It feels like every month, I’ve got a new prayer of choice. Sometimes, I need the structure of the rosary. Other times, less-structured mental prayer is key to help me grow closer to God. Sometimes, I need silence. Other times, I need music to pray as I ought. Suffice it to say, my prayer preferences change a lot. However, despite all these changes, there’s been one steady habit that’s stuck around for years: keeping a prayer journal.
A prayer journal is a personal record of your conversations with God. It doesn’t need to have answers. In fact, it can be filled to the brim with purely questions and scattered thoughts, and it’d still be a good thing if it’s directed at the Lord. It can have lengthy entries or short notes. It can be cute or plain. There’s a lot of ways to do it, and none of them are wrong, as long as they aid in reflecting on God’s love.
The main goal of a prayer journal is to help us focus on Him more, to set aside time to speak to Him–and to let Him speak back. No matter your prayer of choice, keeping a prayer journal can have a place in anyone’s daily routine. Here are some tips to get you started, regardless of how you pray.
The Three Necessities
Usually a prayer journal is pretty free-form; however, my friend introduced me to a new way to journal that combines the concept of “bullet journaling.” Every month, with this form of journaling, you set aside a few pages for consistent, structured journaling and goal setting. The journal entries after that remain free-form, but these three pages ensure consistency and intentionality.
For me, this looks like three essentials I outline at the start of every month.
First thing’s first: a thanksgiving page. It can be cute and decorative, or as simple as a numbered list of every day of the month. Every day, aim to flip open to this page and reflect on what you’re thankful for from the past day. It’s a simple way to ensure each day is spent recognizing your blessings.
We all know that, regardless of how poorly the day may have unfolded, there’s always at least one thing for which we can thank God (and hopefully many, many more!).
#2: Prayer Intentions
Next, prayers. Once again, this can be decorative or simple. The most important part is that, like thanksgiving, we set aside intentional time each day to record who or what we’re praying for.
It’s easy to say we’ll pray for an intention, but setting aside time to actually do it is tougher. This way, we can put more thought into what we’re lifting up to God, as well as see how intentions change over time. Writing these prayer commitments down daily helps us to look outward and offer up our prayers for others, as well as commit concretely to lifting them up to God.
#3 Prayer Goals
This part may sound intimidating, but don’t let it fool you. This is perhaps my favorite use of a prayer journal. Each month, I make a list of goals in my prayer life (or even in my life outside of prayer). For example, if I want to pay particular attention to the Sacraments, I’ll list Mass and Reconciliation, etc. Or if I’m trying to incorporate Liturgy of the Hours into my day, I’ll add a section for Lauds, Vespers, and Compline. Recently, I’ve even added a goal of getting to bed on time and waking up earlier.
To make this to-do, then, you put these goals along the left side of the page vertically. Then, you make a column for every day. If you accomplish a goal for that day, fill in the box. If not, leave it blank.
If you can’t do every goal every day, don’t sweat it. This is just here to help you, and you should by no means condemn yourself for any failings (God doesn’t either!). It’s a nice way to track progress or weakness in goals and hold yourself accountable to forming good habits. Just remember, these habits take time to develop!
I can always tell when I’m growing too lax in my prayer life if I forget to fill out these boxes day after day. Sometimes, it’s because my goals were too lofty and needed to be readjusted. But many times, it’s because I’m not giving these habits the attention they deserve. Seeing a page full of blank boxes encourages me to put prayer back in the center of my daily activities.
We have to be cautious not to treat prayer like just checking boxes, but if we remember the reason behind these goals, and use “empty boxes” to lead us to authentic pursuit of God, this tool can be a game-changer in our spiritual growth.
The prayer-goal page is a great way to set intentional goals and hold yourself accountable. Over time, you’ll be amazed at the self-awareness (and ultimately, progress) it generates.
Once you’ve got the monthly necessities, the journaling world is your oyster. Fill the blank pages with whatever the Spirit puts on your heart. Take it with you to school or work, to the chapel and to Mass. When something beautiful hits you, write it down. When you attend a talk or hear a good homily, take note.
And if you’re struggling to find something to write about, rely on some helpful jump-starters. For example, you can simply write out your questions for God. If you begin to discern His answers in prayer, write those down, too. You can focus on quotes or prayers, or unpack spiritual books you may be reading.
When inspiration is running dry, the daily Mass readings are a great place to turn. Write down a phrase that sticks out to you and unpack it on the page. Why does it stick out? What new things did you notice, and what does it teach you about yourself? Or, if you’re feeling ambitious, focus on a whole chapter of the Bible. There’s no wrong answer; write whatever comes into your heart. The mere process of sitting with the phrase or passage can lend itself to deeper understanding of the Spirit speaking through it.
Concretely, set aside at least 15 minutes of prayer time a day to journal. At the end of the day may be best to assess your habits, but whenever inspiration hits you is a good time to journal. Let God enter into the experience and pray that He guide your pen, or else it becomes little more than a writing exercise.
As you develop this habit, the Spirit will knock you over the head with His love. Sometimes, when you least expect it, old entries will speak to you even more than when you first wrote them. Flip back and read them, noting how your attitude toward them may have deepened or developed in time.
With a few months of journaling, you’ll see themes start to emerge. And with a few years, you’ll have a bookshelf full of journals chronicling the Lord’s whispers to your heart.
So give it a try. What’s on those pages is between you and God. And what’s in your heart is worth unpacking, be it doubt or joy, inspiration or dryness. Give God that blank page and let His Spirit fill it.
I’m praying for you!