The solution I latched onto was a prayer journal. If you’re writing your prayers, you’re not going to lose focus to the same extent. Being a writer, this seemed the ideal format for praying, and I have found it to be quite valuable. Many writers use journals for creative purposes. My journal is primarily a spiritual exercise, although ideas that later make their way into poems do occasionally first get expressed in my prayer journal.
The structure of my journal has changed through the years, as I have sought to make the process as valuable as possible. I begin by reading my journal entries from a year ago, and three years ago. By doing this I am reminded of what was going on in my life then, what I was praying about, how I felt about it, and am able to reflect on what’s happened in the mean time.
Sometimes this shoves answered prayers, that I’d forgotten about, right in my face. Sometimes it exposes how fickle I can be in my shifts between naive optimism and dark cynicism, or show me how self-centred my prayers have been. Sometimes it reminds me to pray for people who haven’t been mentioned in my prayers for a while. Sometimes it refreshes my mind to an aspect of prayer I have been neglecting.
Before I write anything, I read a little scripture. I don’t read large passages, but simply pick up from what I’d read the day before, and read until I find something to reflect upon. It might be the very next phrase, or might be an entire chapter away. I write the phrase in my journal, and then begin. Often I find parallels between the truths of the scripture I’m reading, and the ones I wrote about exactly one, or three, years before.
Frequently I do write about the scripture, but not always. My journal includes what my family and I have been doing, what I’ve been reading, what I’ve been writing about — and prayers. Some parts of it are little more than a diary, although I address it all to God. The whole process takes twenty-five to thirty minutes each day, resulting in a half page of writing. As I read the previous prayers, I seek to do so prayerfully, so even if these things are not re-written, I will be remembering the people and situations before God.
I know that my approach to journaling is not the only right one — but it has proven valuable for me (this morning I wrote journal #3992). I try to write one every morning, but, since it’s not the only praying I do, I don’t worry if the demands of family life cause me to miss once in a while. Perhaps something similar may be right for you.