I can still remember my first prayer journal — the one I started in seventh grade. Its cover looked like denim jeans, complete with an image of a denim pocket with brass rivets on the front.
And it was filled with melancholy.
I spoke often of the boy I liked and how much it hurt that he liked someone else. I begged God for so many things in those written prayers: for the boy to like me, for forgiveness, for a stronger faith.
I think back on that journal and know that, in a way, I was praying. It was prayer in the best way I knew how to do it at the time. It was as honest as I could allow myself to get.
But more than anything, I was really just talking to myself.
There was always a push and pull between what I wanted to say and what I felt I should say in that prayer journal. I was learning how to express my inner thoughts, perhaps for the first time, but I was also quite inhibited about expressing those thoughts.
Push and pull, push and pull, push and pull.
There wasn’t much room for God there.
Instead of connecting directly with God, I scoured the Bible for answers to my prayers. I tried to understand God’s perspective on my junior high (and, eventually, high school) cries. I did the best I could to figure out God’s mind.
But God wasn’t much there.
I felt like I was talking out loud on the page to myself and to a very stoic idea I carried in my mind of God. It pictured God with long white hair and a long white beard, a closed expression on his face as he looked at me, with him seated way up high on a massive throne.
It wasn’t encounter. It was more like fleeing for my life.
Those prayers written in that journal had more to do with me figuring out what I thought and felt about my life experiences and then judging what I thought and felt about those life experiences by what I surmised the Bible had to say about them.
It had nothing to do with real relationship with God at all.
Verbal prayer is meant to be so much different than that.
Verbal prayer — whether spoken or written or thought — is meant to be an experience of encounter.
We allow ourselves to see what is true in our hearts, and we allow God to see it too. We experience God seeing it with us. We engage with God about it. This is verbal prayer.
I quote this passage from Henri Nouwen’s Way of the Heart often, and I will quote it again. This is the best description I’ve ever discovered of verbal prayer:
“To pray is to descend with the mind into the heart, and there to stand before the face of the Lord, ever-present, all-seeing, within you.”
Here, we have conscious conversation and a knowing, real encounter with God Himself.
What is verbal prayer like for you?