21. THE (NOT SO) IMAGINARY FRIEND

God does not ask much of us. But remembering Him, asking for His grace, offering Him your troubles, or thanking Him for what He has given you will console you all the time. During your meals or during any daily duty, lift your heart up to Him, because even the least little remembrance will please Him. You don't have to pray out loud; He's nearer than you can imagine.

It isn't necessary that we stay in church in order to remain in God's presence. We can make our heart a chapel where we can go anytime to talk to God privately. These conversations can be so loving and gentle, and anyone can have them. So why not begin?

--Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God

 

When you were young you may have had an imaginary friend. Such a companion provides many a child with solace and joy. Yet as we age, we lose our belief in such buddies; we accept that we're largely alone.

But what if the child intuits something the adult forgets? What if we can recover that sense of a friend with us always, providing love and guidance? We may find, with Brother Lawrence, that this simple key can unlock profound treasures of the Spirit.

Today, use your imagination to explore that possibility. All day long, or as often as you remember, hold a running conversation in your head (or out loud) with an imagined Friend.

You might think of this Friend as the God of your understanding. Or you might visualize an enlightened sage--Buddha, a Native American shaman--whatever image works for you. This is a being who possesses the wisdom of the heavens but is delightfully down to earth. She or he is there to laugh with you, celebrate successes, console you in hard times, give direction when you're confused--all the help a best friend might provide.

Now chatter away with abandon. As you go through the day, keep sharing all that happens with your newfound companion. Don't decide that things are too small, or boring, or embarassing to share. That voice is you talking, not your Friend.

Let loose. For example, "I hate getting stuck at a red light. I know I'm too impatient, but that's how I am. I better not be late... you know this is an important meeting. I want to make a good impression. Help! I'm nervous. What should I say when I get there?" Imagine this being knows you well and is lovingly (not judgmentally) concerned with your welfare. She or he can supply the power and guidance you need. But amidst all your talk, also listen for answers. Expect them to come, often through a quiet voice within.

For the fun of it, you might set some goals for yourself. Can you remember to check in with your Divine Friend at least once an hour, or more? And how long can you keep the conversation going before you become distracted? How about those times when you begin to "lose it"--lapse into anger or fear? Can you remember to reach out for assistance just then? That's when you most need a friend.

You can also adapt this game to fit your rhythms. Perhaps you'd like to converse with your Friend first thing upon awakening to help set the day's agenda. Lunchtime can be a good time to walk and talk. Or maybe your Friend is the last person you wish to be with before drifting off to sleep. It's through these small moments and intimacies that a friendship gradually builds.

HELPFUL HINTS

* Be patient with yourself. Perhaps you start the day sharing your thoughts and feelings with your Spiritual Companion. Then the morning crests into a tidal wave and sweeps you away like a piece of driftwood. Minutes, then hours go by before you realize you left your Friend home with the breakfast dishes.

Don't feel a failure. Habits are hard to break. You're probably used to operating on automatic or, when you need to process events, relying on the mind's inner monologue. Now you're learning a radically new habit: that of dialoguing with the Divine. It may not come easily. But your focus strengthens with repetition just like muscles exerted against weights.


* Be honest. In this conversation/prayer, you may wish to express holy sentiments, such as "Thy will be done, O Divine Master." Fine if you mean it, but do an honesty check. Maybe it's truer to say, "Hey Goddess (Buddha...), I want to get my will done. Where do I go from here?" Of course, your spiritual Friend might take you to new places, but only if you're honest about where you are to begin with.

Then, too, you may feel frustrated by talking to a being you can neither see nor hear. Share that, too, in conversation: "Hey, God, how do I know you're there? I feel like I'm jabbering into a void." Maybe you'll get an immediate answer. If not, your very persistence in questioning may pull you into closer relationship with Spirit.

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