[This is one of the posts telling a story from the life of my Dad. Click here to see the others.] When I graduated from high school, I had the idea that it would be fun for the my Dad and me to make the six-hour drive to the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex and go to a Texas Rangers baseball game together. Their new ballpark had just opened and he’d never been to a big league game, so we went. He and I drove there in his pickup the day of the game, watched it, stayed the night in a hotel, drove back the next day, and I don’t think we said more than 150 words on the whole trip. And for the rest of his life we still mentioned how much we enjoyed it!
You are likely not as quiet as my Dad and I, but I think you can understand something of this aspect of a relationship between people. There comes a point in getting to know someone when you can enjoy just being together rather than having to get acquainted through small talk and other conversation. Sure, words are still fine and are often used, but there is also a trust and comfort that is uniquely expressed without them.
Brennan Manning says, “Simply showing up is a kind of loving. The readiness to conscientiously waste time with a friend is a silent affirmation of their importance in our lives.”(1) That is a great description of one way of praying (without words): “conscientiously wasting time with a friend to affirm their importance in our lives.”
I had been a Christian for quite a while before I ever realized the truth of this in my relationship with God. It occurred to me, “If I cannot enjoy just being with God, without having to fill the time with words or other things, what does that say about how close we are? How can I even really describe it as a relationship, much less an ‘intimate personal relationship’ like we often say, if I will so easily come up with any tool or excuse available to avoid just being with God?”
Dallas Willard describes this bluntly. He says, “Silence is frightening because it strips us as nothing else does, throwing us upon the stark realities of our life. It reminds us of death, which will cut us off from this world and leave only us and God. And in that quiet, what if there turns out to be very little to ‘just us and God’? Think of what it says about the emptiness of our inner lives if we must always turn on the tape player or radio to make sure something is happening around us.”(2)
Enjoying being with God without having to use words is such an important part of the spiritual life, because it is during this time when that “something between just me and God” is given a chance to grow and develop. It is the time when what we so often call a relationship with God can come to consist of the two of us actually enjoying being together.
Albert Haase recounts a great story of a 19th century parish priest in France. One of the first things the priest noticed after coming to town was a certain villager who never passed the church without entering. He would enter the church in the morning on the way to work and again on his return home in the evening, leaving his pickaxe at the door. The priest also noticed that the villager never prayed with rosary beads or a prayer book, so he once asked the man what he said to God during his long visits in the church. The man answered, “Oh, I don’t say anything to God... I look at God and God looks at me.”(3)
I want to know God in that kind of way.