Meeting Perpetua

I’ve kept a journal off and on since my early teens. I’ve been tempted many times to toss out the spiral bound volumes filled with doodles of hearts and records of crushes. It’s a bit humiliating to realize that—yes that typical flighty, emotional, giddy fifteen year-old—was me!

Journalling took on an entirely new meaning to me when I met Perpetua during my senior year of college. She was about my age—22 years old. And like me, she was a devoted Christian. As part of a class assignment, I had to read Perpetua’s journal.

Her 1,800 year old journal.

Perpetua was an educated young woman who converted to Christianity and paid a high price—in A.D. 203 Perpetua and her friend Felicity were thrown into prison and later martyred in the arena for their faith. While she was jailed, she kept a prison diary. Her first-person account is thought by many to be the earliest written text by a Christian woman. (You can find her account here.)

As I read Perpetua’s words, imagining myself in her situation—locked away with other young believers, preparing to face martyrdom—“church history” came alive to me. This wasn’t just a matter of names and dates—this was a real, living, young woman who courageously put ink to paper. I’m so thankful she did.

I don’t journal now nearly as much as I once did—time alone to write and think is rare in this current stage of life, juggling work, motherhood, ministry, and marriage. But when I do sit down and put my pen to a blank page, I know it’s worth it. It’s a type of spiritual discipline for me—a way of stretching spiritual muscles, re-centering on the important things of life, clearing away the chaos and the junk.

I don’t usually try to write anything profound—but I try to be real and authentic. If you’re thinking of starting a journal, here are a few tips I’ve found really helpful.

* Don’t write for an audience. Don’t think about your kids reading this years down the road or what your spouse sneaking a peak might think. Just write for you. This is your space to be real, honest, and sincere. (And if you want to write for your children or spouse, write a letter to save for later.)

* Vary your approach. One day you may want to write a prayer. Another day, record a Scripture. Or you may just want to jot down your memories of recent events, feelings about a relationship, or list goals and dreams. When I’m not in the mood for overtly “spiritual” writing, I like to try my hand at poems, list books I’ve read, record good quotes, or spout off about current events.

* Write regularly. I used to journal every day. Now my promise to myself is to journal at least once weekly. Remember, this isn’t a competition! Do what you can and in a way that is fulfilling and meaningful in your own spiritual development.

* Make it yours! Add pictures, doodles, and stickers if you want. Or keep it formal and pretty. Let it reflect who you are.

Most of my old journals are stowed away in a Rubbermaid box in the attic. They’re not nearly as dramatic, profound, or inspiring as Perpetua’s. But they’re a reflection of my life. An ongoing thread, tracing how God has been at work in me and my circumstances. A litany of everyday praise.



One response to “Meeting Perpetua

  1. Interesting–I’ll have to go read hers. I must admit though, I’ve never been one who wants to journal. I think I was scarred in middle school by people writing down things (like who they “liked”) and then getting teased about it. I just can’t write thinking noone will read it. But those are intesting tips! (Oh, I obviously have you liked to my reader and it works just fine! 😉

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