I have a friend who is going through a divorce. She immediately recognized she needed help while working through the process of redefining her life. Since the church where she lives doesn’t offer divorce support groups, she began attending a weekly community group that meets in a local church.

The group itself isn’t religious, they just meet in a church building. The interesting thing is that most of the people in the group are religious. They openly talk about how their church members hold prayer circles, participate as prayer warriors for each other and find comfort in knowing others are praying on their behalf. My friend was a bit taken aback at first. When she was asked by the group who at her church is praying for her, she said she didn’t think anyone was. Her visiting teachers don’t come regularly and when they do, they stick to the printed Ensign lesson and never ask how she is doing. She thinks her mother put her name on the temple prayer roll, but can’t say for sure. Her bishop is aware that she is getting a divorce, but hasn’t offered to meet with her privately. The Relief Society President says hello and smiles, but they have never talked about anything beyond the weather.

Her circle of friends is small and doesn’t include anyone in her ward. She attends church meetings and then goes home. She doesn’t see a way to tell people at church that she is having a hard time without making a spectacle of herself. The only forum for talking about yourself at church is during Fast & Testimony meeting and she would never announce her divorce from the pulpit. What would she say anyway? “I’d like to stand and bear my testimony that divorce is a good choice when you are being battered by your priesthood-holding husband. Amen.”

She told me that in her divorce support group it is mesmerizing how everyone else, all from different churches in town, talk about how their personal relationship with Christ has helped them through the pain of divorce. She says she can’t say that. She prays, she attends the temple, she reads the scriptures but she doesn’t have the same relationship with Jesus that they do. We talk about praying and listening to the Spirit. We are not encouraged to seek a personal friendship with Christ.

We preach about the mechanics of prayer, how to do it, but we certainly don’t encourage a personal one on one relationship with Christ using the same language that others do. We talk about the Gospel of Christ, not Christ directly.

I think that church leaders over the years, in an attempt to quell spiritual weirdness by members, have set a line between Christ and us. In a talk given in 1982 during a BYU devotional, Bruce R. McConkie said,

It is a fine and sacred line, but clearly there is a difference between a personal and intimate relationship with the Lord, which is improper, and one of worshipful adoration, which yet maintains the required reserve between us and him who has bought us with his blood.

I’m not clear on exactly what Elder McConkie was trying to convey, but what resulted is pretty straightford: Christ is to be held at a respectful distance. He is not our friend, we do not approach Him in the intimate way we do our friends.

My friend sees McConkie’s position as shaping the culture of our church. Although we acknowledge Jesus Christ as the head of our church, we don’t use words that would encourage anything more than a formal relationship between a king and his servant and no servant would take his king into his personal confidence. Instead, the servant would very formally thank the king for his gifts, acknowledge his greatness and would carefully ask for help with problems, then end the conversation with another acknowledgement of the goodness already bestowed by the king. Sound familiar?

My friend has decided that what she has longed for her whole life is a personal, vibrant ongoing conversation with Christ and she is changing her approach to Him. He IS her best friend and she has the right to claim that relationship.

She isn’t leaving the church, far from it. She is becoming energized to find opportunities to start conversations with others in church about Christ and her deepening understanding of who we trying to connect with as followers of Jesus Christ.

She isn’t worried about the semantics of who she is worshiping. Is it the Holy Spirit, Christ or Heavenly Father? Aren’t we supposed to worship Heavenly Father through Jesus Christ, not Christ Himself? She doesn’t view having a personal relationship with Jesus as worshiping Him to the exclusion of Heavenly Father. They are one in purpose, so whatever she shares with Christ is going to be known to the Father, too.

When she was telling me about her experiences, it made sense to me. I had my eyes opened to what a relationship with Christ could be, by my brother, Rex. He had a close relationship with Christ and talked openly about his nightly conversations with his Best Friend. There was isn’t anything weird or unseemly about it, he was very matter-of-fact and he encouraged me to have my own friendship with Jesus. Other than my brother, I’ve never heard anyone in church talk about being best friends with Christ. I just assumed Rex was unusual in his spiritual depth. Maybe it is just that he missed the unspoken rule to not discuss Christ in any way other than at a distance.

I am excited for my friend and her spiritual growth. I am just a tad bit sad that she had to find Him outside of church and bring Him in, rather than the other way around.

I think the great Johnny Cash says it best in his song, Personal Jesus.

Your own, personal, Jesus
someone to hear your prayers,
someone who cares

Your own, personal, Jesus
someone to hear your prayers,
someone who’s there

Feeling unknown
and you’re all alone,
flesh and bone,
by the telephone,
lift up the receiver,
i’ll make you a believer

Take second best,
put me to the test,
things on your chest,
you need to confess,
i will deliver,
you know i’m a forgiver

Reach out and touch faith
Reach out and touch faith

Your own, personal, Jesus
someone to hear your prayers,
someone who cares

Your own, personal, Jesus
someone to hear your prayers,
someone to care

Feeling unknown
and you’re all alone,
flesh and bone,
by the telephone,
lift up the receiver,
i’ll make you a believer
i will deliver,
you know i’m a forgiver

Reach out and touch faith
Reach out and touch faith
Reach out and touch faith

Reach out and touch faith