One of the true advantages and joys of prayer journaling is the ability to look back through your journal pages and see how God has been at work in your life. It’s a consolation, an encouragement and an inspiration to keep moving ahead with your spiritual life! By marking your lessons and insights and realizations (I call them Holy Whispers or even Holy Moly Moments) in your prayer journal, you can easily return to them and recall how God loved you through a difficult phase. Here’s how I (and others) explain it in Praying with a Pen:
“…Don’t let my excitement over Holy Whispers and Holy Moly Moments received in prayer journaling give you the impression that I get these experiences all the time, every day and with the same constant pace that dirty laundry piles up in the laundry room. I don’t. The examples I’ve shared in this book have come to me over the course of many years. I am not a mystic or a saint or even someone who feels extra close to God all day, every day. I am a passenger on the struggle bus, just like you. I am someone who has gotten much better at being quiet and listening, thanks to prayer journaling. But I have a long way to go. In fact, most of the time when I figure out something significant, I want to shake my head and say, Duh, Mary Beth! How could you have not realized this before? And I often go days or weeks without feeling I’m making any progress at all. But that’s another reason to prayer journal and mark your “moments”—when you feel like you are going through a time of spiritual dryness, you can open your past notebooks and smile and have renewed hope and faith. You will know that you are drawing nearer, daughter of a King, one page at a time.
St. Augustine is quoted, “God loves each of us as if there was only one of us.” This means the Holy Whispers you receive will be different from my Holy Whispers, and your Holy Moly Moments will be different from my Holy Moly Moments. God will speak to you in your own language. “If I sense something from the Lord, I write that down,” says Debbie Guardino. “The more you pray, the more comfortable you are in knowing whether it’s the Lord’s voice you hear. The Lord is never speaking above my head in prayer journaling.”
You will want to track those unique-to-you whispers and moments so you will be able to appreciate your steady spiritual growth and progress. I had always known God’s hand was at work in my life, but when I began to track my spiritual growth and insights through my journal pages, I was floored. I could clearly see that grace was changing me, that prayers were indeed answered, that I felt greater peace despite any upheaval that was going on in my life at the time.
Prayer journaling will help you see what God is doing in your life, too, if you learn to mark your moments. Adriene, Jackie and Debbie have all seen the benefits of tracking and reviewing their journal entries. “It is so wonderful to look back at past entries—I can see just what God was showing me during all seasons of my life,” said Adriene. “One of the best things about journaling is it allows me to trace God’s hand of faithfulness,” Jackie said. “When I feel like God isn’t hearing me, I can go back in my journal and see where God has been faithful even though he didn’t answer my prayers like I thought they should be answered (Ha—why do we think we know better than God?).” Debbie adds, “I rely on looking back on my previous prayer journaling experiences when things are difficult: ‘You did hear me and you answered!’”
My friends–mark your prayer journaling “AHA!” moments so you can have the luxury of a look-back!
The final prayer journaling hurdle I hear often? What do I write?? How do I get started?? Well, my friend, there’s a book for that! 😉
Below is how I address this particular hurdle in Praying with a Pen. But keep in mind what I repeat throughout the book: There are no rules! God is just so delighted that you have slowed down enough to sit quietly and spend time with him that the words you write are of secondary importance.
Hurdle #6: I have no idea what to write. Lucky you! You are holding in your pretty hands a book that will give you plenty of easy writing ideas, prompts and formats to try. You won’t be interested in all of them, and some of them will not fit your style. But there will be a few ideas that will speak to you and you will say to yourself, “Hey, maybe I can try that.” God doesn’t care what you write. He already knows what’s on your mind anyway! Just pick something and run with it. If you don’t like the way you are writing today, you get to try something else tomorrow. And just to show you how easy this process is, I’ve included Prayer Journaling Practice questions at the end of each chapter, so you can ease into it without any hitches.
You guys. I haven’t been interviewed on the radio in years. Years. So I was a tad nervous when Gary Zimak asked me to call in to his show on Holy Spirit Radio in Philadelphia to chat about Praying with a Pen. But if you know anything about Gary, you know he’s a super-nice guy and he proved it by really coaching me along with his questions. Listen for yourself–and then go buy a book or two of Gary’s–his Faith, Hope and Clarity is one of my favorites!
(scroll down to Thursday, October 19th’s show; I start babbling about 18 minutes in).
