My parents always maintained people of higher social standing probably wouldn’t mind—and might even be happy—sharing some of their experiences with me if I simply asked. They were mostly right. And I assume you wouldn’t think it too unusual if I told you I often prepared for a meeting with a person of higher social standing. Whether a friendly professor, or pastor, or some other professional who had agreed to share some time with me, I would prepare questions, I would prepare answers for questions they might ask, I would immerse myself in their field, and so on, and so on. And while tiring, I was usually rewarded for it with various engaging conversations and ideas and concepts.
The thing is, all that preparation was not only exhausting, but it didn’t breed friendship. I mean, I am blessed enough to, now, call some of these folks friends, but it wasn’t because of me. It was mostly because of them and their invitation to drop the status/prestige and all that jazz. After giving it some thought, what I don’t do when meeting these kinds of people now is prepare. We just talk and share. To be sure, I still think I’m getting the better end of the deal. And it’s not that the level of respect is different; it’s that the type of relationship is different. Furthermore, many times I’m pretty sure I could have moved into the “friend” zone much faster had I simply dropped the preparation.
In a concomitant way I worry I have done the same with God.
Now, I’m not talking about respect, or honor, or any of that, since all that is still very much there for me. God is God. He is due respect. However, I don’t think we have a paucity of recognizing our smallness in our religious mind-set. We all know scads of Scripture pointing to God’s absolute bigness and powerfulness and our “wretched insignificance.” Many of our—I would dare say “supposedly”—spiritual songs and hymns are stuffed to bursting with the glaring difference between the deity and the sniveling peon singing. I don’t think most folks have a problem knowing God is quite larger than humans. And yet if we take the Bible seriously when we’re told Jesus said he no longer calls us servants, but friends, I, at least, have got to begin to approach him differently. I have a beloved friend who signs letters with “your servant in Christ,” and it drives me nuts. I don’t want a servant; I want a friend! I wonder sometimes if God ever gets frustrated with this too.
I don’t know what it’s like for you, but for me, when I was about to converse with esteemed individuals, I was mostly so focused on the preparation that I was immune to forming a friendship, even if the other person might totally be interested. Why? Because I was not approaching the relationship like a friendship.
Now, take a visit from a cherished sibling or beloved friend. Where is the preparation? Probably nowhere. Why? Because I don’t prepare for a friend coming over (other than getting out some good refreshments or whatever) by getting a speech down pat, or stuffing into my memory a list of questions I “must not forget to ask her.” I just get ready to enjoy some great times as we share experience and life together.
Back to God and making time to prepare for a meeting . . . Numerous books out there focus on the preparatory work of getting into relationship with God. Here is my trouble, though: when I assume I have to prepare for a meeting with God—in prayer, or worship, or whatever—many times I don’t meet God at all. It’s not that I’m trying to avoid him, or feel shame; it’s that my assumption that I have to prepare jiggers up the relationship. I think it’s because I’ve been looking at a relationship with God as a meeting for which I have to get ready and primed and proper: I have to be in the right space, I have to come with the right attitude, I have to have cleared my mind, and so on horrible so on.
This is all rot.
If I take this God/me friendship seriously, I need to chill out and worry more about showing up than showing up prepared.
I wonder if the friends of God in the Old Testament, Abraham and Moses, were friends not so much because they were so holy and awesome, but because they were more willing to just approach God. (I always get terribly tickled when some stoically serious-looking minister thunders to the audience that we should never question God, when I know Moses, who was known as the meekest person in the Bible and was also a friend of God, had the nerve to tell God more than once that he couldn’t do such and such with the Israelites because it would look bad.) Maybe they had a different perspective on the human/God divide? Maybe that the difference between us and God is not so large as presumed? (I’m aware of the potential cries of heresy. G. K. Chesterton once said, “I like getting into hot water, it helps keep me clean.” I like that sentiment.)
In her quite lovely book Wearing God, Lauren Winner titles her first chapter “The God Who Runs After Your Friendship.” What a mind-blowing idea. I generally hear about how different God is from the story of creation—and there is absolutely truth in that—yet coming back to similarity and sameness, if Jesus wasn’t lying when he used the word friend, how can I develop a relationship with him if I’m always thinking of God as different from me? I am not friends with the queen of England, arguably, because our differences are just too large. Friends have to share similarities.
I am not entirely sure how this works, but I am pretty sure Jesus was not messing with us when he said he wanted to be friends. So I’m trying to worry more about showing up—whether that be in prayer or whatever—rather than showing up super well prepared. And maybe by showing up more often, I’ll begin to share more similarities with him.