One morning, a few years ago, I was desperate. Sober for many years, I felt my faith in God slipping. I was in spiritual crisis, provoked by nothing in particular. My soul was a desert, and I could feel myself inching bit by bit toward dissolution. I did not feel that I was about to drink again . . . but I felt like I was farther down the road toward another drink than was safe for me. More than that, I was in excruciating spiritual pain.
I thought I had better do something about it. I thought I had better pray and meditate, just like I knew to do. But there is a difference between meaning to engage in spiritual practice and actually doing so. I was in so much pain that I felt I needed some mechanism to force me into good, orderly habits.
I recalled an idea someone had told me long ago. This friend reported that he would write a “letter to God” as his means of prayer. He would just write whatever he wanted to pray for. He said it seemed to work for him. Remembering that story, I thought perhaps I could work with that.
In an effort to alleviate my pain, I set about to read spiritual literature, pray a set prayer, and meditate. Then, I would end by writing a letter to God in a little journal I have. I decided to try it for a week or so every day. Maybe I would feel better.
There was nothing special about the letter. I could just as easily have called it a “journal entry,” or I could have said I would “write in my diary.” The point was that it would be tangible proof that I had done something spiritual that day. My pain was spiritual and the remedy would have to be, too.
Many years have passed and I still write such a letter. Every morning. They seem to be working for me.
I don’t have a specific format for the letter. It changes from time to time, depending on what is on my mind. Sometimes I have shortcomings or transgressions from the day before to confess and address. Sometimes I have anxieties about what is to come, or the well-being of a family member. Sometimes I am angry or hurt, and I need to express it. Sometimes I am ecstatically grateful for the gifts that have been showered on me.
Sometimes the letter is, literally, one line. Sometimes it is quite lengthy.
No matter. It all goes in the letter. I typically close my missive by writing this: “God, grant me knowledge of your will for me, and the willingness and power to carry it out.”
What the letter contains is unimportant. What matters is that I have written it. I only allow myself to write once I have done the other things (reading, prayer, meditation).
The letter has worked for me where willpower and intention has not. Why? The reason is a silly thing. I have become superstitious about the letter. I have got it in my head that if I miss a day, something dreadful will happen.
Intellectually, I know that’s not true, but I don’t let that stop me. I revel in this superstition, because it has given me resolve where all my good intentions have failed.
What can I say has been the result? I don’t have anything specific to point to. I have had the usual ups and downs, and I have responded in the ways we all seem to — never as well as I might hope, but I do the best I can.
The best, most helpful news I can give is that praying and meditating every morning for a year and more has allowed this practice to become part of my identity. I am someone who prays and meditates.
Do I do it well? No. But I do it.
I am no longer in so much spiritual pain. Bit by bit it slipped away. And a funny thing happened. I quit writing in order to achieve a result. It just became part of my life.
I have tried things like this in the past, and always I have abandoned them. They seem to be too large a burden. But in this instance, I decided that these letters would have only one chief characteristic: they would exist. They did not have to be good, did not have to be original, did not have to be lengthy. When the chips were down, if I was in deep pain, running late, too tired, or in some other negative state, I promised myself I would at least write a sentence.
And that has worked for me.
If I can do one week, one month, one year, I can do another. And another. And so can you.
I have begun these letters in order to show that it is possible. It is simple, and the results have been gratifying. Reading over them, there are themes that get repeated over and over. Like any “day by day” book, it would be dull to read it all in one sitting. The entries are just meant to suggest that you might write your own.
Each of these letters is one that I write by hand in the morning on my sofa or, when traveling, in my hotel room.
As I transcribe them, I edit them slightly. But, not too much. I take out names of people, delete anything that might embarrass someone else, and try to rephrase a few sentences and ideas so they are more universal. I only capitalize “God” and “Lord,” as proper names.
These documents make up a roadmap of my spiritual upheaval and repair. It is my prayer-life. It moves slowly, with no discernible narrative arc, and my character defects appear with maddening frequency. Over and over and over I ask for strength to be a better person – this is the condition of my soul. You may well be in a better state and I hope you are.
I would be interested in hearing from anyone who tries this or a similar spiritual practice. What results are you getting? What challenges do you face? What setbacks have you hit?