Reading further into Henri Nouwen's "With Open Hands", I was struck by what he says about expectation and hope within prayer. This concerns the whole question of how we approach God. What do we think might happen? Where might our praying take us? Nouwen recognises that many of us are more focussed on what we can get than on our relationship with God. God does give us a lot. We sometimes call those blessings; but God wants to engage with us and be part of our lives.
Nouwen points out that "People of little faith pray like children who want a present from Santa Claus but who are so frightened of the 'Holy Man' that they run away as soon as they have their hands on their package. They would rather have nothing more to do with the old bearded gentleman than getting his gift. All the attention is on the gift and none on the one who gives it."
Prayer is not about guaranteed results. Putting it another way, it is not about just going to Santa for a gift. Prayer is rather the expression of our relationship with God, recognising that God is alongside us, come what may, and shares both our pain and our joy. Life is often messy, and God doesn't offer an escape route, but does offer the strengthening relationship of accompaniment.
As Nouwen puts it: "In the prayer of hope, there are no guarantees asked, no conditions posed, and no proofs demanded. You expect everything from the other without binding the other in any way. Hope is based on the premise that the other gives only what is good."