Feel distant from God? Dana’s discovery: You feel closer when you focus less on how you feel and just spend time with Him.
“Ah cherie,” Jacqueline whispered as she held my face in her soft, wrinkled hands, “ne t’en soucies pas.”
Her gentle French phrase of comfort, meant to alleviate the grief I felt over my lack of passion for Christ, squeezed tears from my eyes instead. I couldn’t simply “not worry,” especially when living beside her intense, convicting zeal. At the end of my student teaching experience I found myself envying my hostess, a 70-year-old, extremely poor, Christian woman named Jacqueline. I envied her for her joy, her overflowing love, and for the way her eyes lit up or filled up when talking about God. She didn’t simply regurgitate biblical stories, facts and Christian lingo. She knew Him.
Returning to the United States, my apathy continued to haunt me, a condition made painfully clear in contrast to the memory of Jacqueline’s fervor. I wanted to love God on more than a purely cerebral and factual basis. I knew who God was, that His Son died for me and that I would spend eternity with Him, but I felt detached. I knew that if someone asked me who God really was, I would only recite dusty Sunday School mantras and prescribed axioms. My heart and mind remained disconnected and I longed to unite them. But how could I ever come to truly know and love someone I couldn’t see? Was it possible?
I never asked Jacqueline how she developed such a close and intimate relationship with Christ, but I figured it was probably like any other relationship: I needed to spend time with God in order to know Him. That made sense, but I still struggled with knowing how to pursue an invisible being. It was so much easier to “hang out” with tangible people who talked back to me when I talked to them or who hugged me when I was discouraged. So I felt quite silly when I first started talking out loud to God, my words echoing off the walls of my apartment before dissolving into the carpet.
My quest continued and each time I read the Bible and prayed, I waited for the stirring, the supernatural zap that would send me into throes of passion for the Lord. Instead, I struggled each day with different excuses to not read my Bible and pray. There were many reasons to forego my time in the Word, though none of them valid. It felt an awful lot like hard work and discipline to develop a relationship. It was. But slowly, eventually, a change came over me.
True, I still could not physically “see” God, but it felt as though previously closed “spiritual eyes” opened. As I read God’s Word and spoke out loud to Him, the Holy Spirit ministered by revealing God’s presence to me. I felt Him in my apartment — not in a tangible way, but in a way that connected to my soul, to the innermost part of me. By fulfilling the desperate longings of my soul, those longings felt when staring into a starry sky, God romanced me into an intimacy I never imagined. It went beyond fickle emotions and feelings, delving to a depth that made my breath catch.
Recently I’ve heard Christians lamenting the fact they don’t have this breathtaking intimacy with Christ. I identify with their angst, but in some cases I’m not concerned by it too. Unfortunately, I see many Christians who bemoan their apathy and then continue to wallow in it. It’s like an overweight person who claims to want to lose weight, but keeps ingesting boxes of Twinkies. Good intentions don’t count for much if we let bad habits and poor decisions rule us.
Some people may wonder why developing a closer relationship with Christ is akin to losing weight, when losing weight can be so difficult. After all, when the flowers of romance freshly bud, it doesn’t feel like hard work to spend time with and get to know the object of your affections (though of course the work part comes along sooner or later). Why would pursuing a relationship with Christ be any different? Precisely because we humans want to be able to touch, to hear, and to see everything we interact with. Anything beyond the scope of our five senses remains abstract, seemingly unreal — or at least less real. It takes a lot of perseverance to pursue a relationship with Someone outside the realm of our five senses — day in, day out, all your life.
The problem with perseverance is that it’s out of date. Society preaches that anything difficult may simply be abandoned for something easier because “you deserve it.” I remember drifting around in my apartment sometimes, attempting to avoid the insistent urging of the Bible still sitting untouched on my couch. I wanted to know God and I knew that meant spending time with Him, but sometimes other activities held more appeal. Too many times I pushed God further down on my agenda, finally cracking open my Bible when I’d already reached that semi-comatose state. By then, blurred words simply flitted past my drooping eyes. On a few occasions, however, I reluctantly turned down offers to hang out with friends since I still hadn’t met with God. Each time I found myself richly rewarded and wondered why my accursed human nature always tried to keep me from the one thing I needed.
I still haven’t arrived at a point where spending time in the Word is always first on my list of desires. It might be first on my list of priorities, but the lists of desires and priorities don’t always match up. Our sin natures and the devil won’t allow us to follow Christ’s footsteps easily. It takes a firm, long-term commitment to put God first and to make time for Him, but it’s a commitment you’ll never regret. When He captivates your heart, you’ll know exactly why.
Copyright 2003 Dana Ryan. All rights reserved.