Ryan asked me the other day what my relationship with God was like. It was a really good question and we had a really good conversation. And I figured it would be a good thing to write about too.
To tell you what my relationship with God is like, I’ll first have to catch you up on my story, cause it very much has shaped my relationship with God. And my relationship with God has very much shaped my story.
I grew up in the church.
A southern baptist church when I was younger and an independent church (more Presbyterian) for the rest of my growing up years. And I remember being very little and my parents telling me about God, and who Jesus was, and at age 6 I decided one night in bed that I didn’t want to go to hell and I wanted to be with Jesus. So I asked Jesus in my heart to seal the deal. I declined to be baptized for a little while though, because I was afraid the pastor would pinch my nose too tight. He looked like he was more than capable.
Then one moment at awana camp at age 11 and wandering the lakeside alone, the realization came to me that being a Christian was more than about doing what I was supposed to. I realized that God actually had plans for me and wanted me to follow Him. I realized God wanted a relationship with me. So that night I came forward and announced that I was “rededicating my life to the Lord”. To seal the deal.
I went to awana camp 8 summers in a row. It was a place I knew I would experience God and real fellowship and community. By my last year as a grad student, I had experienced some extreme and traumatic life events. None of which had rattled or shaken my belief in God, but had certainly caused a world of tension confusion and hurt within my self which I kept so suppressed. At that time I didn’t know how to let even God into those raw places of my heart. At the time I’m not even sure I knew they existed, or that anything existed outside of them.
About four years forward, I’m twenty two and feeling rather numb with life. And it frustrates me, I feel like life with God is supposed to be full, and fruitful, right? Not bland and empty. If I’m trying so hard to do everything right, why aren’t I getting anywhere? Where was God? Why did my soul feel trapped in a dry desert. That summer just before I turned twenty three, God answered a question for me. I had asked him why I felt so dry, and unable to receive His love. Because I knew He loved me, I just didn’t know why I couldn’t live in it and out of it. I felt like I was a sponge, meant to soak up His life and love, but I was wrapped in plastic keeping me from being able to.
His answer to me was this: love yourself. I told Him I’d try, though I didn’t know how. At that moment, His love surrounded me in a very tangible way. That moment was a pivotal point for me. I started a journey of loving myself. I started learning how to see myself through God’s eyes. With God’s love. I started learning how the best thing I could ever give to anyone around me is myself. Because God made me in His image, God made me exactly the way I am because it delighted Him to do so.
What happened next was both unexpected, and caused even more unexpected events. I met a boy. And God sent him after me. I was so taken with him, and I didn’t have a clue. What I do remember is wanting to get to know him more, wanting to keep him around. I was eager to spend more time with him. Then he dropped the bomb on me, asking me if he could pursue my hand. It reeled me out in to outer space and back, and when I told him no, it was the most saddening thing I’ve ever had to say, and even then I couldn’t figure out why. About a week later I came to my senses just enough to tell him yes. I’m pretty sure I sent him into outer space and back too at that moment.
We were like a couple of middle schoolers in our mid twenties, I’m so glad I’ll never know what we must have looked like. Neither of us had been in a relationship before. We both had a lot of learning to do, and naturally, we both became catalysts for things we each would need to deal with on our own. We started seeing each other in November, and of course by March we were both wanting to get married that fall. But Ryan had encountered a few realizations that sent him to the depths of the deepest and most painful parts of his heart, which sent him into a pretty severe depression. And as weeks turned to months, all the while I had this faith.
When I had finally realized that I might actually like Ryan, I had just said yes to him pursuing me and I realized I was actually going to marry him and my life would never be the same from that point on, all in the same moment. And as I got to actually know him, I had this knowing in my soul that he had the type of relationship with God where he could literally do anything he wanted to. What is profound is that relationship from Ryan’s end was really going south. Much of his depression was a struggle to believe God actually cared about him and was going to provide him what he needed. And the whole time, as much as I was tempted to doubt and fear that I was doing the right thing or that things would work out at all, this knowing stayed with me deep in my heart that the specific relationship I saw between him and God wasn’t the kind that was going to be faltered. I knew God had a handle on him that would defy any amount of disbelief in Ryan.
