Prayer as Relationship

Many of us remember the oldest and best definition of prayer: "raising the mind and heart to God."  I suspect that most of us practiced the first part, raising our mind to God, better than the second part, lifting up our hearts.  That imbalance can too often make the experience of praying "dry" or "unfulfilling."

What this definition probably intended to say was that prayer involves our whole person in a relationship with God.  Using the various relationships of our lives as a guide, we can come to new insights about prayer.

A wise spiritual guide once said, "We are as good at praying as we are at the other relationships of our lives.  If you want to get better at prayer, work on the key relationships in your life."

Take a close friendship or marriage, as an example.  We wouldn't imagine that what makes the relationship work is trying to find a half an hour, early in the morning, to sit in a chair and close our eyes and think heavy thoughts about the other person.  We know instinctively, even if we hadn't ever put it into words, that a key relationship in our life is a matter of the heart.  The other person means a lot to me.  I'm not just attracted to the other, but the other is someone whose desires and dreams and vision are very important to me.  And, if this relationship is one that is growing in love, the other is one I want to serve - give of myself for.

Relationship always involves a strong desire to be with.  A relationship will fade if we have no continuing interest in spending time with the other, or connect with the other.  Even when our time together might be limited, we have feelings for the other which sustain the relationship.  The closer the relationship, the stronger those feelings.  In a marriage relationship, I might not see my spouse as much as I'd like, but I know that my job or my care for our children or time shopping - whatever I do when we are apart - is all done because of our relationship, to further the goals of our life together and our mission together.  Intimacy in the bedroom is an important, but small part of the relationship's bond.  If the other intimacy and connections are there, then the bedroom time is wondrous.  If the relationship of the heart is not connecting us when we are apart, intimacy in the bedroom can become quite problematic.

Words, gestures and rituals express and give shape to the relationship of the heart.  "I love you."  "Thank you."  "You are wonderful."  "I need you."   "I'm sorry."  A smile, an embrace, a gesture of vulnerability, a self-revealing story, a gift full of meaning, doing something together.  Our song, our favorite place, a special reading, a special menu, a tradition we've developed.  These are just a few examples of the hundreds of ways a relationship develops and grows.

How could prayer be a relationship with God, if it only remains a lifting of our minds to God?  We need very special times of intimacy with God, but that time needs to be prepared for and built up to.  To enrich our relationship with God, engages our hearts.  That involves finding intimacy with God in the midst of our everyday busy lives, much like we do with the other important relationships of our lives.  Perhaps as we pay more attention to what gives life and intimacy to these relationships, we might grow in the affective side of our relationship with God. 

If this tip stirs a desire for that kind of relationship with God, one place to begin is to let God tell me about how much God loves me.  The God who says, "You are precious in my eyes and I love you." [ Isaiah 43:4]  If I'm open to God's expressions of affection toward me, that can open my heart to stir up affection in the form of grateful response.  Love needs only a spark to get started.  It takes ongoing care to keep the fire from going out.  With special care, it can become a long lasting, warm and comforting, life-long relationship.

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