My life changed on the day my sixth grade teacher handed out notebooks that we could use for anything. I filled it solid with stories and drawings from front to back, even resorting to the margins of the times tables as I ran out of pages.
I didn’t realize the significance of this moment until much later in my life, but I now can see that I was made to write. Something comes alive with possibilities inside of me when I have a chance to write. It shouldn’t have surprised me that journaling became a vital part of my prayer journey over time.
While I had typically kept a more conventional journal with my thoughts about Bible study or my reflections on the day, my prayer journal has served a somewhat different purpose even if there is some overlap with my past prayer practices.
Prayer journaling is an opportunity to process my thoughts, to put my feelings and reactions into words, and to move myself out of the cycle of reacting and responding to the events of the day without proper reflection.
If swirling thoughts make it difficult to pray, my journal offers a place to store them, to see them in black and white, and to process them before I even begin to pray. This freedom to reflect may simply lock the thoughts away on the page or it may guide me in what I need to pray for as a request or as a simple practice of trust.
Even a few sentences of reflection can make all of the difference in my mental and spiritual outlook for the day. If I am unsettled, distracted, or worried, a brief review of my journal offers a telling clue about how much time I’ve had for reflection and perspective.
I’ve shared in The Contemplative Writer and in Pray, Write, Grow that prayer and writing tend to draw from similar practices of reflection, and a journal can offer a particularly helpful meeting point of these two related practices.
While I may journal about a particular insight or change in perspective, the goal of my journal isn’t to record my fantastic spiritual experiences and insights. Rather, I’m hoping to clear away the clutter of my mind preemptively before entering a time of prayer.
Even if I don’t have spiritual ends in mind, journaling brings these benefits as I gain a better handle on my thoughts and move out of a reactive stance into a more reflective and even receptive position.
I don’t necessarily even call my journal a “prayer journal.” It’s just my journal. Who knows what I may write in there, but the spiritual benefits are why I carry it just about everywhere.
There is a lot of freedom in knowing that I can deposit any thoughts on my mind in the journal. To my surprise, they often stay there, unable to withdraw themselves unless I go searching for them.