Step two of my prayer journaling routine: Find the source

“We can go three weeks without food, three days without water, three minutes without oxygen – but we can’t even go for three seconds without thinking.”

Dr Caroline Leaf

A better understanding of my cognitive functions and prioritising mind-management has changed my life. This may sound like an exaggeration, but it really isn’t.

One of the most exciting concepts I have found out about during my research is neuroplasticity.[1] Our brain changes continuously throughout life, with or without “brain-training” in response to our actions and experiences[2].

I learnt that our physical brain is shaped by our thoughts. The way we think also affects the whole body’s health through a natural stress and hormone response. I am not a neuroscientist, and my knowledge is quite limited on this topic, but I know enough to understand how vital intentional mind-management is.

In the Bible, we find a similar concept that we call the renewal of the mind.

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

Romans 12:2

Paul wasn’t a neuroscientist either, but by God’s wisdom, he understood that people’s response to their environment and experiences shape their lives. He offers us an alternative and, I believe, the preferable option to being renewed in our thinking by responding to God.

The renewal of the mind is a life-long process. It requires our time, attention, and regular practice to learn to be transformed this way and shift from being shaped by experiences and life circumstances to be shaped by God.

In simple terms, it is possible to invite God into our natural process of neuroplasticity and see how he brings healing and restoration to our body, soul and spirit. One way this can happen is through prayer journaling. Let me show you how.

Photo by Rachel Coyne on Unsplash

Step 2. Identify triggers behind your emotional responses. Look for long-term patterns.

Last time I wrote about how you can start your prayer journaling session by making a list of everything on your mind, and you are concerned about at that moment. Remember that it’s not a to-do list or a shopping list. Focus on different relationships, plans, dreams, questions and a variety of feelings or emotional response in you triggered by your life circumstances. The next step then is to think about what might have caused you to be concerned or to feel a certain way. Where did everything start? Try to go as deep as you can but stay realistic in your expectations. Watch out for reoccurring triggers, an toxic thinking patterns as they may affect you more than realise. Talk to God about it or write a prayer. Ask him to highlight issues and speak to you through his Word.

To give you an example, I am working through a complicated and deeply rooted issue that has been causing me quite a lot of fear and anxiety lately. Ever since I started working as an assistant minister, I have been struggling with feelings of insecurities. As a result of some of my past experiences and hurt, I find it challenging to see myself in a leadership position. I feel the pressure of imagined or real expectations. I am troubled by the tension between the certainty of God’s call on my life and my insecurities. I often experience questions and doubts rising in my heart, like “Who am I to stand in front of people?” “Why would anyone listen to me anyway?” “I am too young to do this” “It’s wrong for a woman to be in leadership” “I am just a foreigner; why would anybody want to know what I have to say?”

(I hope you appreciate my honesty and vulnerability. I feel that it is essential to give you some real-life example to understand better what I am talking about, and hopefully, it will inspire you to try it for yourself.)

The first part of my journal entry this morning

After acknowledging and embracing the reality of how I feel and things I am concerned about, I move on to the next step, and I start to identify possible triggers that have caused me to feel this way.

When a conversation or an experience triggers an intense (immediate or long term) emotional response in you, a couple of things can happen.

1. As soon as emotions are involved, objectivity gets compromised. In a tense situation, you may experience brain fog or that your heart rate goes up. Your automatic coping mechanism kicks in and makes you want to run away and hide, or just the opposite, you want to off-load your frustration through confrontation. What you really need at that moment is distance and perspective, and writing can help you with that.[3] Prayer journaling is a healthy and safe way to off-load, de-stress, gather yourself and calm down. The other way to achieve a similar result is to think about what would you say to a friend in a similar situation. This shift in perspective also creates the same desired distance, and it is a helpful exercise, especially when you don’t have the time or the opportunity to sit down and write.

2. When you experience long term pressure and have unresolved issues in your life, you might feel drained of energy, fatigued, anxious or depressed. In this case, it’s crucial to remember that there is nothing wrong with you; you have nothing to be ashamed of. These feelings are a normal and natural response to stress, indicating that something is happening in your body that requires your attention. Awareness and understanding of your emotional responses can empower you to deal with the situation efficiently without falling apart. Prayer journaling is my favourite way to de-stress. Not only because of all the scientifically proven health benefits of writing but also because in a conversation with God, I am able to anchor my spiralling thoughts to his truth and promises. God is my vantage point, my solid rock and firm foundation; in his presence, I can face any challenge with confidence. Seeing my life from God’s perspective also gives me a framework to think about my circumstances and re-evaluate my natural responses.

Suffering without Jesus is just suffering. Suffering in Jesus teaches us to stand firm in hope and find meaning and purpose even in the most adverse circumstances.

