I have a confession to make. I don't have it all together. Okay, I'm vulnerable.
I admit my neediness. My vulnerabilities need something other than my own private prayers.
Larry Crabb says I'm not supposed to parade my neediness before others in order to be taken care of. According to Crabb, "Masculinity is not the overcoming of neediness; it's the courage to acknowledge neeediness and to bring it before God, not to parade it in order to be taken care of."
Men make two mistakes according to Crabb: "Either we hide our 'little boy' fears behind something we think is masculine and mature, or we display our neediness, hoping someone will come through for us. Men who make the first mistake are seen as real men by our culture. Men who commit the second error get labeled as wimps or as effeminate."
I want to be fair to Crabb, but his book (which I have mentioned before) on The Papa Prayer reinforces (at least in my mind) the evangelical individualism that so undergirds the appeals and books on finding your identity before God in private prayer. You will never find such emphasis in the New Testament on private prayer. Yes, private prayer is assumed in the New Testament as one practice of the spiritual disciplines. But you won't find in the Gospels any mention of Peter or John withdrawing from Jesus and the rest of the disciples to spend time in private prayer. I understand the focal point of the Gospels is Jesus, but you won't find this heart-and-soul emphasis on private prayer in the Gospels among Jesus' followers. You won't find private prayer emphasized at all Acts. You won't find Paul exhorting believers who are reading his epistles to be sure and separate from others in order to practice the discipline of private prayer. You won't find any mention in any of the epistles to remember Christ' example who used to withdraw from everyone to pray as something essential.
In pointing this out, I am not saying, private prayer shouldn't matter. We are to "pray always," living and breathing out prayer requests, living in a spirit of prayer before the Lord and others.
But, dare I say it, and generalize it, the emphasis in modern evangelicalism on private prayer as the centerpiece in evangelical spirituality seems to be a modern masculine, individualistic spirituality. Men and women are constantly exhorted to look "masculine" in their prayer spirituality. Men and women are to learn struggle before God with their identity, with their vulnerabilities, with their sins, with their fears, with their longings, with their weaknesses, privately to God, in solitary confinement.
This is what a "healthy" disciple looks like in the evangelical sub-culture in the Western world.
The solitary confinement of evangelical spirituality has its social expectations about our ability to persevere in struggling with God alone in prayer, about learning to be intimate with God in prayer.
I taught a class today on relational prayer. I said relational prayer is a call out of the solitary confinement of evangelical spirituality. We have scores of books by popular Christian authors on the value, benefit, and struggle of private prayer and solitude. There are so few books on "relational prayer." While most books on evangelical spirituality and the value of private prayer focus on Jesus getting away from the crowd to get alone to pray, hardly any books focus on John 1:1 which, perhaps may be one of the greatest verses on communion and conversation in the Bible. From all eternity, before time began Jesus was with the Father. And that is where we are going: the communion of God and the commuion of saints. There is some use and blessing in private prayer. But modern evangelicalism has promoted, advertised, celebrated, cherished, and proclaimed with great wisdom that private prayer is essential to your identity before God in spirituality.
Rarely, you will ever hear the counsel, that you need to delve into the discipline and rhythm of relational prayer. Praying with and for others is almost viewed as an extra value or benefit in addition to, or on top of, your hectic schedule and the chief cornerstone of evangelical spirituality: private prayer.
I encouraged everyone to consider the possibility and practice of relational prayer as a pulsating, rich, communal, spiritual discipline that can help us escape the solitary confinement of evangelical spirituality. I wasn't just simply referring to prayer here and there, although there is value in that. But to consider the possibility of even daily relational prayer as a possibility of rich communion: emails, Im-ing, and cell phones make intentional relational prayer a rich possibility even though you maybe separated by suburbs, states, or even oceans.
I had email contact with this author over the weekend. He's going to be at the Baylor Friendship Conference next month speaking on friendship dyads. He told me he had a chapter in this book on a theological basis for friendship dyads. I went to Trinity library today (it is a 7 minute drive from my office--so I go during lunch).
I've taken a peek into the chapter. Wow! Easily the best chapter on the virtue of a friendship dyad written by a contemporary evangelical so far.
"The main point of the chapter is that close friendships are essential for all believers, not only for the joy they give to us, not only for the contribution they bring to the Christian community, but also for the help they provide in relating to God."
"Our intimate relationships with others--brothers and sisters, spouses, friends--are actually more essential to Christian living than we may have previously thought."
I love this--"although buzzwords like community and love abound in the church, deep relationships fair no better here. Believers tend to gravitate toward ways of seeking God that are predominantly individualistic."
If there is a weakness in the chapter it is so "evangelical" in its approach. He shows no knowledge of deep friendship dyads of the past--no mention Catholic spirituality fostering and sustaining friendship dyads, etc. He mentions Paul Wadell briefly. He also doesn't address the hornet's nest--the gender issue in friendships.
