Pastor Don's Journal Articles
Allow Me, Please
Someone asked me: "What's the best advice you've ever been given?" I dish out a lot of it, of course, but I can also take it -- and I have received a lot of good counsel in my life.
"Hold on to instruction, do not let it go; guard it well, for it is your life" (Prov. 4:13).
There was the evangelist who persuaded me to trust Christ as my savior. The Deacon Chairman in my first church who said I ought to lift my self-imposed rule not date girls who attended my church, and ask out Audrey. The Bible teacher who spent a day with us and encouraged us never to borrow money for things that depreciate. Then there was the radio announcer in Henderson, NC, who taught me that when speaking on the radio: "You aren't talking to 'thousands out there in radio land', you are communicating with one person, sitting alone in his car, or someone ironing clothes in her laundry room". Always talk directly, to one person. Maybe the best advice on preaching I ever got. That, and "preach the truth in love", one mentor insisted. "Your pews are filled with hurting people".
Just as my ministry was beginning -- I was 19 years old -- an older pastor suggested that I keep a diary of my work. Sermon titles preached, people visited, couples I married and the people I baptized. I took him up on it immediately, and for more than 40 years now I have kept a daily record. All those items -- plus thoughts, insights, snippets of conversation, prayers and even pictures. A journal of my life, an accounting of my pilgrimage. Literally, every day of my adult life and my pastoral ministry.
More and more, this is the advice I pass on to younger people I meet and spend time with.
A diary is "a butterfly net for the catching of days", to borrow a phrase from Annie Dillard. I enjoy the discipline of writing things down, almost as they happen, and interpreting events as I go. Then, the pleasure of re-reading those experiences months or years later. Often I will annotate earlier entries with updates -- when time has supplied a better perspective, or when the prayers were finally answered. "My firewood warms me twice", wrote Thoreau. "For I labor to cut my own".
On a snowy winter's night I can sit down with a cup of hot coffee, open a volume from, say, 1986, and live all over again those times when John Mark was just a toddler. Or go on that vacation again from 2003. It's how I am able to write things like my last two posted "Pastor's Journal" entries. Everything is there to refresh and warm my memory.
One day these books will belong to my son, if he wants them. Maybe a grandchild will find them up in the attic one rainy afternoon, blow off the dust, and read well into the night of who her granddad was. Maybe some of my passion will get passed down through the pages of my journals and catch fire in generations yet unborn. Another kind of immortality. I can hope for that, anyway.
My journals are not totally confessional. I do not write out my sins (or the sins of anyone else, either) for someone in the future to uncover. I've got more sense than that. Our secrets are safe. Everything in them is true, but still my best face forward. I fully expect that someone will be reading them one day, and I want them to think more of me, not less.
I mention all of this again, because the beginning of 2017 is the perfect time for you to begin a written record of your time spent on this earth. Like mine, many of your days are typical, uneventful, rather mundane. But even in their ordinariness we can glimpse the hand of God if we are paying attention. And then there will be those very special days, those "key" moments that come along -- often unexpected. They should not be scribbled on a cocktail napkin but chiseled into stone. Someone ought to write about them. Why not you?
One more bit of advice -- this from Oscar Wilde: "I always travel with my diary. One should always have something sensational to read on the train."