More than beloved

Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. Romans 5:3-5


3. Another widely recognised benefit of prayer journaling is that you can go back and read your journal entries months or even years later. After doing the hard work of identifying the source of your concerns and triggers of anxiety, I would like to encourage you to write everything down as detailed as you can. Being able to read your journal from a distance of some time will help you to…

  • … appreciate your journey more when you see how far you have come.
  • … identify deeply rooted thought patterns or reoccurring issues in your life that would be hard or even impossible to notice otherwise.
  • … see how God is with you in every and any circumstances. Journaling your smallest and most courageous prayers and the answers you receive will help you get to know yourself better and nourish your relationship with God.

Reading my journal entries from 5 or 8 years ago, I see how my whole sense of identity has changed over time. Now, I have a better understanding of my story and the process of becoming the person I was created to be. And that’s what I think prayer journaling is all about.


[1] Vida, D. (2014) Neuroplasticity, Periodicum biologorum, Vol. 116 No. 2, 2014., Accessible at https://hrcak.srce.hr/index.php?show=clanak&id_clanak_jezik=186735

[2] Costandi, M. (2016) Neuroplasticity, The MIT Press Essential Knowledge Series

[3] Kross, E. (2021) Chatter: The Voice in Our Head, Why it Matters, and How to Harness it, Vermilion

How to start a prayer journaling routine (Step 1.)

Six years ago, almost to the day, I was at a Good Friday church service, and without any warning at all, my heart rate went through the roof. I started to feel light-headed, I was sweating for no reason, and I was gasping for air. It felt like the walls were closing in around me, and I know it sounds overly dramatic, but I honestly felt if I don’t stand up and leave, I will die. So, I went outside and walked around the building a couple of times. The fresh air calmed down my racing heart a little, but that night I realised that I had a long journey ahead of me to complete healing and restoration. I was terrified.

I have come a long way since, and God has proved his power, love and faithfulness to me every step of the way. My first challenge was to understand and accept that there was nothing wrong with me.

The symptoms I experienced in my body were a completely normal reaction to my past experiences that I didn’t know how to process. So, I kept ignoring them and pretending to be over them. With a smile, I convinced everyone, including myself, that everything was okay, but as Bessel Van Der Kolk explains in his best selling book, the body doesn’t forget; it keeps the score.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Body-Keeps-Score-Transformation-Trauma/dp/0141978619

Experiencing complex trauma is not the only way to get to the point of feeling completely overwhelmed or out of control.

“In the age of technology there is constant access to vast amounts of information. The basket overflows; people get overwhelmed; the eye of the storm is not so much what goes on in the world, it is the confusion of how to think, feel, digest, and react to what goes on.”

Criss Jami

Lockdowns and restrictions have slowed down our pace of life. This season forced us to re-evaluate our priorities and look for hope and humour in the tragedy of a pandemic. But are we really dealing with our pain or just numbing it?

Don’t get me wrong, coping mechanisms are great! They are there to protect us from breaking under pressure, but they are not designed to carry us long term. Just like pain killers are great if we use them appropriately to help us manage pain, but if we start to rely on them and use them to mask symptoms while ignoring the source of the pain, well, that’s a problem.  Shoving clutter into a closet when unexpected visitors arrive is okay, but making a lifestyle out of it would create chaos and cause us eternal frustration over not being able to find anything.

It’s okay to make a mess at home when we are busy and our focus is elsewhere. But what would your home look like if you never tidied up, never took out the trash, just kept shoving things into the same closet? The mental and emotional mess is the same. We have to make an effort to sort them out before they start to stink. Prayer journaling is an excellent way and opportunity to do that.

Photo by Noémi Macavei-Katócz on Unsplash

I usually start my journaling session by exploring the reality of how I’m feeling. It’s like opening up that closet and starting to take out all the bits and bobs hiding in there. I don’t write a story or a long prayer at this point; I don’t always write complete sentences either. It’s more like taking an inventory of my thoughts and feelings and making a list of them using bullet points. I write down random words, names, relationships and anything else that is on my mind or I’m concerned about.

To have a conversation with God in prayer, we need to open up honestly and allow Him to meet us where we are. Honesty is always the best policy.

 Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.

Psalm 139:23-24

If you follow these steps, you will get to the point where you have a decent list of thoughts and concerns in your journal in front of you. Take a good look at them and start identifying and writing down how these things make you feel.

Why bother with feelings?

Because they are important. Yes, we shouldn’t allow our emotions to control us, but precisely for that reason, we need to become more aware of them, acknowledge and respect them and then efficiently process them. Ignoring feelings is like trying to push a rubber ball underwater. It’s exhausting and pointless. It drains your energy, affects your health, your mood and, through that, your environment. So it’s best to bring our emotions out to the open one by one, in a safe place before God.

What if I’m not sure how I feel?