Does prayer journaling sound a little too much like keeping a diary to you? Have no fear—there are important distinctions that we can make between the two. Read on…
Prayer journaling hurdle #5: I feel funny keeping a diary at my age. Does the idea of prayer journaling bring back embarrassing memories of your annoying brother finding your diary and telling the world that you had a crush on that cute boy in your class? (This may or may not have happened to me.) Well, here’s the good news: Prayer journaling is not the same as keeping a diary. Oh sure, there will be times when you will need to review your day, discuss a problem with Jesus, or try to work through a life event. And you will want to keep your journal private as you would a diary. But prayer journaling is not a litany of your daily actions, or the hilarious thing your cat did or your ongoing diet challenges (although it’s OK to pray that you will stick to your healthy eating plan—speaking from experience here!). Prayer journaling is prayer. It’s praying, but with and through a pen. It’s a time to be with God and “discuss” spiritual matters. It’s a time to converse with Jesus, give thanks, pray for others, track your spiritual progress, explore your faith, flesh out those Holy Spirit elbows you keep feeling in your ribs, reflect on Scripture and dive deeper into your relationship with God. It’s a place to record your spiritual goals and spiritual questions. It’s a place to review those sins that seem to repeat themselves and a place to feel God’s mercy for the forgiveness of those sins. It’s a way to discern your gifts and talents and how to use them to build God’s kingdom here on earth. It’s a place to document observations, personal reflections and notes on books you are studying. You can save your inspired realizations (I call them “Holy Whispers” –more on those later.) You can log your spiritual growth and the healings you have experienced. And you can simply have a conversation with the Father. Or Jesus. Or the Holy Spirit—whatever you feel like doing when you open your notebook. The possibilities are endless! It is your alone time with Jesus and your opportunity to be still and learn from Him. No annoying brothers (or cute boys) allowed.
The fourth in our series of prayer journaling hurdles is for you folks who assume you need to have writing talent in order to prayer journal—not true!
Prayer journaling hurdle #4: I hate to write; I just hate it. Don’t panic or hyperventilate over this one, my friend. Prayer journaling is a low-stress form of writing—no brown paper bags will be needed to keep you calm. Your writing is never graded, it doesn’t require those tedious footnotes that made us all despise writing term papers, and it doesn’t have to follow any particular style. It’s just you and the pen and the paper and whatever you want to write, however you want to write it. You don’t even have to write in sentences! Now that’s not something your high school English teacher would approve of, but believe me, God doesn’t care about spelling or grammar or sentence structure or the legibility of your handwriting. Neither should you. And breathe even easier, my friend: no artistic talent is necessary in prayer journaling. All those new, trendy journals that promote drawings and decorations and multi-color pens and pencils are not the point here. It says “stress-free” in this book’s subtitle, right? We’re going to keep it simple. It’s about heart-to-heart communication with God, not creating a work of art or writing a best-selling novel.
Are you ready to take on the third common objection I hear when I suggest the practice of prayer journaling? It’s probably the most popular one of all, and with good reason. It’s legitimate!
Hurdle #3: I just don’t have time—I can barely manage to brush my teeth every day. I hear ya. I recall when my first child was born and I was on maternity leave. My husband would return home from work at the end of the day and find me still in my bathrobe—I had two college degrees but I couldn’t find a way to take a shower while I was caring for my newborn. Happily (for all of us), I settled in to a routine and managed to figure out how to fit in appropriate personal hygiene. Here’s the ugly truth, girlfriend: For most of us, it’s all about priorities. And taking that first intentional step. And maybe setting your alarm a few minutes earlier, or giving up some social media time, or asking for a little help in the mornings if needed. In later chapters of my book, we go over some tips and tricks to finding the time to spend with Jesus. Prayer journaling will soon become part of your routine.
We are on to hurdle #2 of our series of 6 Prayer Journaling Hurdles we can all overcome. Take a big breath and leap into prayer journaling! You won’t regret it!
Hurdle #2: I’m afraid I’m going to mess it up somehow. You are God’s beloved child. Remember? Beloved! This is your time to just sit back and be his daughter while you journal. If you stumble and fall and stop journaling for a while, forgive yourself (He does!) and get back to it as soon as you can. No one is keeping track or tallying the score. Just the fact that you’re reading this post and have a desire to talk more to God already makes him smile. He is delighted by your effort and intention. You can’t mess it up.
(Taken from my new book, “Praying with a Pen: The Girlfriends’ Guide to Stress-Free Prayer Journaling” available October, 2017. )