Writing is a lot like like gardening. When we’re willing to get our hands dirty, the blank page becomes a space to cultivate and sustain life — a little plot for growing seeds that, when exposed to just the right slant of sunlight, blossom into nourishing fruit. But as any gardener would know, there’s an art, a cadence to growing green things: A season for uprooting, and another for tilling. Next, a time for waiting while the elements work their magic. Then, finally, the harvest.
The same rhythm rings true in growing ourselves. Thankfully, unlike actual gardening, storytelling requires no green thumb. You don’t even have to identify as a writer to reap the benefits of writing — you just have to do the work.
Reflective journaling engages us with ourselves. It cultivates self awareness, exposing what’s beneath the surface so we can uproot what doesn’t belong and tend to what does, so we can find the stories we’re living and, if needed, write better ones. The process may get messy, but isn’t that the nature of all world-changing work?
Let’s dig in.
1. Write a mission statement for your life.
Theologian Frederick Buechner said, “Vocation is where our deep gladness meets the world’s great need.” What makes your soul glad? What needs do you notice around you? Think about how the two overlap. Can you connect the two purposefully to serve your loved ones, neighborhood, or city? Use what you come up with to craft a mission statement, and use it as a filter for decision making.
2. The grass isn’t greener.
What’s the thing in your life you idealize? That milestone you look toward with anticipation that, when you achieve it, you’ll finally arrive? Maybe it’s a relationship or a job. Whatever it is, flip the perspective. What are the difficulties that thing might add to your life? Write yourself a note from the other side of the fence, the thing you think you have to reach before you can live fully. Be honest about the struggles that might accompany this milestone, and remind your retrospective self to treasure where she is.
3. Root and fruit.
Every action is tied to a belief, like the fruit that blossoms from an unseen root beneath the ground. List a few fruits you see in your life right now — behaviors or emotions on the surface. Then, go to the source. Search for the roots beneath those emotions or actions. Draw it out if you need to. How can you uproot the beliefs causing the behaviors, and what new belief do you want to replace them with?
4. Love yourself.
Write down one area of your life you’re insecure about — the thing you hide from others for fear of being judged or misunderstood. Then, write a letter to the ones you’re worried might judge you, telling them what they’re missing out on when they zone in on your perceived flaws. For example, I’ve felt shame about my body, but it also gave birth to and sustained my son. Bring what you’ve hidden into the light of a new perspective.
5. If your life was a letter, what would it say?
Everything we do and say creates someone else’s reality. For instance, when I live under a cloud of anxiety, I steal the hope you’ve labored hard to live in. When I cringe because of the way the fabric on my dress hits my stomach, I say your body might not be good enough, either. What message are you sending to other people with how you live? How can you change the story?