Good question. Identifying and naming our feelings can be a lot harder than it seems. It is a whole other topic, so I will not spend much time on it here. If this is something you struggle with, I recommend you journaling with your Bible open. Try reading a Psalm for inspiration; David was a master of expressing feelings and putting them into words. You can also try to listen to worship songs or praises that speak to your heart or read a poem you like. You may find that it’s easier to express your feelings through words of a story or a song someone else has already written.

Another option is to save on your phone or print out this chart with the names of different feelings. You can keep it in your Bible or your journal.

https://thechalkboardmag.com/the-feelings-circle-chart-emotional-communication#sl=1

Coming up next

This is only the first one in the 5 step prayer journaling method I follow. Next, I will tell you more about what I do to recognise triggers behind my emotional reactions. Also, about the importance of ‘zooming out’ and looking at the bigger picture while searching for different patterns in our way of thinking.

New to prayer journaling? Start here.

Having written so much about the different benefits of creative writing, specifically, prayer journaling, I hope that I have managed to convince you to try it for yourself. If so, I think it’s time I tell you more about the actual process of it. I have said this many times and I would like to repeat it, that there is no right or wrong way of doing this. If you feel that you instinctively know what to do and how to process your emotions, thoughts or life events with the help of a pen and a notebook, that’s brilliant, go ahead and don’t let anybody hold you back. But if you feel a bit uncertain about it all, you would like to give it a try but don’t really know where to start, well, why don’t you start right here?

Photo by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash

I would like to offer you five simple steps to take and practice any time. These steps combine and represent nearly 20 years of personal experience and a whole lot of research that I have done in many different fields, like theology, psychology, pastoral counselling and neuroscience and some forms of visual arts. Yes, I know it is a mouthful, but I feel it necessary to tell you that I haven’t come up with these things overnight. I have invested a lot of time and work into creating a method for personal reflection that is based on the Bible and scientific evidence. I have been searching for things to help me on my journey of healing from trauma. I knew that if I wanted God to help me with regulating my thoughts and emotions, I had to do my own part in the process. I also wanted to create a habit of intentionally deepening and nurturing my relationship with God, by processing my thoughts and pretty much my whole life through his Word. Aligning myself with God’s truth and his way of seeing reality is how I understand the renewing of my mind, the process Paul writes about in Romans 12.

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

Romans 12:2

Today, I would like to give you a list of five steps along with a brief description for each. Then, I would like to spend the next couple of weeks going into details and take you through my process step by step, along with some practical examples. Sounds good?

The 5 steps method of prayer journaling:

1. TRUTH

Uncovering the truth about my current situation means becoming aware of my thoughts and feelings. What is the reality of my current situation? Do I feel anxious? Do I feel afraid? I extend my search to physical symptoms too. The first step is about starting to gather basic and true information about what is really happening at that moment. There is no point in hiding anything.

2. TRIGGERS

Looking for triggers mean searching for clues as to what specific event, circumstances, conversations or anything else has triggered the thoughts and feelings I am dealing with. This step is crucial if we want to really understand what is happening to us and why. Also, it helps us to identify certain patterns in our lives and this way better equip us to deal with them long term.

3. VISUALISE

The step of visualisation can happen in many different ways. My favourite and go-to option is writing, but sometimes I draw or colour. I have recently started to explore the topic of intentional movement and it seems like a great addition to the process at this point. I have also used playdough before as a tool to express and process my emotions, quite helpful actually. The point is to do something that will give your thoughts and emotions a shape or form, a colour or a movement. I have read quite a lot about the science behind this, but I still think it is a wonderful mystery, how thoughts and emotions become more malleable and easier to work with, when we put them on paper.

4. ALIGN

Aligning my thoughts and expressed feelings with the word of God is where things get really interesting. I can’t wait to tell you more about this step soon, but for now, please allow me just to suggest to you that aligning ourselves with God’s will doesn’t mean ignoring our reality. Aligning our thoughts with God’s Word is a conscious choice to see things the way they really are.

5. PRAISE

A prayer of praise is about hope, it’s momentum to help us looking ahead and moving forward. It’s my way of getting unstuck.

Next time, I will really dig into step one and what it looks like to gather awareness and uncover the truth about ourselves and our current situation. I will also tell you why I start my journaling process this way.

Until then, have a wonderful and blessed Easter and remember how loved you are!

Mariann

5 steps method of prayer journaling

Journal your prayers with others

The next aspect of prayer journaling worth mentioning at this point of our journey is the social aspect. I expect you to be surprised by this because what most people enjoy about journaling is the safe place and privacy it provides. In journaling, we are alone with our thoughts, free to deal with them as we wish. One of the greatest benefits of expressive writing is the freedom to put our throughs and feelings into words and sentences without judging them, simply because there is no right or wrong way to journal. Even if we make errors in our grammar, it doesn’t really matter because we know that nobody else will see what we write.

