our Home or The Word in Season (both from Augsburg Fortress) or another resource.

Sharing is good, but sharing journal entries is not. Journaling is a way to pour out your deepest hopes, dreams, concerns, regrets and hurts, but only if your subconscious trusts that your writing is for your eyes only. If your subconscious senses someone else might know what you’ve written, you won’t be as free to express yourself fully.

However, the day will come when someone must decide what to do with your journals. You might consider keeping your journals for others to go through someday when you no longer know or care what others think. Future generations will be as fascinated by how we coped with the COVID-19 pandemic and other issues of our times as we are about life in earlier generations.

Perhaps a compromise is to periodically review your journals, destroy pages that are too personal and leave the rest for others to review and preserve or destroy.

There is no wrong way to journal. In my “Journal for Your Health” workshops, I encourage participants to try one of these three approaches: record-keeping, prayer or dream journals.

Enter a date, time and place, and record your daily experiences. Include such things as:
• what you ate and how you got your food;
• what you wore and where you got your clothes and other household items;
• what you did for recreation and relaxation;
• who you interact with regularly—family, friends, work colleagues or other church members;
• where you worship and what worship is like, especially during the pandemic;
• what and who was popular—books, movies, TV shows, celebrities, political personalities.

I learned this simple T.R.I.P. prayer technique at a retreat and use it almost daily.

T: Give thanks for things and people you’re grateful for. Expressing gratitude is beneficial for our overall mental and emotional health. Try to list 7 to 10 items. They might be as simple as having a comfortable place to sit and a dog or cat for companionship.

R: Record regrets about a situation or request God’s help with a personal challenge.

I: List intercessions on behalf of others.

P: Write about plans for the new day or future, such as a big goal you hope to accomplish.
Find a closing benediction that works for you and end with that. This trains your brain to
prepare to move on with your day, like the bell at the end of class.

God has used dreams throughout history to warn, guide, prepare or console people. Dreams often don’t make sense because they are coded language, symbols, puns or plays on words. 
This overrides the conscious mind, which constantly warns us to be afraid and anxious.

To sneak around those negative messages, dreams come in coded language. If you want to try to interpret your dreams, try these tips.

1. Pray before you sleep that you’ll remember your dream. All people dream, but not all people
are aware of their dreams.

2. Before you even open your eyes in the morning, think about what you dreamed. Go over it a
few times in your mind, as you might rehearse what to say to someone about an important issue.

3. As soon as possible, jot down what you remember, including symbols, people, places and
any actions or conversations. With practice and time, you’ll remember more and more details.

4. Ask God to help you understand your dream.

5. Review what you wrote. Circle words, objects or people that stand out as being particularly
strange or significant. Dreams often contain puns. For example, a dragon might refer to something dragging on and on. A tree is wood and might suggest something that would happen.

6. Pick a word or phrase and treat it as another person with whom you can have a conversation.
Write your initials to represent yourself and another letter to represent the item or person you selected, then write a script of your conversation. Start by asking questions such as “Tree,
why have you appeared to me?” or “Tree, what have you to tell me?” You may be amazed at
how your subconscious mind will respond.

Though this may seem strange, the subconscious mind stores memories of everything we’ve ever experienced. Tapping into those memories is one way God communicates with us. 

Give yourself the gift of a private place to reflect on what’s happening around you, and see if this doesn’t help you feel calmer and more hopeful.