I do not pray very much. At least, I do not pray by myself often. I find prayer a difficult practice. I struggle with speaking to or with God in solitude. When I am surrounded by people, be it at a mealtime, a worship gathering, a funeral, or a wedding, prayer comes easily enough. It is in community that prayer is most available to my heart. This is interesting to me, especially in light of Western Christianity’s rampant individualism. The tendency is to treat one’s relationship with God with the same manner as the doctor-patient relationship: it is confidential, not to be discussed. I, on the other hand, find it less taxing to have a public relationship with God. It is in the moments of seclusion when I find conversing with God to be most difficult.
What’s the deal here? I’ve been told that talking with God (rather than merely talking to or at God) should be something like a running conversation (which, they say, is an extension or interpretation of prayer without ceasing). I’ve heard of people saying they speak with God, and they hear God replying in one way or another. But the idea of having a conversation with someone or something whose voice I cannot here bothers me.
When I pray in public, I have a tendency to take a moment before I begin to voice it to breathe, focus, and try to center my attention. This may be one second or ten, but it is my custom. On one occasion, I was having lunch with my family and was asked to pray. Everyone quieted down, and I took my refocusing moment. To my grandmother, it seemed to have lasted a bit too long, for she said, quite audibly, “It starts, ‘Dear heavenly Father.’” We laughed and proceeded to pray, thanking God for humor, but a question arises within me concerning prayer. Do we always have to talk to God in a reverential fashion?
As I develop a relationship with someone, it tends to begin in formality. The more mature the relationship becomes, intimacy is birthed and formality tends to drain away. When I come to know someone very well, particularly a person in authority over me, a “yes” is replaced with a “yeah,” “Mr.”, “Mrs.”, “Ms.”, or “Dr.” is traded for the first name, and a friendship replaces an authoritative exchange. Does this hold true for prayer? Do we eventually trade in “Dear heavenly Father” for “Abba”? Does Jesus as Savior and Lord become Jesus as Friend and Brother?
For me, I think I would rather leave the “Dear heavenly Father” God where he is. It occurs to me that I have never had much of an intention to develop intimacy, to have God as Dad, Friend, Brother. Maybe this is where I’m missing out. But I do not think reverence and intimacy need be separated or exchanged as the latter is developed. A friend of mine was once “Dr.” to me, but is now “Brandon,” and I feel no less respect for him now than I did when the formality of a title was required. In fact, I believe my respect for him has grown since then.
Perhaps reverence and intimacy are not two phases, a transition from one to the other, but are complements. Reverence can exist independently of intimacy, but I am not sure the reverse is true. Within intimacy there is an inherent respect for the other, a revered-nature, if you will. One may revere from afar, but one cannot be intimate and maintain distance. It seems that reverence may eventually become intimacy, but not unintentionally. It is not by accident that lasting intimacy comes about, but by cultivation, persistence, and maybe a little prayer.