But what would happen if they do? What if you had the possibility to share your prayers, stories or poems with others? Taking this thought further, what if you had the chance to write a story together with someone?

Photo by Alexis Brown on Unsplash

No matter how much I enjoy the privacy of journaling, writing together with a friend is one of the greatest experiences I have ever had.

Living in an individualistic culture it’s easy to forget that we were created for community. We are so used to being our own person that sharing with others often makes us feel uncomfortable. But the culture of the Bible is more focused on fellowship and it highly values community with public scripture reading and teaching, communal prayer and generous hospitality at the heart of it. We are called to share with others not only our faith but every aspect of our lives.

Psalm 133:1 talks about how beautiful and delightful when we live in harmony together.

James 5:16 Calls us to be part of our friends’ healing journey. James calls us to confide in each other and pray for one another’s wellbeing and restoration, expecting great things to happen!

The prayer of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect.

James 5:16

Prayer journaling with a community is a creative way to share our lives with others. Writing prayers, scripture- inspired stories or poems together promotes trust and a deeper understanding of one another. Listening to our friends’ thoughts and feelings expressed in a prayer or a story can engage our attention in a different way than a simple conversation does. Writing together with others engages our memory, attention and improves our communication skills.

Prayer journaling with trusted friends has so many benefits that it’s definitely worth a try. Here are some ideas for how you can start.

  1. Schedule a virtual gathering (or in-person whenever it is safe and allowed) with a few people and read a Bible passage aloud together. It only takes a couple of minutes to read a Psalm, about 20 minutes to read the letter to the Ephesians or the book of Ruth.

2. Pray before you listen and ask for God’s Spirit to help you understand and respond.

3. Listen for repeated words and patterns. You may feel that God highlights certain words or phrases and speaks to your heart through them. Write down keywords you personally find inspiring and meaningful.

4. If you consider yourself a visual person and you might find it helpful to doodle images or to imagine what you hear like it was happening in a movie.

5. Share any idea, picture, character or experience that you have found particularly relevant, inspiring or just captured your attention.

6. Start experimenting with ways to write a prayer or a short story together. You can go around the group and have each person add a sentence. You can choose a character together and start to talk about how you imagine his or her experience and write a prayer from that point of view. You can try to imagine different possible outcomes of a story, or write the same story into a modern time context. What would the same story look like today? You will be surprised how much easier it is to talk or write about your experiences and feelings through the filter of a Bible story.

There are many different ways to go about this, once again, there is no right or wrong way to journal, whether you write alone or with others. The only limit is your creativity and your courage to engage and share your thoughts and ideas with honesty.

Have you ever tried journaling with others? Would you give it a try? I would love to hear what you think!

Mariann

Prayer journaling + Creativity

Is it possible to nurture curiosity and get into momentum when you feel stuck, through creative writing and prayer journaling? Short answer: Yes, it is! Want to know the long answer? Keep reading!

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Creativity used to be viewed as the privilege of painters and musicians, but it is not just for artsy people any more. Over the years creativity has become more and more appreciated and talked about in different contexts. Many employers have realised that encouraging creative problem solving and ‘out of the box’ style thinking at the workplace is good for business and good for employees. Technical skills and people’s expertise in different fields, combined with creative thinking have opened up ways to greater productivity. Every advancement known to mankind started with a new idea, and new ideas are inspired by imagination and creativity.

Creativity is important, because it allows self-expression, by giving space to our unique way of thinking and drawing from personal strengths and experiences, which leads to results no other person could achieve. It promotes dedication and commitment, sharpens our focus, grows our confidence and our willingness to fail and try again. Creativity can help us reduce stress and anxiety, too. Being immersed in a creative project inspires a sense of satisfaction and contentment. Partaking in any kind of creative activity produces similar results in adults when children play. We learn and grow in knowledge as well as in joy, we process the world around us and our thoughts and emotions in us.

We can safely say that creativity is amazing, and it is something we all should embrace and make it part of our everyday life, even if we can’t knit or paint and we don’t consider ourselves an artsy type, and prayer journaling is a great place to start.

Photo by Joel Muniz on Unsplash

Prayer journaling is a creative process and when you practice journaling your prayers, at the same time you access all the wonderful benefits I have listed above. Regardless of your writing method and style, just the writing exercise itself activates your imagination and nurtures your curiosity. In your prayer, you have a safe space to ask questions, to search for answers, to process emotions through your own experience or the story of different Bible characters.

Working with the written word is very different from working with the spoken word. In writing, you can always add more thoughts or delete some others, you can re-arrange paragraphs and reshape your thought process. You can take your time and spend days or even weeks to finish a prayer.

