Do you remember when you were a little kid and a loud, rumbling thunderstorm would come through in the middle of the night? The kind of storm that was so violent the house would shake when lightning struck.
What did you do to calm yourself? Did you grab the covers and pull them tightly over your head or did you run to your parent’s bedroom and beg to climb in between them?
I was definitely the latter. I also knew that if I went to my dad’s side he would always let me crawl into bed. Mom was more likely to walk me back to my room and tuck me back in. So I learned early that if I was really afraid dad was the big softy who would protect me.
Snuggled between the two of them it didn’t matter how loud the thunder was or how badly the house shook. They weren’t afraid of the storm so I didn’t need to be afraid and I could drift back to a peaceful slumber safe in their arms.
This is the same feeling I get when I pray, especially during the stormy times in my life.
See God isn’t a big policeman in the sky. I don’t believe He’s “up there” counting how many Hail Mary’s I’ve said or keeping track of my church attendance. That’s religion’s job in order to control my behavior with guilt.
When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray He gave them the Our Father. Most importantly Jesus starts the prayer with “Abba,” an endearment similar to Daddy. Not father. Not sir. Daddy.
So I can hear some of you saying, “But God was actually Jesus Father, so yeah, I get why he can call him Dad. But He’s not my father.” Really?
Fr. Richard Rohr writes in The Divine Dance, “Now let’s try to convince you that this being whom we call God is, in fact, loving. We haven’t had very good success at this, right? In my decades of priesthood, I’ve observed that the vast majority of Christians are afraid of God. In my now broad and worldwide experience, I do not find most Christians to be naturally more loving than those of other faiths. We just think we are! It’s rather disappointing to find this out, but it’s inevitable if you’re basically relating to this God out of fear and if your religion is, by and large, fire insurance just in case the whole thing turns out to be real. You’re not really in this dance. You haven’t crawled into bed to sleep between your divine Parents.”
Why did I run to my parent’s room when I was afraid? Because I knew they weren’t afraid and they would protect me. I knew I would feel safe enough drift off to a peaceful slumber. I trusted them to shelter me.
I trusted them.
If you never trusted your parents, or if you had an abusive father, I’m guessing it’s going to be pretty difficult to relate to God as a loving father. If you’ve never known how it feels to be protected in the arms of a loving parent you will most likely struggle with an intimate, trusting relationship with God.
If that speaks to you, has there ever been a relationship in your life where you felt safe and loved? I’m going for a feeling here, not an image. Hold on to that feeling. Know that God wants you to feel that way all the time. Safe and protected.
It’s not going to happen overnight. That’s why it’s a “practice.”
But if you are able to shift your perception to being held in a safe, loving space, I promise you your prayer life will also shift dramatically.