The last week brought me many difficult conversations with friends and acquaintances. I want to share one while keeping my friend’s identity and story rather vague for privacy. Bear with me if you will.
I have this friend that likes to call me. Like, she truly calls me on the phone. *gasp* Not a text. Not a Facebook message. She literally calls me. *the horror* She knows that I hate to talk on the phone, but once told me outright, “Look, I like to talk on the phone. If we’re going to be friends, you have to be okay with this.” And so, when her name shows up on my phone, I answer it. Every. Single. Time. After all, friendship means meeting your friends halfway, even when it means getting out of your comfort zone.
So, my friend calls during a lull in school and wants to bounce some thoughts off of me. It’s been bothering her that people use the phrase, “Praise God for hearing our prayers,” because God (in their eyes) did what they wanted Him to do. It was bothering her because she has dear friends that were also praying for desperate things—children to be healed, for instance—and their answers hadn’t been “heard” or “answered.” Had they not done something right? Why had God seemed to hear her prayers and not the prayers of her friends who were then forced to bury their child, feeling they hadn’t done enough to be granted God’s favor?
She said, “Don’t get me wrong. I believe in the power of prayer."
And a light bulb went off.
Prayer isn’t some handy tool.
Prayer is not a ritual that we carry out with grave importance and work desperately to get the formula right so that we are heard and granted our request.
Maybe that’s where the disconnect happens?
God is listening to all of us. He’s listening to us even when we don’t pray. He sees us. He loves us. And he hates that we have pain and sometimes are forced into incredibly painful and dark times where all hope is lost. He doesn’t want us to have to bury our loves…or to feel like He isn’t there…saving us. And what's more, He doesn't only love "Christians." He sees ALL of us. He sees ALL of us. *just in case you doubted that*
When I realized that this wasn’t actually helping my friend, I said that I thought prayer was too convenient a tool for Christians to use, and that praise for the prayers being answered, was also too easy. Where is the praise when things don’t go the way we want them to? Where is the praise when we stand at the grave yard? Where is the praise when we are scared and lonely and lost?
And maybe that’s it? We get hung up on religious terms. We get hung up on religious acts. Maybe God isn’t so much concerned about us praising Him in the good times? Maybe He is more about our genuine love and faithfulness to Him when the times are good and the times are bad?
Maybe God just wants us to not give up on Him?
Maybe He can’t fix everything (I know that someone is going to rally against me on that, but just assume that we don’t know everything about God and that maybe SOME things are out of His hands. Otherwise, wouldn’t He have made sure Eve never ate the apple?)?
Like marriage, we don’t have a perfect story. We have adventures. We have love. We have pain and fear and jobs that are lost. We have life altering moments of sheer joy, and we have moments of crushing terror and loneliness.
But does it break you? Do you run? Do you cheat or throw in the towel? Some of us do. Yet, I think that’s the sort of relationship God wants us to have with Him? He wants a real and committed relationship. And just like me answering my friend's phone call when I don't like it, a real and committed relationship with God doesn't need our flowery prayers, but simply us and our time--both good and bad.
Like marriage, it isn't always perfect. I think God needs us to start talking about that a bit more. If we can't, then we end up hurting our friends who are being deeply wounded because their relationship isn't measuring up to ours. They're standing by a grave while we are "praising God" for coming through for us. God needs us to shut up sometimes, and talk more about the dark parts, the scary parts, that parts where nothing is going right and we're alone and lost. Do that a bit more so that people to bail on Him. Let them know they're aren't alone in their own painful story. Let them understand that they didn't do anything wrong...
God isn’t religion.
God isn’t our prayers.
God isn’t our praise.
He is us.
He is the other half of us.
Without Him, we are not whole.
And so, dear hearts, might we be careful about how we speak and praise and define Him with cold and empty religious terms?
Note: Roger said that this might come off judgemental towards divorced and single readers. So, I would like to pause and explain that I do not mean to say that if you are not married, that your relationship with God is not healthy. I know that many people try and try at marriage and it still ends, or they have been betrayed in their marriage and it ends. This does not reflect your relationship with God. I know that many people have not yet found someone they want to marry. This does not reflect your relationship with God. Some of you might have been married for decades, but know that it isn't always great and hard times are had by all. Some of you may never have a desire to marry at all. I only used "marriage" as an example of the ultimate commitment within a relationship. Please forgive me if this offended in anyway.