While I have never been one particularly committed to keeping a daily journal, blogging has met me where I'm at and has provided a place for me to write about some things going on with me and with our family. I love the idea of a prayer journal and have tried keeping one of those for a while, but find I do better combining the discussion of goings on and matters of prayer into blog posts (public and private). The thing I committed to best with regard to a type of prayer journal, was a list of five things I was thankful for each night before bed for thirty days.
Our pastor had challenged us with this a couple years ago. I was in a particularly tough season of life for a variety of reasons and I decided that focusing on things I was thankful about would be a good exercise for me. I was particularly surprised at how my outlook brightened over the course of that month. In the beginning, it was hard to come up with five things and I was listing things like air to breathe, dinner, one minute in the bathroom before the kids came pounding on the door... but in a couple weeks, I was finding an abundance of things to be grateful for and had a hard time limiting myself to just five. But those were the rules.
Anyway, though I have not continued in this good habit of thankfulness each evening, I have tried (for a couple years) to help our kids work it into their daily schedule -- keeping a prayer or thankfulness journal. We wrote it into the school day. I figure if they practice it every day, by the time they're my age, maybe it won't be as hard to set it up as a new habit.
I've been asked how I get our kids to keep a prayer journal, so I thought I'd share a bit here (as well as a couple photographic examples for your pleasure) about what works for us. I should mention that whether you homeschool or not, having your kids -- particularly the cranky, ungrateful ones -- keep a prayer journal will help them refocus their energy. Even if they're pouring out their angry thoughts, they're doing it in a way that is productive.
From what I understand, anger is not a sin. Scripture tells us not to sin in our anger, that's different. This morning, in fact, I noticed our son, H, wrote in his prayer journal, "Please help me not to punch anyone today." The irony is, I think most everyone in the house would like to take a swing at him because it seems like he's working extra hard to annoy others today, but that's okay ... at least he's taking his own frustration and honest feelings to the Lord. And he's not sinning in his anger by actually punching anyone. So far.
I started by having our oldest daughter, S, keep a prayer journal beginning her second year of homeschooling. I used to be all strict about it and I monitored it well. When I added in our second oldest, H, I stopped being so picky about S's and just started seeing that she'd made an entry each day, but didn't actually read it. Now, I don't even check hers.
I don't know that she does a journal entry every single day ... but it would be an impossible standard to require it of her. At nearly 16, I've given her the tools and from here, she can go with it or not. I hope she will stick with it and it brings me incredible joy when she stomps off to her room and I go after her and I find her there flipping through pages of the Bible or with her prayer journal open and pen in hand. So I know she does use it still ... just maybe when she needs it most.
To clarify, her stomping off does not thrill me; but her handling of her emotions and frustration by getting into the Word is incredible and inspiring even.
H is almost 11, so I do still read his every day. The younger kids are still in a phase of making good habits and I want to help them with this one. I do not, however, criticize their handwriting or their spelling or things of that nature. I want these journals to be about their relationship with God, their actual prayers to Him. If I get all teacher-y about them, it's going to become a chore and they'll resent it. But by my reading through, not only does it open up conversations between he and I (like today, I said, "Why do you feel like punching anyone today?" and we talked), but also, I can get a sense of where he is and plan our school day accordingly.
Here is a fairly random example of one page from H's journal (click for larger image) ...
I should mention that we have been working with H on the idea of being more like a duck for some time. Even the little stuff seems to bother him and so we talk to him about the little stuff needing to be more like water off a duck's back -- building resiliency. So that prayer comes up a lot in his journal when little things are starting to get to him.
Now Z, will be 9 soon. His spelling and handwriting and even make-sensiveness aren't near where H's are (yes, on occasion, I do make up my own words when I can't quickly think of the right one). But of all our kids, he seems most excited about his prayer journal, often completing his daily entry in the morning before I've called him to school so he can show me what he's written. He's not a boy who slows down for much, so that he takes time at all to write a message to the Lord is a great achievement for someone as active as he.
Here's a random example from one page of Z's journal (he just uses a composition book) ...
In case you're struggling to read some of this, we all are. But God knows his heart, thankfully.
Finally, for J, because she is six and still learning to read and write, we have combined her journal (hers is strictly a thankfulness journal, as opposed to a prayer journal) with helping her learn about the calendar. Yes, we purchased an inexpensive 16-month calendar planner and each time we meet for school (have I mentioned she's a night owl, so typically, we do school with her at 8:00pm?), she thinks of one thing she's thankful for that day.
Then she locates the month and date with my assistance and draws a quick sketch on the right day. Only recently has she started asking me to spell for her the word of which she is thinking and thankful, but at first it was simply a book of gratitude sketches (that I imagine she might treasure in later years). It is good practice of thankfulness, but also good practice for spelling/reading/writing. Win-win for all.
Here are a few of my favorite entries from her this school year ...
It's not some of her best artwork, as she can be fairly creative given time, but like the quick chicken-scratches put down by her older brothers, I don't ask her to give more detail to her drawings. God knows what she means.
As for our youngest, O, who is still in kindergarten, we'll begin similarly as we did with J this year once he begins his first grade curriculum.
There are really no rules about prayer journals and thankfulness journals (that I'm aware of), but I'm glad to see our children so willing to share their hearts with the Lord each day in this manner and I hope the habit grows with them into later years. Then they can serve as a good model to me.
Thank you, Lord, for both the opportunity to teach our kids, as well as to learn from them each day.