Prayer journaling can become a playground to your creativity, so safe and free, full of joy and positive energy.

Journaling our prayers can help us when we feel stuck in life as well. Under pressure, we often feel tempted to trying to avoid certain situations and instead just numbing our mind with binge watching Netflix or some other way. This can be helpful short term but practised often and for longer, it will make you feel stuck and very likely mentally and physically fatigued. Prayer journaling is a simple, safe and free way to gain momentum when you most need it. It will make you feel more in control of your thoughts, helping you clear your mind in a productive way.

Have you got any thoughts on this topic or personal experience with prayer journaling? I would love to hear from you!

In the meantime, remember how loved you are!

Mariann

Can prayer journaling help you to process trauma?

In my previous post I have promised to continue writing about what I think everybody should know about prayer journaling, and here is number two on my list: creative writing is increasingly becoming a go-to method for trauma recovery. It’s possible to access healing and restoration from traumatic experiences and grief, through journaling.

Can prayer journaling help with processing a traumatic event? It has certainly helped me and I wanted to know why.

I have found several research suggesting that creative or expressive writing does not only help people trying to cope with stress and heal from trauma, but it strengthens the immune system and it may also offer benefits to people battling with terminal or life-threatening diseases. (To learn more about this, click here.)

Dr. James Pennebaker (Regents Centennial Professor of Liberal Arts and Professor of Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin)is a leading thinker on the impact expressive writing has on our physical and emotional well-being. Since the 1980s, he has measured the outcomes of creative writing and discovered those who practice this technique may experience:

  • Stronger immune health
  • Better sleep habits
  • Improved mental health
  • Regulated blood pressure
  • Reduction in pain caused by chronic diseases

What I found particularly interesting is that most research examining the health benefits of writing come to similar conclusion, telling us that the magic is not in the pen and the paper, but in the mind searching for meaning in past events or present emotions. Writing is only a tool to help the mind create order and structure from chaos.

The goal of expressive writing is to create a meaningful story out of the chaotic events of our lives and the different emotions these events trigger in us. Well practiced creative writing helps the writer to switch perspective and to see themselves and what has happened to them in a different way. This shift is especially important when it comes to healing from trauma.

“Expressive writing gives us the opportunity to stand back and reevaluate issues in our lives.”

Dr. James Pennebaker

Essentially, it’s not the writing itself that has the health benefits but it is an effective tool we can use to make progress in our healing journey. Writing is not the only tool, but it is a brilliant one. Plus, as I mentioned in my previous post, it is free, accessible to anyone, it can be done anytime and anywhere, alone or with a community, so why wouldn’t we give it a go?

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

All the research I have found were done on the benefits of expressive writing and while prayer journaling is using the same methodology, I realize that they are not one and the same. I would like to suggest that prayer journaling might be even more effective than creative writing on its own, for many reasons.

In my opinion, prayer journaling takes creative writing to the next level. In prayer journaling, it’s not only the different benefits of writing we can access, but at the same time we access all the blessings and healing power of God’s presence. As we look for meaning in our past and life events we are not dependent on our own wisdom, we don’t have to come up with our own solution or our own way to reframe the past. But we can rely on the wisdom of God’s Word. As engage with God in prayer and through his Word, we can start to find meaning and purpose with his help and guidance. Prayer is the safest place to open up our hearts and start to process our emotions and difficult life events in the presence of God.

I have learnt to find meaning in my past by noticing how God was with me then in the middle of it all. I find hope and purpose by finding out how God can use even the most painful events of my life to shape me and refine me. As I journal my prayers, and I see my thoughts and emotions taking shape, at the same time I see how God gives me beauty for ashes, and fulfills his ancient promise to bless me and to make me and my story a blessing to others.

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.”

Isaiah 61:1-3

This doesn’t happen over night, it is more like a life long learning process. But through prayer journaling I feel more equipped and empowered to deal with stress and to heal from trauma. Starting to journal your prayers might just be the thing you need to help you in your own healing journey.

Love, Mariann

What you need to know about prayer journaling

I am not going to stop writing about prayer journaling any time soon. Why? Because it is so wonderful! Because it has made my life so much better and I believe that it can transform your life, too. It’s not a new idea, yet I don’t come across with articles or books about it very often. 99% of what I share with you about it on this blog, comes from my own experiences, the remaining 1% is based on my research about the health benefits and healing potential of creative writing.

The practice of communicating through story telling is as old as mankind. Before the modern conveniences of readily available paper, notebooks, not to mention computers, iPads and other devices we use for writing today, people were fully dependent on memorizing and re-telling stories. This is how all the wonderful books of the Bible, especially in the Old Testament times were handed from one generation to the next as well.