"Jesus Christ, I think upon Your sacrifice You became nothing, poured out to death Many times I've wondered at Your gift of life And I'm in that place once again I'm in that place once again."
Are you in that place once again? I am interpreting the meaning of
that place once again where you need the intimacy of the cross, the
intimacy of Jesus' death, to pull you through, to release you from the
heavy debt of not only sin, but the felt heaviness and shame of doing
something contrary to God's love and redemption...again. Are you in that place, once again?
"Probably the least understood aspect of progress in Christ-likeness is the role of the body in the spiritual life" writes Dallas Willard in The Great Omission (an aside, this book has one of the most beautiful book covers I've ever seen).
"The first day Betty entered my office, the instant I saw her steering her ponderous two hundred and fifty-pound, five-foot-two-inch frame toward my trim, high-tech office chair, I knew that a great trial of countertransference was in store for me. I have always been repelled by fat women." (Irvin D. Yalom, Love's Executioner: Other Tales of Psychotherapy).
"Grievously erroneous and unchristian ideas concerning denying and hating oneself have long been propagated in one form or another in certain Christian circles." (Leanne Payne, Restoring the Christian Soul).
I'll let this initial post highlight those quotes and I want to connect dots on them in cross gender praying, cross gender spirituality, cross gender sexuality in this thread. I'd love to hear your initial thoughts and honest feedback as I begin post on this subject.
This is one of the most centering interpersonal prayers there has ever been written. It's St. Patrick's Day in the U.S. so I remind everyone this deep intimate prayer. It's one of the most intimate prayers I ever pray with anyone, man or woman, in their physical presence or through an email. I improvise a little bit sometimes, ...."Christ to your left, Christ to your right." It never ceases to amaze me the depth of God's presence many women find, as I pray this prayer for them. It seems to me these simple but profound words clothe us in Christ. They surround us with Christ. They carry us in Christ. It's one of the most safest prayers I pray for and with women.
Here is the rest of St. Patrick's Breastplate:
Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
I venture into something I don't think I've seen in print in books, blogs, or anywhere else. Well, I've seen a little bit. Brief mention here or there. Yet, I know many male pastors pray with and for women. I wonder for one, is this a Christian pop version of men are from Mars and Women are from Venus thing? I wonder if men pastors are aware of consciously praying in different language when they pray with women, or do they just pray the same? For years, I prayed no different with men or with women. For years, I guess you could say, I prayed dry theologically abstract prayers when I prayed whether it be for a woman or man. My whole approach to private prayer and intimacy dramatically changed for me 8 years ago. My mentor friend and I, when we talk about each other's journey's, we're both unafraid to use language like "my second conversion." My "second conversion" took place in a period of weeks, 8 years ago. I wish I had other language to describe it. I am comfortable with my mentor and I both talking about our second conversion. Now, I have enough courage to express it like that on my blog. There is a sense, though, in which I feel we do conversion every day, but I don't want to get too confusing on you. :-)
About four and half years ago, the Lord opened up opportunities for me to pray with and for women, Jennifer was one of them. The Lord has continued to open doors for me to pray with women. It's something I have learned to grow comfortable in my skin. I am just going to share some of my thoughts here on my experience of cross gender praying, the spirituality of cross gender praying. I am sure I have much more to learn in this area.
I was delightfully surprised when I discovered Francis de Sales who had a special and anointed ministry with women. This Catholic bishop lived in the 1600's and had a deep cross gender ministry of prayer, formation, and spiritual direction with women. He had intimate spiritual friendships with women. Wendy Wright, a Salesian scholar writes "Francis was neither afraid of his calling nor naive about it...in his encounters with actual women he did not see himself either as endangered or as necessarily rising above the complex tensions that can beset such encounters...the bishop had a special charism for the direction of women, a practice that, even in his situation, was thought to be a dubious and unnecessary undertaking." I'm not for one second, claiming any special gifts, but de Sales was a deep encouragement as I saw in his life spiritual friendship and "ordinary" cross gender friendship intimacy combined. I didn't find out about him until I had been praying with women for three and half years.
I do believe with Wendy Wright, "that friendship between a man and woman can be a medium for radical personal and shared transformation, that such an undertaking is eminently Christian."
Here's some of my musings on something I haven't seen others address much in contemporary writings.
Larry Crabb's new book, The Papa Prayer is a book worth reading if you are struggling with intimacy with God. He suggests this is a "new paradigm for prayer."
He believes the "old" paradigm is a "Get Things from God" paradigm. This new paradigm is a "Get to Know God Better" paradigm. Behind this paradigm is the idea that "prayer is an opportunity to build a passionate relationship with God, to know Him well" (77). He states, "True prayer has the power to connect what is deepest in our hearts with what is deepest in His and to release His life into us" (77).
Larry has four dynamics to help us build prayer intimacy: