What is the benefit of keeping a journal if I don’t have a family? I am the last one alive in my family, no children, nieces or nephews. I made an interstate move a while ago and packed up 40 years of journals with me. UPS made pretty good money as it took several boxes to ship these things to my new home (I don’t drive). For the last several years I’ve been scanning to the computer to save space and be ready for the next move. (I’ve lived in Utah for 9 years now and I don’t intend to die here.
One of my favorite glimpses into the humanity of the Book of Mormon’s writers is Chemish, the son of Omni, brother of Amaron.
“Now I, Chemish, write what few things I write, in the same book with my brother; for behold, I saw the last which he wrote, that he wrote it with his own hand; and he wrote it in the day that he delivered them unto me. And after this manner we keep the records, for it is according to the commandments of our fathers. And I make an end.” (Omni 1:9)
It sounds like Amaron did his duty to write on the plates of Nephi the way some of us do our home teaching: on the last possible day of the month. He wrote the little bit that he did on the last day he had the plates, before giving them to his brother. Then Chemish wrote a little and said, “And after this manner, we keep the records… .” The whole Book of Omni covers several generatons and provides interesting insights into the passing of time and history. Unfortunately, its sparse record leaves us hungry for more. Does this describe our journals?
If you think about it, the Book of Mormon is a compilation from the writings that were recorded in “journals” by ancient saints. Not all of them were called as prophets in an official capacity. According to tradition, Luke was one of the Seventy, and as such, an occasional companion to Paul, but he wasn’t an apostle, prophet, or a president of the Church. He took it upon himself to write the narrative that is now known as the Gospel of Luke. We can’t say that this was an official assignment, but in the text, it is addressed to someone named Theophilus. Luke wasn’t intentionally writing scripture–he was sharing his knowledge and testimony with a friend. Without the Gospel of Luke, many important details of Jesus’ life and birth would have been lost to history.
Likewise, the epistles of the New Testament were letters of guidance, exhortation, and counsel to the dispersed congregations of saints. Their writers didn’t sit down to write scripture. They were regulating the affairs of the Church, urging faithfulness, instructing in doctrine, correcting misunderstandings, and warning against dangers. They became scripture–but they weren’t written as scripture.
Latter-day Saints have a unique understanding of revelation and scripture. In Doctrine and Covenants 68:4, the Lord instructed:
“And whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation.”
When you write in your journal, you may be moved upon to bear your testimony, to offer reflections on your trials, and to share hopes for the good to prevail. You may share your struggles against adversity and even feelings of inadequacy. It is entirely conceivable that something you write could end up providing comfort or guidance for someone–even hundreds of years from now.
President Kimball once exhorted members to keep a journal and told them that, in the future, angels may quote from it. You might think this unlikely, but do you think that the writers of Ecclesiastes or Proverbs would imagine that we would be quoting from them and finding comfort in their words centuries later?
If we don’t write the details of events down in a journal, how easy it is to forget them. The Savior commanded Nephi to write down the prophecy of Samuel the Lamanite. If he had not done so, that marvelous prophecy would not have been preserved to us. Joseph Smith advised keeping careful records of events, stating that some important details of the Restoration had already been lost because they weren’t written down, likely referring to the dates of the First Vision and the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood. Adam’s “journal” was called a “book of remembrance”, because it preserved knowledge of important events for later dispensations.
I once provided this scenario to a youth Sunday School class: Imagine people living in the end of the Millennium. There will come a time when Satan is loosed once more, and he will begin to corrupt a world that has known nothing but peace for hundreds of years. Contention, strife, dissension, apostasy, and wars will ensue, leading up to the final battle of Gog and Magog. Before that time comes, there will be saints who will struggle with the same conditions that are eminently familiar to us today. Where will they turn for counsel, instruction, and hope? They will turn to the “scriptures” that were left behind by the saints who lived in the last time Satan had dominion over the telestial world. They might find hope in the words of the “Epistle of Juan to his brother Marco” or in the “Gospel of Kimberly.” Who knows, there might be a Gospel Doctrine class lesson manual, some 800 years into the Millennium that quotes from the “Testament of Shasta.”
When you are writing your journal, you are providing a record for the future which God can use to inspire and instruct others, as well as to be a reminder to yourself of how far you’ve come. There is a power in the written word that is eternal. What is recorded on earth is recorded in heaven (D&C 128:7). For this reason, we should ensure that our journals are accurate, balanced, and without exaggeration. We do not need to dwell on the sordid details of our mistakes; neither should we overemphasize our triumphs. What will appear as we record our experiences is the evidence of the hand of Providence guiding our lives for his own purposes. We will see the Lord’s influences in our lives in ways we may not have noticed at the time we underwent a particular experience, but which only became apparent years after the event.
Journals, personal and family histories, are treasures for future generations. It was the case with the records that became the Book of Mormon, that Ammaron had no family to whom he could pass on the records. He found a “sober child” ten year-old named Mormon, whom he perceived to be “quick to observe”, and he made arrangements to ensure that Mormon would receive the records and the requisite instructions to carry out the task of perserving them (Mormon 1:2). If you have no family to whom you can leave your journals when you pass, it may be possible to bequeath them to another person you trust, to the Church archives, or to a historical society where they might be preserved. Scanning your journals is an excellent idea to preserve them from decay and loss.