My wife never has hit me.

Actually, maybe there was one time, early in our marriage, that she laid one on me.

The strike came mid-sentence during an everyday conversation I was having with a friend. Somewhere in the chat, I regretfully repeated a phrase my father often used and I referred to my bride as "the wife."

Then, bam! Out of nowhere, solid fist-to-shoulder contact.

"I am not 'the' wife!" she protested. "You can talk about 'the' car, 'the' house or even 'the' dog, but I never promised that I'd be 'the' wife."

Funny how that simple article "the" can cause such a big bruise.

Truthfully, I'm not the sharpest stick in the pile, but I've never needed another charley horse to remind me that the wrong use of "the" could cause the death clause in our marital vows to part us a little prematurely.

The not-so-subtle nudge has forever reminded me that relationships are not a thing to be categorized, summarized or formulized.

Relationships are between two people. They can flourish when used without the article "the." In fact, the only word that should precede relationships with our children, wife or friends is the word "my" - and only when that word can be reciprocated.

It seems to me that our relationship with God should work the same way.

Some years back, I attended a religious conference hosted in the same place I'd been a janitor 30 years prior. During the conference, several preachers proclaimed what they believed was the latest secret, plan, purpose or principle for knowing God.

Unsure what to think about these plans, I left the conference early one evening for a prayer walk through the crisp mountain air of northern New Mexico.

I walked past a park bench where I remembered engaging youthful friends in some anxious discussions over the woman of my dreams.

"What do I do? What do I say? What's the plan?" I asked.

The only point of agreement we reached was that I should ask her out again, which obviously I did. And, obviously, a relationship formed. It became "our relationship."

If my wife and I could forge a lasting relationship, despite having no obvious method or plan, wouldn't you think that our creator could easily establish a relationship with his creation?

Since my visit to the retreat center, many of the same preachers have written all kinds of books, pamphlets and articles that will encourage you to pray a certain prayer, obey certain spiritual laws or follow precise principles if you want to know God.

Perhaps their methods provide important starter blocks to begin your search for God, but if you think about it, people have been relating to God long before any of these preachers wrote books. So perhaps entering into a relationship with God is not so much about the method as it is falling in love with God.

At the end of the day, it will never be about lip-syncing someone else's programmed prayer. It won't be about secrets, plans, purposes, formulas or principles or anything that begins with "the." It will just be about finding the relationship that works for you.

Finally, for those of you who are wondering, yes my wife does read my column before the editors ever read it. And yes, the wife approved this one.

Ouch! I meant to say "my wife." My wife has approved this column.

I guess I'll always be a slow learner.

Norris Burkes is a syndicated columnist, national speaker and author of "No Small Miracles." He is an Air National Guard chaplain and a board-certified hospital chaplain with the Association of Professional Chaplains. You may leave recorded comments at 843-608-9715, or email them to ask@thechaplain.net, or send comments to P.O. Box 247, Elk Grove, CA 95759. Visit the chaplain.net.