In last week’s Latter-day Faith Virtual Fireside on Prayer, we explored how prayer can be difficult. Many of us learned to pray transactionally, meaning that we ask for blessings or miracles from God, hoping that we are faithful enough to merit them.
What if prayer is nothing like that? What if prayer is really a conversation with God? Alma said, “Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings.” (Alma 37:37) If the purpose of prayer is counsel, then perhaps the concept of transactional prayer needs to be set aside in favor of something deeper, something where we actually can relate to our counselor.
As I see it, this idea of God as a counselor fundamentally changes who and what we think God is. Instead of being the Almighty God of Creation—so far above us that we bow in humble reverence, where “no unclean thing can come into his presence”—a counselor is someone with whom we have a relationship. It brings God down from the heavens into our daily life. God is present in our suffering, in our wandering, in our weakness, and in today’s challenges. God weeps with us.
But isn’t this what Jesus did? Paul said, Jesus did not consider his equality with God as something to be exploited, but rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness (Philippians 2:6-7). When Lazarus died, amidst Mary and Martha’s sorrows, Jesus wept (John 11:35). Jesus even set aside his clothes at the last supper, girded himself in a towel as if he were a slave, and washed the excrement off his disciple’s feet (John 13:4-17).
But then he did something amazing. He invited us to be his friend (John 15:15). He invited us to love…to love one another, as God and Jesus have loved us (John 15:12).
Sometimes I like to imagine myself in that upper room with Jesus. Everything I thought I knew about God, His Glory, His exaltation, His honor and power—none of this really matters when I am there in that room with Him. I hear him say to me, personally, “I love you, Mark,” and in a very intimate way, for the voice I hear is my mother’s voice saying those words as the last thing she said to me as she departed this world.
I wonder if this is what prayer really is: falling in love with God. I’m not sure I can fall in love with our LDS image of a “Heavenly Father.” A first century Jewish rabbi doesn’t quite resonate with whom I have come to understand as God. Instead, I hear God in my mother’s words, in the beauty and wonder of the universe, in the gentle falling of rain. I find the image of God weeping amid our suffering as we grapple with these troubling times. I find the image of God in all things, for to me, God is being one with the Way (John 14:6)—all things testify of God (Moses 6:63).
And when I think about that, when I envision myself in the moment, part of creation, infused with divine nature, and connected with you and all that is, I fall deeply in love.