I ran across my missionary journals the other day and felt drawn to them. How many times in the forty-some years since I served a full-time mission in Southern California had I intended to read them? I brought them upstairs; a few days later, I opened one and began to read. I couldn’t quit. Light seemed to flow from the pages. I had done a good job of recording the ups and downs of missionary life, but was surprised and delighted to discover that the primary, most repeated theme was JOY!
I Had Forgotten to Remember!
Over and over I had written words like “an experience I will never forget,” or “a never-to-be forgotten feeling of joy.” Yet, in fact I had forgotten. Without this written record I would never have thought of these experiences again—at least not in this life. Reading the descriptive words made the feelings of joy swell up once more in my heart. No wonder we are counseled to keep a journal!
I’m anxious to look at my carefully labeled mission slides now (yes, I did serve my mission in the good old days) because I’ve also forgotten most of the faces that go with the names recorded in my journal. Only a few popped up bright in my memory when the written word brought them to mind again.
Reminiscing About Joy
At the time I was called on a mission there was no MTC. Missionaries checked in for a week’s training at the Mission Home at 119 No. State Street, a renovated Salt Lake hotel. (The new Church History building will now fill this spot.) My first mention of joy was on day 4 of my stay, August 13, 1964; I wrote:
“What words can half express that feeling known as joy? It is a swelling within, a peace, a contentment and an assurance of harmony with divine decree—but it is so much more than that. Many General Authorities touched my heart this day—messages struck home, brought tears to my eyes and renewed my determination to overcome obstacles and be what the Lord wants me to be. Today we saw and heard (not only with our ears, but with heart as well) Paul H. Dunn, Marion D. Hanks (dynamic!) Elder Critchelow, John Longden, Alvin R. Dyer, Bishop Victor L. Brown. All of them had things in common—fervent testimonies, strong desires to communicate a message, spiritual strength born of character and struggle and seeking after the Lord. I believe that one thing that makes General Authorities so impressive is that their love for people, their desire to share a conviction, to help, to counsel, to be the Lord’s instruments is so great that fear of man is unknown to them and there is a complete self-forgetfulness in their presentations. Ironically, they at the same time communicate more of themselves than they would dream—but it is their strength, their courage, their conviction that shines through.”
My first area of labor included both Ojai and Ventura, Califronia. On August 27,1964, I wrote of giving the first discussion the first time: “I gave the whole lesson and the Lord answered my prayers and helped me. This couple is choice and I saw the light of understanding creep into their eyes. I love them for their sincerity. I knew joy tonight and have a heart full of gratitude.”
On September 22, 1964, after a full day of productive missionary work, I wrote, “As I walked down the lane back to Smith’s, I enjoyed the avocado trees, a full moon, stars, and peace. I felt a deep joy just being alive. I’m slowly coming out on top—and it’s wonderful to be alive and be more aware each day of my own existence. What a blessed thing it is to have the gospel of Jesus Christ and to understand what life is all about. This is truly joy—the kind of joy that the world knows little of. Who could place a price tag on the value of divine knowledge? How precious is truth. . . how great to understand a little of the personality of God and His wondrous plan for man. How blessed I am indeed.”
A Humorous Kind of Joy
One day I wrote of the joy of not getting arrested! (This is another example of an experience I had totally forgotten about.) One week we had been meeting the Elders in the same place each day—sometimes twice a day. I didn’t mention why, but this was a productive area and I think the main reason was to take them to interview investigators for baptism. I wrote: “On Friday, just as we were leaving, a police car, motorcycle cop, and 2 plainclothes detectives swarmed all over and detained us for questioning. They asked for ID, asked what we were doing there every day, etc. Our meeting place was across the street from Reliance Dairy, whose employees were getting nervous thinking we were getting the layout for a robbery, or were meeting to peddle dope or something. It was really hilarious when they found out we were missionaries. We all got a good chuckle out of it.”
Sharing the Joy of Converts
Later in my mission I often wrote of the joy of helping families progress in the gospel, entries such as this one, written on Sunday May 9, 1965: “The day wasn’t long enough for all the joy to fit in. Recently baptized, Brother Bigelow was ordained a deacon, gave a talk and passed the sacrament in Sacrament Meeting. He said, “Sister Larsen, I hope you’re still here the 1st of the month. I’m going to bear my testimony.” Oh, the marvelous change in that man’s life. He just radiates all over with the spirit of the gospel. Monday, May 10, 1965: his wife, Sally commented “I really don’t know what we would have done if you hadn’t come into our lives! Tony is so different and we’re so much happier, and I can hardly believe it’s all there, there is so much change.” My heart was really full. Here is the joy of being a missionary.”
Compiling a Joy Journal
I’ve wondered if I shouldn’t start compiling a journal of joy. I’ve been a fair journal keeper most of my life, but the joyful moments are lost in a muddle of words and plethora of daunting pages that could keep me from rediscovering them. Most of the joyful moments are also spiritual moments, so by compiling a journal of joy I would also create a life story of the times I least want to forget.
I haven’t found it yet in my journal, but I do have a clear memory of a sweet spiritual experience: I was part of group of missionaries meeting with the mission president, who was dearly loved. At the close of the meeting we stood and sang “I Know That My Redeemer Lives.” The Spirit was so strong in that room and my heart vibrated to the truthfulness of those words as tears ran down my cheeks. I did, indeed “know that my Redeemer Lives because the Spirit was bearing witness to that truth in an unmistakable way.
I knew it then. I know it now. God doesn’t change his mind about spiritual truths. A witness to my heart in another time and place stands today and I can bank on it and lean on it and depend on it even though I may not be feeling it at this moment. If I pulled all such experiences of a lifetime together, imagine what it could mean in my later years reading back and reliving wonderful Spirit-filled experiences. And while my family wouldn’t be likely to plow through volume after volume of my journals, perhaps they would read this one record!
The Importance of Recording Spiritual Experiences
The ultimate journal keeper and historian, Wilford Woodruff, said, “It may be considered by some not important to write or keep a record of our work or the work of God, but I believe it is. Otherwise the prophets would not have been moved upon to exhort us to faithfulness upon this subject. The Lord has told us that what we seal on earth shall be sealed in heaven and what we record on earth shall be recorded in heaven, and what is not sealed or recorded on earth is not sealed or recorded in heaven [see D&C 128:7–8]. Therefore it appears to be very important that we do keep a true and faithful record in all things.”1
He continues, “Some may say [journal keeping] is a great deal of trouble. But we should not call anything trouble which brings to pass good. I consider that portion of my life which has been spent in keeping journals and writing history to have been very profitably spent.”2
Any time I have taken time to go back and read from my journals I have been blessed. When I lose sight of my identity, my journals are the best place I’ve found to regain it. Wilford Woodford said, “If there was no other motive in view [except] to have the privilege of reading over our journals and for our children to read, it would pay for the time spent in writing it.” 3
He concludes: “Should we not have respect enough to God to make a record of those blessings which He pours out upon us and our official acts which we do in His name upon the face of the earth? I think we should.”4
Such writings are like personal scripture. Just as the Book of Mormon people were counseled to record such things, so are we.
Journaling to Recognize God’s Hand in Our Lives
A young New Zealand Saint, Anthony Ngawaka, just 16, summarized this purpose of writing in a journal which Wilford Woodford so pointedly suggested: “The main reason for keeping a journal is to write down God’s dealings with you.”5
President Eyring explained in a most exquisite way both the process and the results of such a practice: “Before I would write, I would ponder this question: “Have I seen the hand of God reaching out to touch us or our children or our family today?” As I kept at it, something began to happen. As I would cast my mind over the day, I would see evidence of what God had done for one of us that I had not recognized in the busy moments of the day. As that happened, and it happened often, I realized that trying to remember had allowed God to show me what He had done.
More than gratitude began to grow in my heart. Testimony grew. I became ever more certain that our Heavenly Father hears and answers prayers. I felt more gratitude for the softening and refining that come because of the Atonement of the Savior Jesus Christ. And I grew more confident that the Holy Ghost can bring all things to our remembrance—even things we did not notice or pay attention to when they happened.”6
Record and Remember!
I never feel like an experience is really finished until I write it down—and what more important experiences to record than those that bring me joy!
Reading excerpts from my missionary journal—which was written before most people now on the earth were even born–has given me great motivation to not only compile but to keep recording joyous experiences for the rest of my life. God’s dealings with men always bring joy. Recognizing His interest in us brings joy, seeing the tender mercies of the Lord pop up in the smallest details of our lives brings joy.
Here’s my conclusion: In order to remember joy tomorrow, record it in a journal today!
1 Journal of Wilford Woodruff, March 17, 1857.
2 Journal of Wilford Woodruff, February 12, 1862.
3 Journal of Wilford Woodruff, September 6, 1856.
4 Feb. 12, 1862
5 New Era, September 2003
6 Henry D. Eyring, “O Remember, Remember,” Ensign, November 2007