We are wired for stories. Our brain is hardwired for narrative. It’s just part of how we are put together. A well created story has the power to captivate us. As we read or listen, our mind searches for deeper meaning behind the words. We literally read between the lines. Our mind is able to recognize patterns in a story, identify with different characters and so many other things. Would you like to learn more about how our brain is wired for stories? Researcher and author, Kendall Haven will tell you more in this video:

Over the next couple of weeks, I would like to give you five reasons why you should start prayer journaling. Here is number one.

1. Writing is one of the most accessible self-care practices and so is prayer journaling

Self-care has been at the forefront of our attention for a quite a while now. Even before COVID19 has started to stress us out completely. We were stressed before, and now we are super stressed and this is why it’s so important that we find healthy ways to cope with stress, and figure out how we can put our lives back together.

Journaling is a self-care practice that comes highly recommended by many healthcare professionals for many reasons, and one of them is the fact that it is available and accessible to anyone. Writing can be done anytime and anywhere. It’s practically free, although, if you want to take the whole experience to the next level, you can invest into a quality notebook and pen, but it’s entirely up to you. Journaling is a budget friendly alternative to retail therapy and a more productive alternative to binge watching Netflix . If your idea of relaxation and self-care is a spa experience, you can find creative ways to give your journaling time a home spa feel, for example you can lit a candle, make a cup of tea or a glass of fresh fruit smoothie and put on some instrumental music. You can write curling up on the sofa, or you can sit outside and be inspired by nature. You can write first time in the morning, before bed or anytime in between. Also, there is not time limit on creative writing. You can journal for 5 minutes every day, or you can spend hours with your head in your notebook over the weekend. Journaling is flexible, free, accessible, it helps you organize your thoughts, process emotions, calm anxiety, it is so good for you!

Now, multiply this with the amazing power of prayer and you will probably start to understand what’s so amazing about prayer journaling.

If journaling on its own is powerful and restoring, what do you think journaling in the presence and power of God can do for you?

Processing our emotions through the Word of God, opening up our hearts to stories saturated with the presence and life of God is taking journaling to the next level. When you journal your prayers, you harness the power of creative writing and story telling and at the same time you connect with God himself through his Word and prayer. Prayer journaling really is an incredibly powerful and transformative experience and one of the most accessible and effective self-care practices you can ever try.

Photo by Rachel Strong on Unsplash

I hope that you are fully inspired now to start journaling your prayers. I will continue to share more things I think everybody should know about prayer journaling. Later on I would like to give you a step by step guide on how to actually get started with it.

Until then, remember how loved you are!

Mariann

What’s next?

  • Creative writing is increasingly becoming a go-to method for trauma recovery. It’s possible to access healing and restoration from traumatic experiences and grief, through prayer journaling.
  • Through creative writing and prayer journaling you can nurture your curiosity and get into momentum when you feel stuck.
  • Prayer journaling encourages creativity.
  • Creative writing can be done socially as well. Writing with a community of people and discussing our mental and emotional health in a safe, social setting promotes healing on a deeper level.

Prayer and mental health

We have been under tremendous pressure lately. Lockdown after lockdown, overwhelmingly negative news, home schooling, working from home or loosing work, loss of loved ones, missed opportunities gave a real shock to the system. Looking on the bright side, a lot of people all around the world decided to step up and offered to do their part in finding a way forward and supporting others along the way. I am sure you would be able to name people you know personally or through media and social media, whose smile and many good advice kept you going and helped you through some dark and difficult days.

The importance of our mental health has been in the limelight for quite some time now. It has become more accepted if not trendy to talk about mental health issues, anxiety, depression and so on. A huge collection of articles and other resources are available online, regarding self care and mental health care. We can learn different breathing techniques through apps or listen to calming bedtime stories on demand.

So, I thought I would put in my two pennies worth and talk a bit about my own personal experience with prayer, and specifically with prayer journaling and its effect on my own mental health.

If you want to know more about the results of different scientific research on prayer and it’s connection to mental health and health in general, I highly recommend you to do your own research and look it up online. I have found some fascinating information about how prayer has been proven to positively affect mental and even physical health, but in this post I rather tell you about my own experience.

I have been through many traumatic event in the past and dealing with chronic stress is an ongoing project for me. I have tried and tested many ways and methods to help me cope with my anxiety and to get my emotional life under control. Some of them failed miserably, others have really helped me and made a difference, like deep breathing, exercise and a healthy diet. But my ultimate winner and now go to mental health tool is prayer and specifically prayer journaling.

Photo by Jess Bailey on Unsplash

It may sound weird to you to call prayer journaling a mental health tool, but I promise you, it doesn’t make prayer less holy or less serious. I believe that God takes our mental health very seriously.

We find many verses throughout the Bible that shows God’s love for the brokenhearted and his commitment to heal, restore and empower those who seek him and run to him for help.

