A companion to my daily prayer and reflection is a picture on a bedroom wall of Jesus in agony at the Garden of Gethsemane. Instead of pixels, this picture has tiny cross-stitched threads that were sewn with great care. During prayer, my eyes often rest on this image of Jesus on His knees with face lifted to the Father, beseeching. The hour has come for Him to drink the bitter cup. In that prayer, Jesus enters His solitary passion, the harrowing part of His mission.
More than just inspiring me to accept God’s will each day, it is the intimacy with which Jesus expresses Himself to the Father portrayed in this picture that opens my heart in prayer. We read in the Scriptures of the many times Jesus went off to pray, sometimes all night, to be with the Father. We are not told what transpired in those times of communion. At Gethsemane, however, we read that He “began to feel sorrow and distress.” In Luke’s gospel, we hear Jesus express His inmost thoughts, feelings, and desires, “My soul is sorrowful even to death.” In submission, Jesus “fell prostrate in prayer, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me, yet, not as I will, but as you will.” (Luke 22:42) In this verse, Jesus as the Son shared His innermost self intimately with the Father in real-time.
This is the kind of prayer that as a daughter of God, I am called to do with my Father. It is a prayer that fosters intimacy with God based on trusting Him with what is in my heart. Some prayer guides encourage us to leave our thoughts and feelings behind a door when entering into prayer. Some direct us to write these distractions down so that we can let go of them momentarily while we focus on God. There are many days when these prayer techniques do not work for me. Emotions overwhelm like tantrums. Thoughts and feelings can cut me off from God like crazed drivers in traffic. Inner desires arm-twist with a passion for dominance. In my conversations with God, I often find myself preoccupied with battling these elements. Learning about Relational Prayer has significantly changed my prayer life. Instead of trying to rid myself of these thoughts, feelings, and desires, I gather them up and bring them along as I enter into the presence of the Father.
Relational prayer is an invitation to intimacy with God. There is a deep desire to be known as a person and an earnest thirst for God Himself. For Christians, intimacy with God is possible. Relational prayer is sharing with God our innermost thoughts, feelings, and desires. Because prayer is a relational thing, God responds.
The Dynamics of Relational Prayer*
- Acknowledge – Notice, name and admit our thoughts, feelings, and desires – be aware of what is going on inside our minds and our hearts.
- Relate - Choose to entrust what is in our hearts to the Lord by telling Him about it honestly, being just as we are, letting Him into our subjective world.
- Receive - Be receptive to God’s response that may come as an insight, an image, an awareness of His presence, a peace, or even correction. God may speak to us through the Scriptures, events, and people in our lives – we need to be listening and attentive to the movements of the Holy Spirit.
- Respond - When we receive from God, we respond accordingly. If we are called to act, let us act. When we are invited to trust Him, let us put our trust in His goodness and power. When we receive understanding and insight, let those guide us. When we are being corrected, let us repent and follow His way.
In prayer, God upholds our dignity as His beloved child. I get the sense in Relational Prayer that God not only hears my prayers but He hears me. When I share with Him my inmost thoughts, feelings, and desires, He ‘gets’ me. The profound thing about being heard is that the clamor for attention by these interior forces dissipates. When I spill my heart’s contents out to my Father, I, then, can be quiet and wait to listen for His response. Fully expecting Him to respond because He cares for me instills genuine hope. Recognizing His response through scripture, people, and events as specific answers to prayer build up my trust in Him. His goodness and kindness manifested to me make my faith grow. These enlarge my heart with gratitude and praise of Him because I come to know Him personally and intimately as my Father.
In Great Love
In this intimacy with the Father, He also reveals His thoughts and desires to us, His children. Even if these revelations have been communicated in Jesus and the Church, we receive them with a new, personal, relevant, and deeper understanding. We begin to “comprehend the breadth, length, height, and depth of His love” for us (Ephesians 3:18). We grow in loving Him because He has first loved us. This grace allows us to respond to Him in great love, “not my will, but Your will be done.”
The Father sent an angel to strengthen Jesus in His anguish to face the ultimate sacrifice. Intimacy with God in prayer provides us His strength to accomplish the mission we are sent to do every day. Like Jesus – and united to Him, we are enabled to deny ourselves, take up our cross daily for the love of God and love of others.
*Dynamics of Relational Prayer taken from “The Parish as a School of Prayer: Foundations for the New Evangelization” by Fr. Scott Traynor