It’s been no gentle road up and out of the struggle, however. There was actually a time in the Fall which I spent apart from Ryan and with my family in Arizona. After coming back and even after reuniting with Ryan I became very depressed. Back in June I had quit my full time job to pursue freelance work, but with the emotional turmoil I was going through I couldn’t support myself, and I knew I wasn’t even capable of holding a normal job. In February (of this year) I finally got a waitressing job. And I was finally seeing Ryan really changing in his outlook and his emotions and what he talked about. It was so hard to even see, because had gotten so hard to hope. I was at a point so low I was so unable to hold on to hope, but still, all the while that faith stayed with me. I realized that the faith and hope I couldn’t hold onto was holding onto me.
And that’s been the strangest part. God told me two summers ago to love myself. Then He sent me Ryan. And through that relationship, Ryan has shown me a love that I have never experienced before. He has supported me in a way I have never known support. He has accepted me in a way I have never known acceptance. All while he has been so broken in himself. And I can see, I know, that that love he loves me with, is the overpowering love of Christ. Even when Ryan pointedly hated God, he was able to love me with an incredible love I know came directly from God. The faith, hope, and love involved in this journey (for each of us individually and together) has not been that of our own perseverance, it has literally been what has held us up.
This past year and a half of dating Ryan and learning how to love myself has been such a blur, such a hurricane of emotion and such a fierce uprooting of causes of fear and pain in my heart. And I am so blessed, and so in awe of what has happened for both of us. Ryan’s season of depression has really produced exactly what I foreknew it would. His wounds are being healed, and his relationship with God has been strengthened beyond what I imagined. And I know that in this season I am going through a very similar process of my own with God.
So what I explained to Ryan when he asked me what my relationship with God is like is this.
Growing up, I believed that God had given us a set of instructions to live by. So if I was hurting or not doing ok, I must be out of line somewhere, so I’d pray and read the bible to figure out where I was wrong and how to fix myself. I believed it was up to me to do things right and stay in line. So I’d pray and read the bible, but be frustrated when I didn’t get the answers I needed. I gradually begin realize the value of just talking to God like a friend, I began consulting Him on the small things, and just talking to Him in my head instead of talking to myself. I also gradually began to realize that conversing with God didn’t even have to be deliberate, that when it says ‘pray without ceasing’, doesn’t mean to never use your brain for anything other than talking to God, but that I could essentially live in an awareness that God was always present, that He was always listening, and that He was always a part of everything I did. Kinda like tuning into a ‘holy frequency’. I’d frequently go to biblestudies once I grew out of awana. But I started to experience seasons where I really didn’t feel like God was present, and I couldn’t really connect with Him. The ‘holy frequency’ was gone. And no matter how much I studied, read, or prayed, I couldn’t reach personal contact with Him. I would try to stay focused on God and the things of God anyway, but when it drew out for a couple years was when I grew frustrated and felt so dry in my soul. That was when He turned my focus from seeking Him with my actions and efforts, to sitting back and knowing Him by His.
This journey of loving myself has really turned around my understanding of who God actually is and how I can actually relate to Him. Instead of just tapping Him into my mind like a radio wave, I’ve been learning how to see him more for who He is and how much He has power over, how much He is in control, and how to let Him change me. He’s been gently pursuing parts of my heart I’ve kept safely hidden while they rot away, and I’ve been learning difficult lessons over this year about surrendering control over the safety of my hidden places. Some of those parts of my heart are parts of myself I’ve simply rejected as no good. And it’s been scary to let them out, because they are so rough and raw and sensitive. And I don’t know why, but somehow it took a period of time full of grave uncertainty and pain and depression to bring me to a point of being able to let them go.
And through this time of depression and faith that holds me when I can’t hold on, my relationship with God has been like this: I know He’s there, I know He cares deeply for me, and I know He’s in control. And I know what He’s been asking me to do is to let go, He’s asking me to delve into emotions I know will blind me from seeing clearly. So while I’m obeying, while I’m doing so, I have to trust that He is there like I know He is, even if it’s the last thing I feel like in any given moment. Even if I’m consumed with anger or fear or hurt. It’s a knowing and a faith that holds on to me, when I am completely powerless, weak, and helplessly saturated in raw blinding emotions. And the beautiful thing is I know it is all for the sake of healing.
These days my relationship with God is very much described by faith, trust, and learning to let go of control. I’m not depending on anything but that I know He’s leading me on this journey of continuing to learn to love myself and live in freedom of who He’s made me to be and who He is. And for the first time in my life I’m learning what rest really is, because I know it’s not up to me.