(Proverbs 18:10, Psalm 34:18, Isaiah 61:1, Luke 4:18)

So, what do I mean exactly by prayer journaling? Prayer journaling to me is a way to process less or more significant events of my life and deal with the effects and emotions they may trigger. Most of the prayers I write in my journal are not eloquent or well structured, beautifully written prayers. Sometimes they are just jumbled words. Or maybe they start like that and as I write down random words that are on my mind, and I start to organise them and process them, they may somehow take the shape of a sentence, a paragraph and so on. There is only one rule in prayer journaling and it’s honesty. When you pray, when you write, you must open up your heart, your mind, your emotions and there is no safer place to do this than the presence of God.

Then I just write, and write some more… I write down everything that’s on my mind and on my heart. As I write, I constantly address God. I write to him. I tell him how I feel, or when I feel numb and empty or utterly confused, I tell him that. I tell him about events that happened, memories I remembered, things I have learnt about that day or that week and so on. I thank him for all the good things, I acknowledge his power and presence over the difficult things.

Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

Also, I always pray with my Bible open. Prayer was never meant to be a monologue, it’s always a dialogue with God’s Word. You tell God about something, or you come to him with a question, a problem, a concern, whatever it may be, you will always find something in the Bible that will tap into that situation and speak to your heart. I can promise you that! This is an other reason why I like to encourage everybody to study and learn the Bible because when we feel overwhelmed by questions or difficulties, we need to know where to look in the Bible and where to find corresponding Scripture verses or stories.

“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”

Hebrews 4:12

As you honestly and openly engage with God’s Word (i.e. you pray), it has the power to search you and shape you, to transform your thoughts, to help you regulate your emotions, to bring peace and healing to your heart. As I talk to God openly and honestly about everything that concerns me, about everything that makes me anxious or makes my heart sing, he gives me peace in his presence and he gives me guidance and clarity through his Word. His Word helps me breath easier in the moment and it gives me hope for the future. And this is why I prayer journal.

There is a lot more to say about this topic and I plan to write about it again very soon. In the meantime, if you have any questions at all or you would like to share your own personal experience regarding prayer and mental health connection, please do get in touch, I would love to hear from you! Leave a comment or PM me any time.

Never forget how loved you are!

Mariann

Ruth

‘Look,’ said Naomi, ‘your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.’ But Ruth replied, ‘Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.’ When Naomi realised that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her.”

(Ruth 1:15-18)

I am sure you have heard many wonderful teachings and sermons based on the book of Ruth. Many people wrote entire books about her story, it is so incredibly rich, full of meaningful messages.

Today, I would like to focus on just one aspect of story. I would like us to notice how much God can and will reward those, who motivated by love and commitment, choose to step out in faith.

We know the story well. After losing her husband and 2 sons in a foreign country, Naomi decided it was time to go home. She then tried to persuade her 2 daughters in law Ruth and Orpah to return to their own home, to their birth family.

So Ruth and Orpah were faced with the same dilemma. Should they return to a place that is familiar and safe to them…. in hope of a new beginning and a better luck next time

or

Should they let their love and loyalty to this one person, their mother in law, Naomi to lead them into a new home.

Then we see how Orpah decides to go with option A, and she returns home, while Ruth decides to stay with Naomi anyway.

I’m wondering… Do you think Orpah made a wrong decision? Does the Bible condemn and shame her for going home? Absolutely not!!

Orpah had every right and every reason to go home. She’d been through a lot. She had lost a husband, and along with him she lost her livelihood, and being a widow without a child she pretty much lost all hope for the future.

This woman needed a break. And she is not judged, but she goes home with Naomi’s blessing and although we don’t know what happens with her later, we can hope that eventually she remarried, had a dozen children and lived happily ever after. But we really don’t know.

What we do know is that Naomi tries to convince Ruth to be sensible and go home like Orpah did. But Ruth is determined, she digs her heels in and refuse to leave Naomi alone. Her commitment and determination have inspired many people since and her short monologue is often quoted in wedding sermons and vows.

‘Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you – she says

Where you go I will go…

and where you stay I will stay…

your people will be my people…

your God will be my God…

your chicken stuffing is my chicken stuffing…

and your football team is my football team…

from now on and forever.

(Okay… She didn’t exactly say this last bit, but I am sure she meant to!)

Because of her love and commitment to Naomi, she was willing to give up everything. She was holding onto Naomi so hard, that she was willing to fully let go of her past, of her home and identity, the culture and traditions she was brought up in with it’s many gods, and she was ready to adopt Naomi’s culture and her God, the one God of Israel. And so they continue on the road together.

Then we see how the bold choice and commitment of Ruth has set into motion a chain events, that eventually led them into a new home and a new life. Naomi’s relative a man named Boaz marries Ruth and their son becomes the grandfather of king David. This way Ruth is grafted into the family tree of Jesus Christ himself. God rewarded her and restored her joy not only in her lifetime but on an infinitely bigger scale.

