During group sharing at the Alpha Course on Tuesday, I heard so many testimonies about how entering a relationship with God had changed lives for the better. It so happened that the stories shared in my group focused a lot on how great it feels… the lightness, the joy, the thrill of coming to know God. All that is wonderful, of course, but I began musing on how it won’t stay that way. It will get more challenging… and it will get so much better.
Building a spiritual relationship with God has a lot of similarities with building a relationship with a spouse. When you first fall in love, the first few years can be a breeze. You’re riding high, aided by a strong dose of heady infatuation. Everything seems rosy and full of hope, and it feels as if nothing can change your love for this person. Until, that is, the tests start coming. Sooner or later, things will happen that make you doubt yourself and your other half. Does he really love me? Does he really understand me? How come I didn’t see this aspect of him before?
If you desire genuine intimacy with your other half, you will soon find that it is harder said than done. Genuine intimacy requires both of you to open your hearts intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. It requires both of you to entrust your deepest fears with each other, even when you don’t feel confident that you will be accepted for it. Intimacy requires you to have faith in the other person when you’re afraid of being rejected, to tell him, “I am afraid of how you will react to what I am going to say, but because I love you and I want to be close to you, I want to tell you how I feel…” Genuine intimacy requires the other person to listen with love, and to cherish the trust. Sometimes the issues are really difficult to accept, but if you both put your relationship and each other’s feelings above the importance of resolving the issue, then genuine intimacy will grow, and you will both find a way together to solve the problems. On the other hand, if you choose not to trust each other and to hide your feelings and thoughts for fear of offending your spouse or for fear of rejection, you will be building a wall between you until you can’t trust or feel loving towards each other anymore.
If you and your other half have been building intimacy with each other for some time, you would know that it takes some really hard battles. But with every battle won together (not against each other!), your trust and love in each other deepens, making you both stronger to face more difficult issues in the future (which will always come, life assures it). I am certain, if you ask such couples, that they would tell you they prefer their relationship in the present to the romance of their journey’s beginning. For the love that is borne of true intimacy is rooted deep and spreads its warmth steadily and surely, while the love of a budding romance may be overwhelming but is easily shattered.
The same goes for faith. The first blush of excitement, of overwhelming spiritual high, is real, but it is only a baby faith – one that is easily shaken and lost. To grow in faith, we must remember that our Christ did not ask us only to believe in Him, but to follow Him. Merely saying “I believe in Christ” could be as light as an “I love you” said in the early stages of a relationship. We may mean it with all our hearts, but because there is no strong foundation, this love – this faith, is based on feelings that are easily changed.
To follow Christ is to become His disciple – it is to enter into a relationship of intimacy with Him, a relationship that we honour in good times and bad, in sickness and in health. It means there will be battles to fight. There will be periods of doubt, of anguish, perhaps even a sense of betrayal or abandonment. But, if we open our hearts despite our fear, anger or confusion… if we choose to trust this Spouse, then we give ourselves the opportunity to build a real relationship with Him. And as we grow in our relationship with God, just as in a loving marriage with a human spouse, we come to understand Him better, as well as our role in the relationship. We will find that more and more we will say, “I choose to trust You, because I know You love me” even when we cannot understand His actions. As we grow in our faith of God’s love for us, we will ask Him less frequently in anger, “Why do You let this happen?” Instead, we will ask with hope,“What is it You want me to learn from this?” because we no longer doubt His desire for what is truly good for us.
As we grow in intimacy with God, we become more frequently aware that our destiny is not in this world, but with Him. Many things that seemed so important before, like a bigger house, better car, expensive education, great career, respect from others, or even self-fulfillment, will fade in significance. It is not because these things have no value, but rather, we begin to value them according to their true worth instead of worshipping them as we did before.
In a marriage, valuing any other person, or any other thing above your spouse will begin to break down the relationship and the family as marital intimacy is the core of a strong and happy family. So it is with God, for valuing any other person or thing above God is to have idols before Him, and this begins the break down of our life. The greatest enemy in both relationships is our ‘love’ of self, for the desire for self-gratification is at the root of valuing any thing beyond its proper place in life.
True love, and true faith, is no walk in the park. It challenges you, it makes you ask if you will fight for it. It stretches you and makes you do things beyond what you thought you could do. It takes tears, and sweat, and commitment. And it takes God’s grace. The journey is anything but boring, and the rewards are beyond what you can imagine.
I am convinced that true intimacy is worth it. I commit to do whatever it takes. How about you?
In this post, I’ve voiced thoughts I’ve always had a deep conviction of. Reading Gary Chapman’s chapter on Marital Intimacy in Five Signs of a Loving Family as well as some recent occurrences in daily life brought these thoughts to the fore of my consciousness once again.