Is it just me, or is finding time to pray difficult? Life can get busy and overwhelming, and sometimes the last thing I want to do is slow down and talk to someone who isn’t going to talk back (in the literal sense).
I’ve been working through my prayer life lately and trying to build on some things I’m already good at so I can integrate those practices into tasks I already do in my day-to-day. For me, that comes down to giving more time to journaling.
Admittedly, writing things down on paper feels weird when everything I do at work is by computer or phone. But putting pen to paper slows me down in a positive way and makes room for the reflection time that keeps me grounded.
The past two years during Lent I challenged myself to journal one page every day. Sometimes I’d get behind and have to do a weekend sprint (hello, hand cramp!), but both times I was able to fill 40 pages of my journal, which led to some new insights. It opened my eyes to the different ways God was working in my life.
Here are a few things I learned about keeping a prayer journal.
Pick materials you like to write in.
This sounds silly at first, but I can’t count the number of notebooks or journals or even pads of paper I’ve bought that sit on my shelf untouched. Realistically, I’m never going to get around to using most of them.
When I started my Lenten journaling last year, I bought a brand-new notebook in a color I loved (bright yellow!) that made me more likely to actually crack it open and get writing. I recommend Moleskine or Leuchtturm for high-quality journals.
If you’re a sticker person like me, try decorating your notebook. I love finding Catholic stickers to decorate my journal (check out RedBubble for everything under the sun; @shopforhisglory and @justloveprints are on Instagram and Etsy). Adding those little moments of personalization made journaling less of a chore and more something to look forward to.
Address your entries to God.
Growing up, we probably all did our share of “Dear Diary” writing. If I flip back through my daily journals from the past few years, I see a lot of entries where I just jump right in — usually with the first pressing thought on my mind. Flipping back through them, I see a lot of pages that start with “I’m upset about ABC right now,” or “I can’t believe how XYZ treated me.”
During my Lenten journaling, I made a conscious effort to start every entry by addressing God. Who else is going to listen better? Even (especially) if my entries contain similar themes of being sad or upset, starting the page by speaking to God usually leads to more productive journaling. I like to imagine it as inviting God to read about my life in an unfiltered, unabashedly human way.
Don’t be afraid to break from journaling norms.
As someone who is pretty organized, I often feel guilty if I don’t journal “properly” and fill every line of every page in legible handwriting. Something that helped me a lot was starting a bullet journal in addition to my regular journal. Though there’s a specific method to using them, you can also use the dot-grid pages in a bullet journal to draw, doodle, and “go outside the lines” more than you would with a regular journal.
If you don’t want to invest in a bullet journal, don’t be afraid to try something new with a regular journal. I’ve started inserting meaningful quotes from saints and copying down prayers I like into my regular journal entries. Even if my entries are about day-to-day life, incorporating a touch of the divine makes my efforts feel fruitful and meaningful when I read through older entries.
Set aside the time.
Like any kind of prayer, a prayer journal is an investment, both in your time and spiritual life. Even though I was already a journaler — albeit infrequent before my Lenten resolution — it was a challenge to find devoted time each day to write out my thoughts.
What worked best for me is journaling at the same time every day. Whether it’s in the morning when you wake up, at night before you go to sleep, or somewhere in between, setting a regular schedule can make your prayer journal something that’s given up to God, rather than thrown in hastily whenever there’s a free moment. (Not that it won’t happen every now and again!)
If you feel comfortable, share.
Prayer is a beautiful experience in any capacity, and I’ve found that sharing the fruits of this practice with others can be helpful. Although I’ll probably never let someone read my journals from start to finish, I’ve found that sharing my entries with someone I’m close to is a way to more deeply explore insights, values, even bits of humor. You could let someone read a certain set of entries, or you could take the insights from the writing and use it as fuel for some real conversation.
For me, writing things down articulates feelings and observations that I so often struggle to articulate otherwise. If you have a prayer partner, best friend, or maybe even a parent that you feel comfortable with sharing on this level, don’t be afraid to open up. Some of the most meaningful conversations I’ve had have bloomed from written words. Those exchanges can serve as an additional way to listen for the ways God might be speaking to you in your own experience.
While there’s no right or wrong way to write a prayer journal, picking up the pen and opening up (literally and figuratively) to God can be a great way to begin a prayerful dialogue with Him.