Sometimes when I sit down to pray, I have no idea what to ask for. It’s not as if my life is perfect and everything’s peachy. It’s just that there are so many things on my heart that my mind can’t begin to sort through and to lift them up to God in a coherent, meaningful way.
Recently prayer had gotten to be so difficult for me that I had gaping holes in what should have been a flourishing and daily conversation with God. I knew I should be praying way more than I was, but I let the fear of failure hold me back. I had tried too many times with little success to connect to God… so a tiny part of me kinda gave up.
I recently discovered a technique that changed everything. A technique that could help me sort through the clutter and make sense of my thoughts before I went to God. A technique so simple that I can’t believe I hadn’t thought of it before.
The idea stemmed from a habit I developed this past semester. Often during the school year I would get overwhelmed with juggling what seems to be hundreds of projects, reading assignments and social engagements. It would always be so refreshing to stop in the middle of whatever I was slaving over for ten minutes, open a new Word document amidst the 25 documents already open and just write down everything that needs to be done. This habit becomes more and more prominent during finals week when everything I do can be put onto one overwhelming list of “Things to do before the semester ends.”
It suddenly dawned on me one day, why don’t I use this for my prayer life? So I got out a fresh piece of paper and my favorite pen and set the timer for ten minutes. I went a bit over the time limit frantically jotting everything that was going through my head. Eleven minutes later, with a cramped hand and an empty brain, I was tempted to dive right into prayer. Instead, I opted to let the words sit there for a minute. I wanted to fully feel the effect of letting all my worries drain from my brain to scribbles on paper. I savored the feeling of a weight being lifted from my heart and meditated on nothingness for as long as I could stand it.
When I finally looked down again, all I saw was a long, messy list of random thoughts taking up both sides of a lined sheet of paper. My first thought was that I could never in a million years remember all of it in prayer. It seemed that all I had accomplished in doing this exercise was taking my racing thoughts and displaying them somewhere concrete.
I quickly decided that the best way to do damage control was to break up my list into colored, relevant categories. For my own purposes during this session I placed them into “Praise,” “Worries,” and “Goals/Dreams.” These sections might be different for you and I’m sure they’ll be different for me tomorrow. They just seemed to best fit all of the information I had thrown onto the paper in a way that made sense to me.
Once I had done that I looked back on the highlighted colors and tried to gather the main themes from them. I found an empty space on the back of my paper and separated my three categories into columns. I then simplified my highlighted thoughts into a few bullet points for each section. That way, things were summarized a bit and didn’t seem like they would be as hard to remember or focus on during prayer.
Once my supplications were organized into simple but meaningful categories I was almost ready to approach God in prayer. But i gave myself about five minutes to just let it all soak in. I didn’t want to rush this. I had been rushing prayer during the in-between times of life and not giving God the full, thought out conversation He deserved. After all, the goal isn’t just to have a prayer life but to have a meaningful prayer life. Those, I have learned, are two very different things.
After I waited a little while, I somehow felt ready. It had been so long since I had been genuinely excited to talk to God. It had become a bit of a drudgery recently because I didn’t feel like I was “good enough” at it and I wasn’t coming back from my prayers feeling renewed or closer to Him.
But this time was different. I found a quite place and calmly addressed God in prayer. It was unbelievably easier than it had been in a very long time, simply because I had taken the time to write down all of my concerns, organize them into meaningful sections and then meditate on them before starting. Instead of rambling I was finally able to tell God what was really on my heart and sincerely thank Him for all that He was doing in my life.
Afterwords, I couldn’t help but feel relieved that I had finally been able to lift my concerns up to Him. Sometimes it just takes an extra step- organizing your thoughts onto paper- to get the message where it needs to go.