What would it take to convince your parishioners that God wants their friendship and that they can develop a close relationship with him? While many people find this a strange notion at first, you can help them accept this idea and encourage them to develop a friendship with God. Here are some suggestions to begin the discussion:
Ask your parishioners to recall people to whom they tell the truth about themselves. What makes this trust possible? Illustrate how this same relationship with God is possible by sharing Scripture stories that show God as someone people love and trust. In Genesis, for instance, God creates the world as a garden where human beings and God work together and then sit down at the end of the day to talk over things, the way friends do. God also shows his desire for our friendship by becoming a human being. Jesus calls his disciples friends and invites them to love one another just as he has loved them.
With this notion of friendship you can also talk about prayer differently. Just as we tell everything to our closest friends, so, too, we can tell God about our joys, our concerns, our hopes, our fears . . . and then wait to see how God responds. Prayer becomes a dialogue rather than a monologue.
Finally, you could offer suggestions for discerning one’s experiences with God. Discernment means paying attention to our states of heart and mind and deciding whether these states are in line with our friendship with God. As our friend, God wants us to be alive and at peace with ourselves and others. When we feel this way, we’re in tune with God. Likewise, if we feel out of sorts and anxious, we’re not in tune with God and can ask God for help.
This idea of being friends with God may be something you have to continue to discuss with those in your parish, but it will be worth the effort. And God will be pleased with that effort, because friendship is what he wants of us.