On Keeping a Diary

by Don Hemingway

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    Who has not found great interest and delight in reading the “Book of Parley,” the journal of Elder Parley P. Pratt published as his autobiography? It was thusly named by Elder Pratt even as Mormon called his writing the Book of Mormon. The “Book of Willford,” the journal of President Wilford Woodruff, is one of the basic sources of early Church history. The diary of Heber C. Kimball contains details of Zion’s Camp and early missionary service in England that are found in no other writing. The seven-volume History of the Church is basically journals of the Prophet Joseph Smith. In a similar vein, the personal diary of Samuel Pepys is a very valuable source of English history during the 1660s.

    One of the great values of these writings is that they were written at the very time and occasion of the events they describe. Details were carefully recorded. From them can be built histories of nations and peoples.

    “But,” one says, “what has that to do with me? The events of this day are recorded many times over. There is nothing of significance that I might write in a diary.” Before coming to such a conclusion, let us reflect a moment.

    The details of this hour—the pleasures, the conversation, the humor, the sorrow, the deep feelings, the distinctive understanding, the special guidance of the Spirit, the prayers and their answers, the laughter of children, the tenderness at times of mourning—all of these and so much more will soon fade and become indistinct, if not completely forgotten, if they are not recorded.

    A child will ask, “Was I born in the morning or at night? What day of the week was it? Were you happy to have me come along? How did you decide on my name?” Will your memory provide all of the answers to his endless questions?

    Missionaries have always been encouraged to keep journals. The experience of living close to the Lord is most important, and the special blessings that come during a mission are numerous. Living the experience is, of course, enriching and testimony building. Reliving it by recording it is most valuable. Recalling the experience by reading about it later adds again to its worth.

    One of the most valuable of all journal-keeping experiences is recording the day-by-day confirmation that God is your personal Father who has concern about your well being. The recognition and acknowledgement of his hand in your life gives added assurance and faith.

    There will be many special occasions that will arise, and a record of them will be invaluable. Remember that Alma counseled his son Helaman that records enlarge the memory. (See Alma 37:8.)

    Suppose you are set apart for a particular Church assignment, or ordained to a new office in the priesthood, maybe by your father, the bishop, the stake president, or a General Authority. Unless you remember and record the counsel, promises, and blessings, they will soon be forgotten. In your diary they could give you guidance throughout a period of service in a particular calling.

    Suppose at some future day you ordain your son to the priesthood or confirm your daughter a member of the Church. The deep impressions, the vision in your mind’s eye, the insight of those moments should be recorded. They may never return again for that particular child.

    Suppose you are ill and receive a blessing from the priesthood. Your special feelings could well be recorded. Suppose you receive a father’s blessing. The sacred thoughts expressed in such a blessing can give you comfort, hope, and guidance long after they have been spoken. Although the words of a patriarchal blessing are recorded, the anticipation, preparation with fasting and prayer, impressions, and deep feelings you experience at that time are not recorded unless you do it. The sacredness of such an hour recorded while fresh upon your memory will mean more and more to you as the years go by.

    The counsel of a mother or father at a time of parting, achievement, or failure is of great worth.

    Perhaps you have read a book that has left you with impressions and ideas that ring true to life, that give you courage to continue the upward climb. Let those thoughts be recorded before they slip away.

    Perhaps you have written a poem. No publisher may accept it, but your diary will be delighted.

    One day you will become 21 years of age. Is there a new feeling of responsibility?

    The special meaning of your marriage for eternity recorded when feelings and thoughts are fresh and clear will never lose its special warmth.

    Suppose you travel to a foreign land and see a Shakespearean play at Stratford-upon-Avon, or spend a reverent moment in the Garden of Gethsemane, or visit the grotto in Bethlehem that tradition says is the birthplace of the Savior. Maybe you will stay at home and experience kindness and love in the home of your grandmother. Suppose you hear a special testimony in fast meeting, a sermon at sacrament meeting or conference, something that moves you and causes searching and reflection. Such events have extra meaning if recorded.

    At some future family home evening some of your children in their teens will gather round and have a great time reading of the dating and courtship that resulted in the beginning of their family. They will be amused to find that Mom was once a girl and Dad a boy facing the problems of a world not too far removed from their own.

    A diary can be practical, too. The recording of deaths, births, marriages, personal endowments, and baptisms is important. Background investigations for special jobs often require dates of schooling, graduation, employment, promotions, moves from one address to another, names of employers, supervisors, neighbors, courses of instruction. The recording of travel in Church service can be significant at income tax time. The recording of temple attendance, family group sheets and entry forms submitted for temple work, and the payment of tithes and offerings can have meaning in different ways.

    One of the joys of diary keeping is the expanded appreciation of the newness of a new year. The hundreds of blank pages are filled with great possibilities, the anticipation of what is to come. Maybe just for fun a few predictions can be made as to what may happen by the following December 31, maybe a few resolutions that are sure to turn up again, dreams that should be a reality by then, goals for determined achievement.

    Another good reason for keeping a diary is that it solves a very important question. What should your friend, your sister, or your mother get you for Christmas? Why, of course, a new diary. Everyone knows that the last one is bursting with words. It is ready for the shelf.

    Now is the time to decide that you will be a great man or woman, not necessarily in the eyes of man, but great in the desire to possess greater knowledge and to be a more faithful follower of righteousness. (See Abr. 1:2.) Record the steps that are followed in the day-to-day achievement of these goals.

    If you look closely, there is something special every day that needs writing about, for you and for those who follow. A few minutes should be set aside to quietly evaluate and record those things that have personal meaning. Is there not some precious moment, some sacred thought, a dream, an acknowledgement of the hand of the Lord, some personal blessing, the beauty of earth or heaven, some eternal decision, or someone’s kind word that might well be recorded?

    Illustrated by Dale Kilbourn