the one practice that has benefitted my faith & my mental health most

A few days ago I filled up the last page of another prayer journal. As I did, I looked back to the first page, back to September 12th – almost exactly five months ago. I scanned over the words I wrote to God when I asked Him to meet me within the pages of this journal. I had asked with anticipation for Him to lead me and guide me through whatever would come my way. Little did I know what those five months would hold. I considered how much has changed since I wrote that prayer on the first page. And then I considered how much of that change was processed and recorded within the pages that followed. The processing of decisions about our future, the downward spiral of the gym I worked for, the uncertainty of my next steps after job loss, finding and settling into new routines, further establishing our sense of community where we live – all of this and much, much more were processed at length. And while the processing wasn’t always pretty, and the outcomes of some situations weren’t always tied up with a neat bow, I was still able to fill the last lines of this journal with thanksgiving towards God for the way He has helped me through it all. I was able to say with certainty and with joy that the Lord is faithful.

While journaling my prayers has become a life altering habit in my faith and life, there’s a specific practice within it that has been the ultimate game changer for me. It’s what prayer journaling allows me the space to do. It’s what led me from the first page to the last page of this journal with an ever increasing trust in the Lord, despite a rollercoaster of circumstances. And it’s what has ultimately allowed about the greatest transformation in my heart. What I want to share about with you today is the concept of getting real with God.

What do I mean by that? Well, I mean sharing your whole and complete self with God. I mean opening up and letting Him into the lightest and brightest, as well as the deepest and darkest crevices of your soul. I mean putting it all out on the table – mess and all. I believe that prayer is a gift we’ve been given as a means to communicate with our Father and Creator, Redeemer and Savior. And if we don’t utilize it, we are the ones missing out. If all we do is say fluffy or repetitive or extravagant or forced words that we don’t even really mean, then are we actually communicating? Or, if all we do is have surface level conversations with God, constantly asking Him for things, but we hide our real hurts or wicked thoughts, are we really allowing God to change our hearts?

So I’ve learned to bare it all out there and confess who I am, exactly as I am. I say learned, because it’s often not easy. I don’t enjoy being vulnerable. As an enneagram 1, I don’t like facing my mistakes. I don’t like revealing the messy sides of me. I’d much rather talk about the neat and tidy parts of life. But I started to accept that if I can’t bring my full, whole self before God, who loves me unconditionally and more than anyone else, then I’m never going to be able to share my full, whole self with anyone. We used to attend a church that often said, “Bring the mess, Jesus can handle it.” And while we didn’t stick around that church long for unrelated reasons, that idea has stuck with me. If anyone can handle the worst parts of me, it’s Jesus. And so there is no safer place for me to be real. He already knows my heart and my thoughts anyways – and more deeply than I do at that. He’s not shocked by my sins and secrets. And He already went to the cross on behalf of them. So why not lay them before Him and ask Him to help me deal with them, rather than be consumed with worry that I’m going to be found out?

So I do that by being raw and honest with God when we chat. Sometimes that means I’m overjoyed and full of gratitude, so I pour out my thanksgiving and praise. But other times I boil over in anger, I cry out in sorrow, I dump out my overwhelm, I own up to my failures, I wrestle with my disappointment, I confess my fears, I demand change in what I deem unjust situations, I ask Him “why?”, I beg for miracles. Most emotions humans are capable of, I’ve probably hashed out with God at some point. And if you look back through that list, you can probably guess that it doesn’t always look pretty.

But the more I’ve opened up about the real stuff, the more He has cleared out the crud and transformed my heart. And the more He’s done that, the more I’ve seen His gentleness, and faithfulness, and patience, and grace. I’ve gotten to experience God’s love and mercy for me amidst my harshest moments. And as a result, my faith has grown exponentially as I’ve experienced what feels like His miracle work in my life. There is no specific method to it. There are no magic words to say. There’s no right or wrong strategy. It’s just me laying myself bare and coming before the throne of my Savior and King to seek His guidance.

I firmly believe that by inviting God in, He more easily brings deep change in my heart and life, because I’m no longer resisting. It has given me an incredibly fresh and real meaning to Jesus as my Wonderful Counselor. Because there have been times that I’ve walked away from journaling feeling like I just came straight out of a therapy session.

It’s through this practice and allowing the Holy Spirit to really have His way with me that I’ve realized how much I have a fear of failure. I’ve had my eyes opened to how much of an idol I’ve made of comfort in my life. I’ve recognized my shortcomings in communicating in my marriage and found ways to strengthen it. I’ve found hope and direction in the face of unknown. I’ve gained better understanding of other people in my life, and I’ve definitely gained better understanding of myself. I’ve had the opportunity to see God pull all of the loose threads together in so many situations to complete the fuller picture. I’ve also had the opportunity of finding peace while the threads are all still loose.

By offering up the junk and the mess and the mire within me, God has taken it and used it to teach me, grow me, change me, transform me, and ultimately bring me into His freedom. He knows that there are times I’ve needed gentle correction, and other times that have required a not-so-subtle kick in the pants. Of course there are messy feelings and words that come out that aren’t so honoring to God, but by giving it all over to Him, I have a safe place to sort through them, rather than let them bubble over in even greater sin, and possibly making it worse. By acknowledging that my heart isn’t always in the place it’s “supposed” to be, I’m able to give God the room to mold it and shape it to make it new. THIS is how I become more like Jesus – not by striving to obtain a certain character trait through practice (though that’s not necessarily a bad thing). But by handing over the deepest, darkest parts of myself and letting God do His redeeming work – letting Him get to be the hero that He is. Sometimes that means He eradicates the tough stuff, and sometimes that means He shines through it.

So however you pray, I urge you to be completely and wholly honest with God. Give Him it all. Each and every emotion. Each and every light and heavy thought. Each and every shortcoming and failure. I promise you, He wants to hear from you. He wants to shine light in those dark corners you’ve been working so hard to hide – not to embarrass you or to hurt you, but to set you free. It might still feel uncomfortable to be exposed, but there is no safer place than in the shadow of God’s wings. He is the most wonderful counselor I’ve ever known. I hope you can know Him as that too.

What about you? How do you best connect with God? Do you feel like you could get a little more real with Him when you talk to Him? Or have you experienced His work in your heart because of a time you were real with Him? I’d love to hear in the comments.

Until next time,

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