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Cultivating Intimacy—Not Just harmony—in Prayer

Because of Jesus we can pray from a place of honesty and vulnerability

Published on:
March 11, 2019
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6 min.
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Growing up, my brothers and I were only allowed to have friends over if the house was tidy. It was an incentivizing parental strategy, no doubt, as we would speedily clean our rooms so that we could have friends over to play. We were brought up with an understanding that when we welcomed someone into our home, our home had better be presentable.

Thus I became a master of disguise. I would hide my belongings under my bed skirt, shove clothes into my closet until I could barely close the door, and sweep everything off of my desk into a drawer. I gave a convincing appearance to my parents and guests that I was tidy but chaos pressed against each closed door. I went on pretending there was no threat of an avalanche.  

Even though I know that I can approach the throne with confidence, I don’t. I’m apprehensive to ask big things because I don’t want to be upset if big things don’t work out.

Some two decades later, the same philosophy holds true: what is out of sight continues to be out of mind, but there is only so much you can hide in a marriage. 

A Not So Small or Insignificant Difference

Early into our marriage my husband and I were advised to seek intimacy over harmony in all situations. At the time the two words were synonymous to us, but we were told to think of intimacy as a picture in real time and harmony as a staged shot. Intimacy was likened to “into me you see” which practically looks like letting each other into the real-time photo—whatever it might be, wherever it might be, whenever it might be, and however messy things might be. 

Intimacy, we’ve learned, is much more difficult to achieve than harmony. Harmony is a term describing multiple notes and chords that, though different, compliment each other in a way that produces something pleasant. In relationships, harmony can look like agreeing with each other simply to keep the peace rather than getting into the mess, because who has time for that? As someone who is naturally averse to discord and conflict, intimacy feels daunting. Harmony looks good and often feels good, much better than strife. It’s relatively easy to attain too, for those willing to brush things under the rug to keep the peace. But it’s also relatively easy to mistake for intimacy.

Intimacy feels unnatural and undesirable because it involves letting people into our mess. We all have messes, though. If we are followers of Christ, the one thing we have in common is that we are not perfect and need Jesus. Why then is it so difficult to address the mess?

I need intimacy, not harmony, with God too.

This time I’m not trying to hide my clothes or my messy belongings. I’m trying to hide my frustrations, disappointments, and disagreements. I don’t want to confess to my spouse that I got my feelings hurt, not because I want to deceive him, but because I don’t want it to be true—I don’t want to admit to myself that I had my feelings hurt, much less to someone I love and respect. I have a bad habit of talking myself out of my feelings and prematurely rationalizing myself away from them. When I tell him I’m fine, it’s not in passive aggression but rather in hope that if I say it out loud it might become true—I will be fine eventually. 

I do the same thing with God.

Even though I know that I can approach the throne with confidence, I don’t. I’m apprehensive to ask big things because I don’t want to be upset if big things don’t work out. I’m afraid to confess my doubt because I feel I should have outgrown it by now. I’m hesitant to vocalize my disappointments because I feel like I shouldn’t be disappointed. I don’t want to let the most high see me, because that requires me to acknowledge my dreams and doubts and disappointments and that feels overwhelming and exhausting. 

It’s much easier to utter niceties of the day and the weather and the provisions we’ve grown accustomed to. Likewise, it is as commonplace as it is simple for Christians to prematurely pray truths before acknowledging their emotions. We need truth, of course, but reciting them in place of emotion instead of alongside emotion or in response to emotion can be stifling—a show of harmony at the expense of intimacy. 

It is much more challenging to articulate how I feel and what I think before the Lord. But doing so breeds intimacy from our prayer lives. 

The Bible Tells Me So 

Many men and women across Old and New Testaments display an intimacy with God that’s cultivated as they display their emotion just as it is to the Lord. It’s prayer modeled in a way that gives us courage to do the same. 

Like Hannah. She cries out to the Lord for a son in 1 Samuel.

“In her deep anguish, Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly. And she made a vow, saying, ‘Lord Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life.’” 

And when questioned about her distressed prayer she answered, “I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the Lord”

Hannah poured out her soul before the Lord in honesty and vulnerability as she described her state as miserable and herself as one deeply troubled. Hannah’s honesty about her emotions did not negate her reverence for the Lord, it fueled her intimacy with him. 

David does the same:

“Save me, O God! For the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me.I am weary with my crying out; my throat is parched. My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God. More in number than the hairs of my head are those who hate me without cause; mighty are those who would destroy me, those who attack me with lies.
But as for me, my prayer is to you, O Lord. At an acceptable time, O God, in the abundance of your steadfast love answer me in your saving faithfulness. Deliver me from sinking in the mire;
let me be delivered from my enemies and from the deep waters. Let not the flood sweep over me, or the deep swallow me up, or the pit close its mouth over me. Answer me, O Lord, for your steadfast love is good; according to your abundant mercy, turn to me. Hide not your face from your servant, for I am in distress; make haste to answer me. Draw near to my soul, redeem me; ransom me because of my enemies!
For the Lord hears the needy and does not despise his own people who are prisoners. Let heaven and earth praise him, the seas and everything that moves in them. For God will save Zion and build up the cities of Judah, and people shall dwell there and possess it; the offspring of his servants shall inherit it, and those who love his name shall dwell in it.”

We can’t accuse David of not  telling the Lord how he really feels, he even describing his eyes as “dim from waiting” on the Lord. David’s candor did not negate his reverence for the Lord. But he ends his prayer holding fast to the promises of God and asking that “at an acceptable time” that the Lord would deliver him. David cultivated intimacy through prayer. 

And Jesus Christ too cried out in honest prayer to the father hours before his capture saying, 

“‘My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.’ And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, ‘So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, ‘My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.’ And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again.” 

God in flesh cried out in honesty and vulnerability asking that if it was possible that the cup of his crucifixion pass him by. He asked this before uttering the most famous line from his prayer, “your will be done.” His acknowledgment of his emotions and desires in his prayer did not negate his reverence for the father. Surely Jesus experienced intimacy with the father.

We are told in scripture that because of Jesus we can pray from a place of honesty and vulnerability.

We are told in scripture that because of Jesus we can pray from a place of honesty and vulnerability. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

We have the opportunity to know and be known by the most high God because of the redemptive work of Jesus. Real is always better than easy. 

Sarah Scott Pape
Sarah is a writer, a photographer, and an admirer of all lovely things. She lives in Dallas, Texas, where she juggles being a full time wife, writer, teacher, and friend. You can find more from Sarah on her website and follow her on Instagram.

Cover image by Victor Garcia

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