For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, say the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.
Isaiah 55:8-9
A few days ago, I wrote on the subject of intimacy with God and with one another. Today’s reflection is on the correlation between the two. There is an intimacy problem in this world, both between people and between people and God. Again, this is not intimacy of a sexual nature, but an intimacy where we are vulnerable with others, where unconditional love can exist. Can this exist between every person? No. Because we don’t trust every person. We don’t know every person. There are people who have wronged us, and people who do things we believe are wrong. We are not talking about these people. We are talking about people who do not feel intimate towards anyone, who feel guarded around everyone, who feel accepted by no one. Everyone should have at least someone they can feel “intimate” with, again not in the sexual sense but in the fully accepted sense, in the ability to be vulnerable sense.
By and large, we do not foster intimacy in our society. We foster competitiveness. We do not foster cooperation. We foster conflict. We have a hard time feeling satisfaction, as if others are always demanding more from us. And this in turn leads us to not feel satisfied with others, for we demand from them as they demand from us. The worst part of this “intimacy” problem is that we are becoming so conditioned to being guarded around people, accepted by no one, stuck in competitive relationships, and living in conflict that this affects our intimacy with God. Because we can’t love God if we don’t love one another, we are having problems being intimate with God because we are not intimate with one another.
Let’s talk about intimacy with God. When is the last time you poured out your soul to God? For some of us, the answer is “I just did it today.” And if you are in that category, good for you. That’s excellent, that’s blessed. If the answer is “I haven’t done that in a while,” or even “I’ve never done it,” I wonder what is the reason for that? I can think of three reasons.
The first reason is simply; we don’t know how to. That is actually a very plausible answer for many people. Many of us as children were taught to “say our prayers.” We weren’t taught to “pray our prayers.” We were conditioned, in “saying our prayers” to “give God His due,” or “heap up phrases” to God that had little meaning or sincerity. People fly through saying the Lord’s Prayer. All of us know how to say it, but do we really know how to “pray” it? We weren’t taught to open our souls to God, to share with Him our deepest hurts or our brokenness. We went to God, almost like a good luck charm, or even a crutch, but not in an intimate way. The answer to this issue is to learn to be intimate with God, to practice until we get comfortable with the idea. Virtually everything we’ve learned in life is learned through repetition. We rarely get anything right on the first try. If you have no idea where to start, start by speaking to the Lord in an honest manner. After we begin prayer thanking God, we need to get down to the heart of the matter, to bring to the Lord our deepest thoughts, our struggles, our brokenness and of course our joys. It starts by saying the difficult words, or writing them down and saying them. Praying is “saying without holding back.” In other words, we can “say” the Lord’s Prayer, for example, we can say the words “Thy will be done,” and they can just roll off our tongues with complete ease. Or we can pray these words, admitting to God that they are hard, confessing to God that we are giving Him the controls over our lives, or that we are having a hard time doing so.
The second reason we don’t pour out our souls to God is that we are scared. Intimacy makes us vulnerable, whether we are intimate with another person or with the Lord. If we open up our biggest pains and wounds to God, we make ourselves vulnerable. I’ve written many times about our “secret hearts” where our secret brokenness is stored. There are places so dark in each person’s secret heart that we are afraid to let anyone in there, any human being, and even God Himself. The irony, of course, is that God knows what is in our secret hearts, even if we don’t tell Him. Since He already knows, there is nothing we can hide from Him. And if we aren’t going to hide anything from God, why wouldn’t we bring to Him our deepest thoughts, and our deepest pains? It’s not like we can keep secrets from Him that He doesn’t already know. So if that is the case, let’s bring into His light the things that are secret, because it is in honesty that we can reach vulnerability with God, the same way we do with one another.
The third reason we don’t pour our souls to God is because perhaps we’ve done it in the past, and we feel like God has burned us, like He hasn’t answered us in our vulnerable state. Maybe we’re frustrated, even angry with God. What’s the answer in this case? This is difficult. It is easy to say “just keeping going back, that’s what faith is, after all—believing when things are going wrong, not just when they are going right.” But what about the person who says “I’ve done that, I’ve gone back again and again and there is no satisfaction, no relief.” What about the person who says “The problem I have is unfixable. I suppose God could fix it if He wanted to but He doesn’t.” And then there is the situation where we are afraid to pray for God’s will to be done, particularly when someone is sick or dying, because we want the miracle of life and that might not be God’s will. For this third reason, I honestly don’t have a satisfactory answer. I have an answer, but it is not necessarily satisfying to the one who feels abandoned by God. The answer is “keep showing up.” The answer is Isaiah 55: 8-9: For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, say the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.
I have a list of questions that I want to ask God when I meet Him, things that don’t make sense, tragedies that maybe were avoidable. I go through my own times when I’m mad at God—maybe it’s good that I’m a priest because I don’t have a choice to abandon Him or stay home, or refrain from Holy Communion. As for what stops us from intimacy with God, the answer is definitely not HIM. He doesn’t stop us. We stop us—either from ignorance, fear or disappointment.
Do I have an intimate relationship with God? The answer is “sometimes.” Like everyone, I have the days when I just show up, with little or no feeling. You might even say that I feel in conflict or competition with God at times. When I feel lost, I go back to cooperation and from their work my way back to intimacy with Him. Sometimes the journey takes a while, and even once I get there, inevitably there are setbacks and the cycle must repeat itself again. I recall the words of the prayer from Holy Unction, where we pray “as often as you fall, arise.” And each time I fall, I get up again.
Lord, thank You for the blessings seen and unseen in my life. Help me to build a deeper relationship with You. Surround me with people that I can build deeper relationships with. I know that I will never be able to understand all of life’s challenges, but I ask that You give me the strength to endure the challenges I can’t meet and the wisdom to meet the ones that I can. Amen.
Build an intimate relationship with God. Encourage safe and honest relationships with those around you.