Prayer through writing is a favorite of the saints, and one of the ways God uses to capture our hearts. The intimacy expressed in writing like the Psalms and the Diary of St. Faustina inspires us. The Lord wants that kind of intimacy with you, too. Whether you’ve never written a prayer or you’ve been journaling for years, the tips below will invite you deeper. It’s true that we can’t make prayer happen; prayer is the work of the Holy Spirit in our souls. But that fact doesn’t mean that we don’t have any responsibility when it comes to prayer! While God is the one who plants the seeds in our hearts, we can till the soil of our lives, cultivating more fertile ground for his love to grow and flourish. By taking these small steps, we can create space within ourselves to be more open to the promptings of the Spirit. The tips below work for journaling, and many of them will work for your other favorite forms of prayer as well. Happy praying!
There are some simple practical and spiritual steps you can take before you begin. First, although it might seem obvious, we often overlook the importance of eliminating distractions. Choose a quiet, uncluttered space and turn off your phone. It’s also good to determine in advance the amount of time you want to set aside for prayer, lest you be tempted to conclude prematurely. This can vary, but 20 minutes is a good place to start.
When you are ready, consider the place you are going to pray before sitting down. This is how you will begin: by imagining yourself and Jesus conversing together in the space you’ve chosen to write. You might take a few breaths and make the sign of the cross. Ask the Holy Spirit for the grace you desire in prayer. This is a way of setting your intention for your time together as well as disposing yourself to hear God more clearly. You might ask for the grace to forgive a loved one, bring balance to a busy schedule, or simply to be present to your time together. Stuck? You can always ask that God grant you the grace you most need at this time. Need a cheat sheet for these steps? We include one in our FREE downloadable guided prayer journal.
2. Choose your format.
Yes, journaling is one among many types of prayer, but there are many ways to do it! You might choose to write a stream-of-consciousness reflection, a letter to God, a gratitude list, or reflect on a line that struck you from the homily or one of the readings at Mass. If you’re feeling stuck in prayer, you might try a new format. Alternatively, if you’ve found one method to be particularly helpful in the past, it can help to return to what has be fruitful for you.
3. Avoid editing.
Many of us have spent years in school training ourselves to be as clear and concise as possible, so this one is a challenge! But just as you don’t spend a lot of time censoring yourself in conversation with a close friend, you don’t need to fret over which words you choose or how well you express yourself in prayer; God knows what is in your heart, and journaling is the way he is drawing it out of you. The writing process is to clarify your understanding, not God’s, so don’t stress too much. As long as you understand what you are trying to say, the specific words and phrasing are of little consequence.
Additionally, try to let go of preconceptions about what you are supposed to feel towards God or how you ought to address him. While it is appropriate that we express reverence for our King, when it comes to deepening intimacy, it is more important to focus on being open, honest, and vulnerable. The further you let your guard down, the deeper you allow God’s love to penetrate your heart.
4. Pause to listen.
Although you want to try to avoid editing, it is bad manners to do all the talking! You have set aside this prayer time to encounter the Lord; pausing gives him some space to enter your heart and mind. Moments of silent listening can be uncomfortable at first, and sometimes frustrating and empty even for those who are practiced at prayer. That’s okay. There will be days when we don’t bring our best selves to prayer. Simply the fact of being there shows our love to God and deepens the virtue of faith within us.
Conversely, even when we do make our best efforts, sometimes God’s response is still hard to hear. Many saints have commented on this experience, reminding us that prayer is not about our own efforts. Sometimes, feeling distance from God is not the result of our sinfulness, but an invitation to grow in love of God for his own sake rather than the sweetness of the consolations we receive in prayer. Whether we hear his voice or not, making space for silent listening is an essential part of any prayer practice.
This is a beautiful practice for any type of prayer, but it can be especially fruitful in journaling. Reading the exact words of your prayer allows you to return to the moment more fully than, say, remembering an experience of lectio divina or Ignatian comtemplation. There are a few ways to review prayer journals. First, if you recall a significant entry, you can return to it and treat it as a lectio divina-type practice, being attentive to any words or phrases that strike you. Reviewing prayer can make way for a deepening of previous graces, or else be a way of persevering in the face of resistance. Rereading past entries can also help you to be attentive to where false voices arise and compete for your attention. It can help you sift through the “shoulds” to find more genuine deep desires.
Reviewing prayer journals is particularly helpful for discernment. When making a big decision, it can be hard to gain clarity. A consistent practice of journaling provides insight into the movements of your heart over time. Rereading a series of entries can help you identify recurring hopes and desires, enabling you to make the choices that prioritize them.
6. Share what’s on your heart.
God created us to be in relationship. Getting to know him is something we do in relationship as well. We need companionship in our spiritual journeys. Whether you seek the guidance of a spiritual director or accompany others in a small faith-sharing group, your journal prepares you for that. Journaling can bring clarity, making it easier to express your thoughts, as well as to prioritize what you share. While we don’t need to expose all of our thoughts, sharing what we’ve received in prayer helps keep us grounded. We need the wisdom of others to guide us in our walk towards the Lord.
Journaling is also a good source for “rough drafts” of spiritual wisdom we might share with others through retreat talks or written reflections. If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance that you are someone who has a love for the written word. You might even consider sharing a recent prayer experience with our readers. If God is working in your life, then others can certainly benefit from your insights!
7. Return to prayer.
The well is deep. Where there has been grace or fruit in the past, there is always more. Having a record of the transformative experiences of your prayer life is a gift to give yourself. You may not realize how important one insight was until you find yourself drawn back to it repeatedly over the years. Your prayer journal provides you the opportunity to revisit these moments and even chain them together for a deeper understanding of your spiritual journey and how God works in your life.
Ready to journal? Whether you’re feeling lost and don’t know where to get started, or simply ready to dive deeper, a guided prayer journal is a great place to start! Click here and enter your email to receive our FREE downloadable prayer journal, “Reignite the Spark: A 5-Day Spiritual Detox.” The Detox is a printable guided journal that includes daily reflections on the factors that contribute to burnout. The guide includes a short “cheat sheet” to remember the tips from this article, as well as daily Scripture and quotes from the saints. Get your download and set aside 10-15 minutes a day. God will do the rest.