By Paul Dumbrille
Many people find it useful to keep diaries and chronicles to record their experiences and thoughts, often on a regular basis. A Prayer Journal is not a diary but is a special way to use the written word to enrich one’s relationship with God. Prayer Journaling creates a breathing space in our daily journey with God. It is more than a chronicle of events. Rather, it is a place to record flashes of insight and treasured moments of encounters with God. It is also an opportunity to admit the faults and mistakes that we find so difficult to admit elsewhere. The spiritual discipline of journaling moves beyond and behind mere descriptions of life events, providing a place to ponder the pattern our lives are weaving. If a Prayer Journal answers only one question, it is. “What is God doing in my life?” Absolute honesty is possible. Our private Prayer Journal is a place to pour out our anguish, think the unthinkable, and presume to know what’s best. In the safe haven of being able to make perhaps some outlandish statements, we stumble across our true motives, feelings and desires, and become more intimate with the Divine Presence.
Prayer Journaling has a biblical basis. Some of the psalms attributed to David seem to have functioned as a journal. When the Philistines seized David, he described these events in a typical journaling pattern. He began by stating what happened: “all day long foes oppress me;” (Psalm 56:1. NRSV). Then he recorded his feelings: “when I am afraid … “(verse 3). He expressed his desires to God: “so repay them for their crime;” (verse 7). Concluding with what may have been David’s way of being accountable to God, he revealed what he planned to-do: “I will render thank offerings to you.” (verse 12). This biblical pattern of reflection gives us permission to ask God questions, to try out new choices and to be less than perfect. A Prayer Journal becomes the arm of God embracing us and a place to look safely at feelings that overwhelm us, and situations that don’t make sense.
There are various ways of approaching Prayer Journaling and books are available on the subject. Journaling is best used as a regular exercise, ideally daily. It is often used as a lead-in to deep prayer, or as a form of meditation. The following are suggestions that may help in getting started.
- Focus on an event, on a day, on a passage of scripture, on a relationship or even on a thought or image. Write the date on the page and the topic.
- Ask yourself: What happened? How did it make me feel? What did I think about? Do I need to take any action? If so, what?
- Explore with your senses. In focusing on the topic you have chosen, ask: What colours do I see? What sounds/music do I hear? What textures/elements do I feel? What do I smell? If I could eat/drink it, what does it taste like? What music comes to my mind?
Beginners can write down the answers to these questions as they come. A person more experienced in journaling might focus on one or two questions, allowing the other questions to enter their writing as is natural for them. It is not necessary to feel as if one must write anything. God does the leading. As the journal is absolutely private, one can say whatever needs to be said, however it needs to be said, and going beyond the details of the event. Once written the journaler can then go past the words and ask: What are my desires? What does God desire in this situation? What does God desire of me?
Re-reading and reflecting over time on a Prayer Journal, watching for similar patterns, repeated feelings, and thoughts that dominate, can amplify God’s voice and how the Spirit has been working in our lives. In praying about these things and noticing their frequency and strength, truths can be discovered that have been hidden. A Prayer Journal can become one of the many symbols and proofs that God cannot be chased away. God can be questioned, enemies can be railed at, self-pity can be experienced and still, one will be welcomed back to the Journal. There is no guilt if the Journal has not been attended to for a time. As soon as the pen touches the page, loving communication is flowing in both directions. Perhaps this is what is meant by “entering God’s rest” (Hebrews 4: 10-11).