I remember the old sign that used to flash outside my old church billboard: ‘I miss the way you used to talk to me as a child.’ It’s not something I’ve often thought about, but it settled at the back of my mind, always there somewhere.
When I was a kid, I was honest, too much so, and open with my emotions and wants. ‘Dear God, please bless my family. But not my sister, she’s mean and I hate her.’ ‘Dear God, thank you for Christmas and everything. I like my book. I did really want that doll though. Can I please have that too?’
The term ‘relationship’ is thrown around quite often but it’s only recently sunk in that it is a relationship. It means appreciating the small things and spending time. It means talking about nothing just for the sake of hanging out. It also means working through the hard.
If I’m angry with a friend or sibling, I don’t cut them out of my life, I have a conversation with them and talk about why I’m feeling that way, be honest. ‘This thing you did really upset me. How do we fix this?’ or ‘I’m angry, give me time to breathe and I’ll come back to you.’ If I’m just upset in general, it’s also nice to talk and get it off my chest.
Funnily enough it only occurred to me recently that this is potentially what I should be doing with God as well. He may be the big boss of the universe and it’s ridiculous to think that we have a direct line to him, but we do. So maybe I should use it to do more than yell. ‘God I’m really angry about this thing. I’m really upset with you. I want to move past this. By the way, thank you for the nice weather today.’ Not: ‘I’m not talking to you.’ Somehow I don’t think that’s what God means by the way you talked as a child.
When it’s tough
Unfortunately, having a conversation with God is easier said than done. It may be a direct line, but we can’t hear his response which can be very trying during the difficult times. Especially when the difficult times don’t stop.
The New Testament gives many confusing verses about prayer which I’ve struggled to work through lately. I think a lot of people can quote or paraphrase ‘…my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. …ask and you will receive’ (John chapter 16, verses 23–24, NIV). There are lots of examples of this throughout the Bible and I think that sometimes we tend to miss the context surrounding those snippets we like to hold onto. Like the story of the scorpion — no parent would give a child a scorpion when they asked for an egg. We can quote ‘…how much more will your Father in heaven give…’ (Luke chapter 11:13 NIV), but often forget that it continues on: ‘…the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.’
I think stories like these are misinterpreted or the most important bits are cut off or missed completely. God isn’t a genie or a magic machine. Like parents who might deny you going out at night or not get you that toy you wanted. It’s not to spite you. There can be a multitude of reasons why they might say no to your requests, but chances are, it’s out of love, never spite.
Sometimes unfortunately for us God works in the same way and we can’t get that explanation part of a conversation. I guess that’s where faith comes in.
When it’s fine
Perhaps most importantly you need to keep the conversation going when things are good, or when maybe they’re not good, but they’re not bad. Give thanks for the small things as well as the big like the nice weather or a kind customer. Thank him for the big things when the difficult times do finally die down. Keep God updated over the day-to-day life and involved.
A couple of friends are living overseas at the moment and just to keep in touch I’ll send random photos of cute animals or the scenery they’re missing in New Zealand and they’ll do the same. We know what the other’s up to due to Facebook just like God knows everything we do and feel but a conversation is so much more personal and involved.
It doesn’t have to be much. Just a ‘I really liked doing this thing today, God.’ You don’t have to be praying for world peace, for miracles or forgiveness all the time. It can just be little prayers of thanks, little hopes for the future, little vents of frustration. Just like when you were a kid.
Mel Cleary is based in windy Wellington and works full-time as a co-ordinator, spending time around her work for writing, crafts and Netflix.
Mel Cleary’s previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/mel-cleary.html