Prayer journaling was something I started upon accidentally in high school. One day had felt particularly tragic after a fall in front of all my peers in between changing classes when everyone saw me hit the ground. I burst into tears almost immediately, but the kind of quiet sobs I didn't want anyone to see. My teacher, thank You Jesus, was gracious and kind -- a very grandfatherly teacher who saw, immediately understood the emotional dynamics of such an embarrassment to a 16-year-old-girl, and excused me from my post as a class assistant to go cry in the bathroom. And cried I did.
Eventually I made it back to class, but wasn't "up to par" you could say--with my bruised ego and the lump forming on my knee. I sat at my post, at the teacher's desk in the back of the classroom, every few minutes feeling tears well up in my eyes. I didn't know what to do, and it "just so happened" the class I was TA'ing for was a Bible class, but I felt a rush of words and emotions pushing their way out and I felt like I had to do something.
I pulled out a tablet I had tucked away in my book bag. It was a drug store tablet with tape binding on top, and roses on the cover. I pulled out a pen and furiously began to write and pour out what was inside me. I began to feel better little by little the more I wrote. I didn't realize it at the time, but what I was doing in that moment was praying in my journal. It didn't feel like a practice of prayer, or a spiritual discipline, in the midst of my muffled cries--but nonetheless it was. And from that point on it's been a fairly regular practice in my spiritual life.
All these years later I come back to journaling my prayers to God when I don't know how to sort out my feelings, or when my thoughts feel foggy. In seminary I ended up writing a research paper on it and found out my experience wasn't new. It was profound for me, yes; but it was not unique in its power to connect with God and myself through praying in my written words in my journal.
One thing I learned while writing my paper on prayer journaling that I read in a book was that this prayer practice helps us say in private what we otherwise might say out loud and regret. I attest to that one. My journal has held my pain, but it's also held my anger, my fury, my disgust, my reactive words, the violence of my heart. It has also held my most secret dreams, and fears. My journals are a reflection of my journey with Jesus, but just as my journals have held these tender and broken parts of me, I've experienced Jesus hearing my words, receiving my pain, tending to my wounds as I write.
I realize not every spiritual practice is for everyone all the time; but I feel this practice is worth a try. It's worth an experiment to give it a go and see what happens. You might be surprised at what you find.
If you give it a go, will you share with me what happens? Whether you love it, hate it, swear to never do it again or feel indifferent, I'd love to hear your experience in the comments.