Growing up I always had a fascination with journals. Spiraled, bound, lined or blank, if I thought it was a cool looking journal I bought it. And at this point, I think it's fair to say I've owned a good thirty or forty of them.
The irony? I never finished filling a single one.
Until this year.
It was a random afternoon in May. After weeks sitting among self-pity, anxious thoughts, and pain from past relationships, I walked into Barnes and Noble, headed for the Moleskine rack, picked out a decent looking, overpriced journal, bought it, and went home.
Determined to heal the broken child inside of me, I decided to dedicate the new journal to God, spending 30 minutes each morning before school writing out my prayers. Between fears, insecurities, achievements and goals, I jotted down each and every detail of my life within the pages of that journal.
You would think after years of hating journaling, I would have a hard time getting accustomed to this routine. But by day two, it was obvious that wouldn't be the case. Craving time with God, I came to know journaling as a place of rest, solitude, and of rejuvenation. Writing to Him was an outlet where my sadness was comforted, my worries were heard, and my pain was called purposeful.
So here are three lessons I learned from 7 months of prayer.
1. God always answers prayers with "yes," "not now," or "I have something better planned"
Every time I was nervous about friendships and community at school, I prayed. Every time I was stuck in a cycle of sadness and overthinking, I prayed. Every time I felt alone, I prayed. Every time I felt like I wasn't enough, I prayed. Every time I was faced with a decision, I prayed. In everything, I prayed.
And the cool thing about our God? He answered them all.
Sometimes He would answer my prayers right away- It would only take a day or two and I'd see Him provide exactly what I needed. Sometimes though, It took a couple weeks or even months to see Him answer a prayer. But the cool thing about when I had to wait for those answers, is that God would provide peace every single time. My God knows me (thank goodness!) and always quieted my heart with peace in times where He made me wait.
And sometimes, OH sometimes, He would answer my prayers by providing something better than what I asked for.
For example, before the school year started, I listed out things that I was excited for that I knew were (for the most part) going to happen. Giving that list to God, I prayed that He would bless my fall semester, that joy could be maximized, and that ultimately, His will would be done. I kid you not, once I got out of school for winter break, wrote out a new list (including every event that happened, blessings I was given, and opportunities that were opened up), and compared it to the original list from before school started, there was an obvious difference between the two. When I decided to give my days to Him, He grew my joy exponentially, past what I could have ever planned on my own.
Matthew 7:7-8 says, "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened." As I've seen over the past 7 months, this is true. God isn't some genie or candy machine, He doesn't just give out millions of dollars or a boyfriend/girlfriend or a new car to anyone who prays for it. But if we are in a relationship with God and are aligning our focus onto Him, of course we can pray over the things we desire because He (already knows but) wants to hear it and pour out His love onto us.
2. Find Your Healer, Not Your Healing
Creating a habit of praying each morning formed in me a habit of lifting everything up to God all throughout the day. And in the same way, in starting with big prayers like anxiety, depression, and pain, I later started to pray little prayers too (sometimes we think that God only cares about the big things, when really He cares about each detail of your life).
So after only a few months of sitting in my car and journaling, I had become this praying machine- It was as if my every thought involved God. Every insecurity, every fear, every painful memory, every blessing, every achievement, was automatically brought to Him.
Instead on focusing on how painful past issues were or how drained I felt from anxiety, I slowly gave it all up to God and began striving for a deeper relationship with Him, one where He was heavily involved in my day to day life and where I was constantly learning about Him through the Bible.
What once was a hunger for healing, had now become a longing for being with my healer.
I stopped worrying about the pain, and started stepping up to His purpose for my life. No, life didn't become easier. But because I was sitting with God as each good and bad thing came, I was able to get through the hard times with someone by my side and I was able to rejoice in the good times knowing exactly who gave them to me.
3. Record of Faithfulness
When I finished that journal, I had roughly 200 entries that included my fears, insecurities, achievements and goals. All those prayers I prayed and the answers I received are in there. Through each page, God's love shines through. It is overwhelmingly clear that in each season, He was there by my side. Even when it felt like He was silent, He was still working hard in my life.
Now, every time I question if He really cares, if He really listens to my prayers, I can refer back to that journal and see his faithfulness in hundreds of ways, knowing fully well He will be faithful again.
I feel led to write this all at the start of a new year and decade in hopes to encourage. I keep seeing quotes about 2020 that talk about "self care" and "no pain" and "good vibes". Sure, you can change your habits and change who you surround yourself with and change the way you think, but the reality is, you are going to be you when the clock strikes 12. That's okay. Pastor Steven Furtick with Elevation Church said it well- "Escape. That's what a lot of us want when we think of a new year, a new beginning. What we really want, is a different situation."
I'm gonna give you a spoiler alert. In 2020, it's going to be hard to "love yourself" and allow "less pain" and have "good vibes," because those are just pretty statements to address difficult issues. The truth is, you can't do this year on your own. But God can. As we enter into January, consider Him. Whether it's been weeks, months, or even years since you've talked to Him, I encourage you to try it out. Because this year, your pain has the potential to be used for a bigger purpose and your joy has the potential to be maximized if you decide to not make this your year, but God's year.