Maybe it’s a personality thing, but I find perfectionism creeping into every area of my life—including my relationship with God. So often, I have an ideal in my head of what something needs to look like, and nothing less will do.
I’m not artsy, so Instagram-worthy doodles on Scripture’s pages will never be something I produce, and while I may have chalkboard-worthy handwriting, hand-lettering is not my forté. In studying the Bible, the practice of journaling is where my perfectionism was revealed.
Maybe I was nervous someone someday would pick up my journal and read it. Possibly the English nerd in me couldn’t handle fragments or run-on sentences, so each sentence needed to be fully formed, action verbs and all. It may have been I cared more about crafting something that sounded good rather than messily putting my questions, thoughts, and prayers on paper. Maybe I wanted to have it all together before coming to God. Or maybe my pride couldn’t handle my own rawness spilling onto the pages of my journal. Depending on the day, maybe it was all of these things to various degrees.
The MOANS of Journaling
I recently went to lunch with a girl who asked me how I make time in the Word happen on a daily basis. Rather than launching into an explanation, I began asking her questions:
- What’s driving you to ask this question?
- What do studying the Bible and journaling currently look like in your life?
- What do you think they should look like? What’s the expectation you have for yourself in this area?
Her answers exposed a root issue. She felt defeated before she even began because what she was doing didn’t align with the idea she had in her head about what it “should” look like. Whether it’s duration, how much she should be reading, or what she should be journaling, she had a case of the MOANS (must, ought, always, never, should), and the MOANS are five telltale signs of a perfectionist.
M = I must journal like (insert the name of your Bible study leader, friend, or whatever Christian you’re currently fangirling). What I do should look like what they do.
O = I ought to read through the entire Bible in a year.
A = I should always walk away from God’s Word with a mind-blowing truth, a mountaintop feeling, and/or a life-changing application.
N = I should never spend less than 30 minutes (or an hour) a day reading the Bible and journaling.
S = If I want to be a ‘good’ Christian, I should study my Bible first thing in the morning.
Feeling Versus Commitment in Journaling
The MOANS reek of comparison, false expectations, and misconceptions about spiritual growth. It’s easy to see what others do—especially believers you look up to—and feel less-than as a Christian if what you do doesn’t match what they do. When showing girls how I journal, I explicitly tell them that how they journal doesn’t have to look the same as my habits. I’m just showing them one example of what it can look like.
You might be artsy and use doodles as well as words to express what you’re learning (that was one of my mentees, who was an undergrad art major). Maybe you’re Type A like me and have a specific way you organize with bullet points, outlines, and lists. There's a chance you can’t stand college-ruled paper and just need blank pages. Or possibly you use highlighters or colored pencils and color-code your notes. The point is to process what you’re reading in the Bible.
When talking to girls about studying the Bible and journaling, I also encounter the mindset of waiting on feelings in order to do it. I should want to study it, but if I don’t feel like it, it’s better to wait until I do than to come to God’s Word out of duty. Right?
Wrong. Love is an act of the will as well as an emotion. It’s a choice. We don’t wait on our feelings in order to act. We act, and our feelings will eventually get in line because our emotions stem from our thoughts and beliefs.
The Celebration of Delayed Gratification in Journaling
In Women of the Word, Jen Wilkin writes about studying God’s Word with patience and how Bible study is “a celebration of delayed gratification.” It won’t always give us the feels we’re searching for, as though it’s some sort of spiritual Xanax. Studying and journaling it won’t always come easily. Sometimes you’ll struggle to figure out what it means.
I’ve recently been in 1 Corinthians and spent all of July on two chapters because I was trying to wrap my head around Paul’s words about women wearing head coverings and being silent in the church gathering. My journal has things crossed out as further study spotlighted how my original thoughts and interpretations were incorrect. Some pages have questions that are still unanswered with notes and additional questions added in the margins.
These pages aren’t pretty to look at. High school Ashley and even college Ashley wouldn’t have journaled like this, which just goes to show how God has helped me care more about knowing Him and His Word than appearances. And isn’t it telling about my own heart that a perfectionistic concern for appearance would extend even to the pages of my journal?
So, if you suffer from a case of the MOANS, just start somewhere when it comes to opening God’s Word. Start small. This might be five minutes a day. It might be on your lunch break or in your car or while you’re parked eating dinner. Maybe it means giving yourself permission to journal and not write in complete sentences. Or reminding yourself that God already knows everything about you and loves you, a sinner.
Whatever it is, sisters, don’t let perfectionism keep you from deepening your relationship with Jesus in reading and studying His Word.
Your sister, Ashley
Ashley Chesnut serves as the Associate Singles 20s/30s Minister at The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama. She has a Master of Divinity from Beeson Divinity School and a Certificate of Biblical Counseling from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. While Ashley has a passion for discipling young women, she also loves her city and wrote a children’s book about it called Down in the Ham: A Child’s Guide to Downtown Birmingham. When she's not at the church or meeting with girls, you can probably find her at the farmer's market or trying some new local restaurant.