How to Start a Prayer Journal

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I have been using a journal to record my prayers (aka prayer journaling) for about three and a half years now. Only, I didn’t know that’s what I was doing when I started. I was studying abroad in London the summer between my junior and senior years in college when I began to faithfully document the particulars of my experiences. Ostensibly, I just didn’t want to forget anything, but I was also driven by an innate desire to express thanks for what I considered an enormous blessing in getting to travel there. I had never been much of a dedicated “diary writing” person before, but the ongoing dialogue I began to craft with God that summer abroad was inviting and restorative — so much so that I not only thought I could maintain that journaling practice in the midst of my more ordinary experiences but found that I desperately needed it.

A prayer journal can take any shape, really, but for me, it’s always been most helpful to think about it as a written dialogue with God. Like a letter to a family member or a dear friend, an entry in your prayer journal can address anything and everything on your heart. You can celebrate, or you can grieve. You can ask questions or state bold truths inspired by Bible verses. You can write at the kitchen table in the early morning hours or snuggle with it in your favorite chair late at night. You can get creative and include sketches or watercolor illustrations. You can speak, and you can listen. A prayer journal is simply another avenue for expressing your relationship with God, and there’s no right or wrong way to do that. Here are some prompts to help you get started:

Reflect on the day’s readings or a daily devotional

I typically start each day writing in my prayer journal. I might transcribe a verse from the daily Mass readings that resonates with me and use it to set a prayerful intention for the day ahead. Or I might reflect on a passage from a daily devotional like “Bread for the Journey” by Henri J.M. Nouwen or the daily emails sent by Blessed Is She. I might also write to God about everything on my to-do list for that day and ask for his guidance and grace in navigating all those daily hurdles. Applying these techniques to my prayer journaling practice helps center me in God’s love as the day begins and sets the tone for my day.

Discern a big decision or create small resolutions

On the other hand, at the end of the day, you might find it helpful to record one or two moments from your day that stand out to you and think about how God was moving in those instances. This can be particularly helpful if you’re in the process of making a big decision, as journals can help track patterns of thought, feeling, and prayer over time. They can also provide a space to give thanks or to prayerfully consider how we might change things in our lives. I like to use my prayer journal in conjunction with the Examen, a prayer that encourages thoughtful reflection on your day, so I can review the events of the past day and prayerfully consider how I want tomorrow to go.

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Think about challenges, grieve, or ask for help

Sometimes I grapple with fears I worry no other human being can understand. When this is the case, I take my concerns to the One who knows my heart even better than I do. Occasionally, with God’s gentle prompting, I write my way into a more comforting state of mind. Other times, I leave my worries as an offering and pray for a response in due time. But I always leave feeling more comforted and less alone than I did when I began because by offering my troubles to God in this way, I have placed my heart in God’s presence. I wholeheartedly recommend prayer journaling as a way to unburden your soul when it gets heavy with life’s anxieties.  

As I reviewed past journals of mine while writing this article, I marveled at the complexity of the story that has unfolded in my life in recent years and saw God’s hand in everything along the way. Speaking from experience, this practice has substantially deepened my prayer life, and I hope it does the same for you, too.

Originally published February 21, 2018.