Not Just a Diary

I first learned to read when I was in the first grade. I certainly don’t know much about child cognitive development, but it seems the first grade is a pretty average time to learn to read. First grade is the kind of place that takes the ordinary, illiterate kindergartener and produces a practically grown-up kid. After I came out the other end of first grade, a freshly minted Young Reader, I read all the time. Up until high school (where reading for fun was suddenly passé), I read on the weekends and after school, in between classes and instead of doing my homework. Books provided this wonderful imaginary world where stepping among its characters was as easy as opening the front cover. I was hooked.

And from my love of reading came my love of beautiful writing. The authors of Narnia and Harry Potter and The Penderwicks and all my favorite books captured such abstract things, as nebulous as ideas and emotions and feelings, and wrapped them up so neatly that they fit between the pages of a book. I suppose for this reason my favorite book should have been the Bible, but I think it was actually Marley and Me. I’ve read Marley and Me approximately 13-18 times, by a conservative estimate.

It wasn’t until ninth grade that I started keeping a journal. I’d never thought much of actually doing the writing myself, and at first this is how it went:

January 16, 2012:
Today was a bad day. I think it was a bad day for everyone. The vending machine didn’t have animal crackers.

That’s it. That was the end. No prayer, or anything, although the whole reason I started journaling in the first place was because I liked the idea of a ‘prayer journal’ (PJ, for short)—somewhere to reflect on the day and to pray. When I picked up the next blank notebook, it became less of a diary and adopted more the original intent. And I noticed that the more I started writing about my day and addressing it to God, the more routinely I did so. The more I made writing and praying a (mostly) daily thing, the more I wanted to write with the same beauty my favorite authors did—and all the more God transformed my humble attempts into beautiful prayers. Several journals down the road, I like to think my notebooks are sort of a work of art. Sometimes the day’s entry is a detailed account of an adventurous day. Sometimes it’s a prayer written in verses. Now, we’re not talking Diary of Anne Frank-level literature here—but to me, when I go back and read old entries, the beauty is in seeing how much God had been working in my life even when I didn’t know it.

Smarter and more prayerful people than me have found journaling to be an extremely helpful way to deepen prayer life. Actually taking the time to write stuff down helps devote a more focused, meaningful amount of time to prayer, and keeps the wayward brain from thinking about other things-- such as what there’ll be for breakfast tomorrow, or how late it is, or how much you’d like to fall asleep. (If you do your prayer at night, probably you’ve found all of the above stated problems to be quite prevalent.)

But no matter what works for you, a daily prayer time can make all the difference. If you haven’t ever tried a prayer journal, I highly recommend it. Pro tip: You can write as many prayers as you want-- but the most important thing is to remember to listen for the Lord’s response. And when you look back at old entries, it’s crazy to see how your prayers have been answered!

Since it’s the start of a brand-new year, I started a new prayer journal last week. (Like its predecessors, it’s just a plain ole, humbly decorated composition notebook.) Whatever this next year has in store—a mission trip, graduation, and college, among other things—each new adventure can be found kept between the pages.

Image via Into Balance