Although the narrator never mentions God directly, it’s impossible to ignore how God is behind EVERY little detail, every timing, every decision… from the moment Ruth binds herself to Naomi, every mundane, ordinary event of their story are woven into God’s plan and the grand story of redemption of the whole world. How amazing is that?

I hope you can see that this story is not about Orpah making a bad choice, it’s about Ruth making and extraordinary choice and being rewarded in an equally extraordinary way.

The same way God promises an extraordinary reward to those who chose to cling to him and walk with him through life with loyalty and true commitment. So let’s bring this story home with asking this question:

After having been through so much – either during this last year, or a long time before – will you choose to return home like Orpah did or will you glue yourself to Jesus and follow him as he leads you into your new home?

After having your life turned upside down, possibly trying to deal with the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job, a missed opportunity, or the loss of time, will you make the sensible choice and go back to what’s normal and familiar to you, hoping for a new beginning and better luck next time?

Or will you make an extraordinary choice, the way Ruth did. You have the option to leave the past behind, and glue yourself to the ONE person, Jesus Christ who can lead you into a new home, and completely new way of living?

The heart of the question is: Will you go for the sensible choice or the faith choice?

What does the faith choice look like, you may ask? With simple words, it looks like this: clearing out the clutter from our lives and making room for Jesus. It looks like what hundreds of families did recently: when they cleared out and rearranged their house, to prioritize home schooling or facilitate working from home. When walking with Jesus is our priority, then we do what we have to do to make it happen. We re- arrange our lives to make it work.

Binding ourselves to Jesus means to stick with him for better or worse. It means to keep him at the centre of our whole life, as our absolute priority. We cling to Jesus by surrendering him every thought, every plan and opportunity we have and to expecting an extraordinary reward.

If we walk in faith, and commitment to Jesus, he will weave our steps into his steps and he will be present in our lives, and all our decisions and actions in ways we don’t even see or understand…

Walking together on this path he will guide us into a new home, a home where our lives will be completely restored, all our burdens will be taken away, our wounds will be healed and we will be comforted by the gentle touch of the one who was loyal and committed to us till death. What a reward!

Think about this!

If God was able to restore Naomi from the bitterness of grief to joy… if He was able to turn Ruth, a childless Moabite widow into a wife, a mother and the great grandmother of King David, than what do you think God can do with your life?

If God was able to graft Ruth into the family tree of the saviour of the world, what can he do with your life? If you cling to him in faith, God will do with your life more than you could ever imagine or ask for!

He is able and willing to take all your pain and brokenness and turn them into blessings, not only to yourself but to all the people around you.

So May you make room in your life for God and cling to him with all your strength. May God weave your steps into his steps as you walk together, and as he is leading you into complete restoration and a new, eternal home.

Why prayer journaling?

I started my first prayer journal over 20 years ago. I have always had an obsession with stationery and writing, just give me a new notebook and a 0.5 gel ink pen and I’m right in my happy place.

Prayer and Bible reading has also been part of my everyday life since I was 14, so when my great passion for writing met with my love for the Bible, a whole new world opened up to me.

First, I started to copy my favourite scripture verses into my journal, then I started to write down my prayers, later on I combined these two and this is how I learnt to pray scripture and to open up my heart before God in forms of creative writing.

Prayer journaling is different from other forms of writing because it doesn’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to be eloquent or even grammatically correct, but you have to be raw and real, otherwise it won’t work. English is my second language and I am often self-conscious about how I speak and write in English and all the mistakes I make, but when I write my prayers, I get into this flow that sets me free. I don’t just write with my head, trying to craft a beautiful piece of art. I write with all my heart, and I pray until I feel something stirring or settling in me.

Reflecting on your life and working through your emotions is a process and it can be very messy. Allowing yourself to be completely vulnerable and honest within the privacy of journaling is not easy, but it can be a healing and transforming experience.

Prayer journaling has helped me to navigate through many difficult circumstances in my life. It has also helped me to savor many joyful moments. It has not only gave me a structure to stay intentional in my relationship with God, but it has contributed to my choice of becoming a pastor.

Whether you are a pen on paper kinda person or you are more comfortable with typing, through this blog I hope to inspire you to go deeper in your relationship with God through prayer and creative writing. I will share imaginary prayers of well – known, and maybe some not so well – known Bible characters.

When you read them, I would like you to try to put yourself in their shoes, think about their story, how they might have felt in certain situations. See how they talked to God and focus on their very real human emotions. God’s Word has preserved us these amazing stories so we might be able to read them, think about them and learn from them.

I hope to inspire you to journal your own prayers and this way to learn more about God and yourself.

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