Strange Conversations

“Can you scratch my elbow?”

“Pardon me?”

“Scratch. Right here.”

“Scratch your elbow? Seriously? You can reach it yourself; why do you want me to do it?”

“It just feels better when you do it.”

“Um. Okay.”

Conversations like this one happen between me and my wife. Frequently.

Why? Because of a relational principle that Stacey gets, but I am slow to pick up on: Sometimes what you ask people for, what you feel free to really ask for, even though you don’t need it actually says something about your relationship and how each of you perceive it.

For example, just imagine how the conversation would have gone differently if I was sitting beside a stranger on the bus who asked me the same question. I’m not sure if I’d reply or move straight to pushing the bus’ panic button.

When we’re relationally intimate with someone, we feel free to ask for things. “Can you scratch my elbow?” all of a sudden becomes fair game. Or how about “Can you get me a glass of water?” when neither of you is near the sink. You’re close enough in your relationship that you feel free to impose. And the person you’re imposing on loves you so so much that it’s no imposition at all.

Do you see what Stacey is actually saying when she asks me to scratch her elbow? By asking me what she’ll ask no one else — and even by asking me to do something for her that she could do for herself — she is actually telling me about the nature of our relationship. She is expressing a faith that we have mutual love and openness that she has with specifically with me and no one else.

A Parable on Prayer

So if we turn this around to our prayer life, what does this tell us?

Sometimes I don’t pray about the mundane or the things I think “I can handle for myself.” That’s not a conscious decision. But it is a relational one, isn’t it? To use the example above, would I ask God to scratch my elbow, or would I do it myself? And what does that say about my relationship with him?

By asking, I’m showing (1) that I don’t want to be independent of him, but dependent on him, (2) that I presume he loves me and wants to help me, and, (3) our relationship continues with such intimacy that I’ll bring to him requests that I would never even think to bring to someone else. It also expresses, in my best moments, (4) that I believe he is so utterly for me that he actually has joy in giving me what no one else can or will. If I want to help my wife, he wants to help me even more.

He wants to be involved. He wants to be asked. When I bring my requests to him in prayer, I’m not just asking him for things. I’m saying something about what I truly believe: is he for me? Does he want to help? Will he help if I ask? Are we so relationally close that my asking won’t be an imposition?

Whether I realize it or not, my asking — or not asking — is an expression of the state of my relationship with God. Will I pray today? Will I ask God for help? I suppose that depends on how I view my relationship with him.

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