I’ve always been envious of people who go a step beyond buying journals — you know, the people who actually write in them.
Over the years, most of my journals have started the same way: “This time, I’m really going to write for more than just a day or two.”
Not surprisingly, they also end the same way… with lots of blank pages.
One journal is the exception, though, and that’s my prayer journal from 2001. That journal starts with explaining to God that my prayer life has been on life-support and asks for his help in getting closer to him.
For eight months I wrote my prayers — for new people settling in at work, for the man who would become my husband, and eventually for my daddy who died that year.
I’ve always wandered a bit in my prayers, meaning I’d start talking to God and jump from subject to subject. If I paused to try to listen for his voice, my mind would take off in another direction. Writing my prayers down helped all of that. I was more focused, and frankly, I found a new level of responsibility.
When I prayed for help in changing something about myself, it remained there on the page — in ink. I couldn’t forget that I needed work in that area.
Now, though, I know the most important thing that the prayer journal did for me was to peel back the layers of nicety. Somehow, it made prayer seem more like a conversation with my best friend, someone I didn’t need to dress up for.
My friend Rachel Doll grew up feeling that God was someone you needed to behave around. But when she and her husband, who is now a Presbyterian minister in Holley, NY, had a miscarriage, she was anything but well-behaved in her journal.
“Sometimes I had to skip pages because I had pressed down so hard that I couldn’t use the back,” she said, while one of her two daughters slept next to her.
Imagine God as a physical man, standing there in her home. She, a minister’s wife, was beating God’s chest and demanding answers.
“I would write horrible things that I would be embarrassed for anyone to know.”
But it felt powerful to question and freeing to express her anger and disappointment. Why would she endure all those infertility treatments only to have a miscarriage?
“Through writing I realized that God was there — not in the warm fuzzy way that I wanted, not hugging me and fixing things, but just standing there with me.”
And that was enough.
When Daddy died I remember praying that God would hold on to me because I wasn’t sure I could hold on to him. In fact, it took almost two months after Daddy’s death for me to make my next entry in my prayer journal.
I know you’ve carried me — even when I’ve tried to be angry with you. I’ve never felt so weak, Lord. I’ve never needed you so much.
A few years later I heard a woman say that when we pray, God is enclosing us in his hands. Then, to show us what she meant, she folded her hands together the way I had been taught to do in Sunday School.
That’s an image of prayer I can believe in.