Hey, God.

Jesus said when you pray, say “Our Father,” but I haven’t done that much in the past few years, except during “The Lord’s Prayer” in church.

When Jesus taught his disciples to pray “Our Father,” it was a term of intimacy, inviting them to view God as a parent, someone who cares about them and will care for them.

But some of us don’t have such a warm experience of our father. My Father-in-law has invited me to call him “Dad,” but that name has too much baggage for me to use it for someone I feel so warmly about, so I just call him “Tim.” For those of us for whom the word “Father” is uncomfortable, who stiffen a little when Father’s Day rolls around, that language can become a barrier between us and God.

Some people may say, “Well, that’s how Jesus said to address God, so God’s gender is male and if you don’t like it, there’s something wrong with you and you need to fix it.” I can see where they’re coming from, but I can’t see Jesus saying that.

Scripture speaks of God as an adopting parent. If you adopted a child who had been thus-far raised by abusive parents and the traditional names for parents were forever ruined for them, it would be unkind to force them to use those names for you and your partner.

Over the years, I’ve used all sorts of names for God: In prayer journals from ten years ago, I used “Daddy,” which doesn’t work as well for to me today. Sometimes I’ve started prayers, “Our Mother,” which feels warm and strange. That may not work well for those who have a strained connection to their mothers. Some of us had such a rough experience of both our (heterosexual) earthly parents that neither “Father” nor “Mother” will make God feel like someone we want anything to do with.

In church, I often say “Gracious God.” God’s grace is so important to me that it is the only attribute of God that appears in my personal mission statement.

But most often in private prayer, I say, “Hey, God.” I’m not sure how or when I started this practice, but it feels comfortable and familiar, like a well-worn pair of jeans, like a part of my soul worn smooth by repeated passage. It captures how I see my current relationship with God – maybe not in a way that I could easily put into words, but in a way that makes sense in my own heart.

So if you want to pray and “Our Father” doesn’t work for you, or “Our Mother,” I invite you to try out other names. After all, scripture speaks of God in lots of ways, and when Moses asked for God’s name, God replied, “I Am.” That leaves a lot of options open.

I haven’t tried it, but I don’t know that I would recommend calling God “Tim.”

This article by Rev. David Schell originally appeared in the Herald-Palladium on January 13, 2024, under a different title