“We need a witness to our lives. There’s a billion people on the planet… I mean, what does any one life really mean? But in a marriage, you’re promising to care about everything. The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things… all of it, all of the time, every day. You’re saying ‘Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go un-witnessed because I will be your witness’.” – Shall We Dance
This quote from the film “Shall We Dance” has stuck with me for years. Lately I’ve been thinking about it in relation to God. The main analogy for our relationship with God that resonates with me is that of a spousal relationship (maybe because ever since I was a little girl I’ve badly wanted a spousal companion-that phrasing is more accurate than saying I’ve wanted to be married). I’ve been contemplating how, in order to be a witness to each other’s lives, we have to share our lives with each other.
In the film, the couple’s marriage almost falls apart because they haven’t been sharing their lives with each other. Like so many couples we hear about, they’ve practically become strangers. Many of the young married couples I know are already learning how easily this can happen. When you see someone every day it’s so easy to take it for granted that they will always be there. So you don’t pay enough attention to each other, you stop prioritizing spending time together. You settle into being roommates who share the same bed.
In these early years of my friends’ marriages, many of them have had experiences that reminded them that they could lose each other. They’ve gone through events that woke them up to the fact that marriage, like all other relationships, has to be continually prioritized and protective. They are learning how important it is to fulfill their promise to be active witnesses of each other’s lives.
I’ve had a similar wakeup call in my relationship with God.
Ever since I stopped battling with him, I’ve been having a problem with consistency. As you can even tell with my blog, consistency is a common problem for me. I have a somewhat detrimental tendency towards reclusion. Being a recluse can have a serious impact on relationships, especially the ones closest to you. I’ve definitely done some unintended damage to my relationships as a result. My family (especially my parents) and roommates have always been affected the most.
For a long while now, I’ve been treating God a lot like I do my parents, who are my roommates right now. With them I tend to disappear without warning for a while (sometimes a few days) then show up again unannounced. I can be terribly flaky when we’ve made plans. Unless we eat together or doing something together, I pretty much keep to myself until I’m in the mood for company or a chat. After spending a little time with them, I retreat again. Basically, our relationship is always on my terms and in my time. I tend to not let them have too much of me. And so it’s been with God. I’ve only been prioritizing our relationship when I feel like it.
The more this has continued, the less we’ve been involved in each others lives. I didn’t even realize the depth of it until July 4th. That afternoon my grandpa called to wish me a belated Happy Birthday and chit chat. Like usual, he asked me what I had been reading in the Bible. I didn’t even bother to lie. I hadn’t been reading it for a while. With concern in his voice he told me that I needed to work on my appetite for God’s word. In our short conversation, he emphasized maybe fifteen times the need to read the Word.
Once upon a time, my grandpa and I would have great conversations about God. Though he and I are so different (he is a staunch fundamentalist and I’m very much not), though I’ve been arguing with him about he and his church’s problematic beliefs since middle school, we’ve always shared a deep love for God’s word and a sincere desire for others to fall in love with God too. But we haven’t communicated this way for a few years now. Every birthday card he’s sent and conversation we’ve had since I was in grad school has shown his growing concern. That afternoon, when I hung up the phone, his concern brought me to tears.
I didn’t crying because he was worried. I cried because he was right. God felt like a stranger. With that realization came a painful longing. The next week when my friend reminded me of telling her about Hosea and Christa told me that I used to have a love for the Bible that she couldn’t even imagine I was pained further. I felt as if someone had told me fondly of how in love I used to be with my spouse and all it did was highlight our present distance.
I didn’t just miss God. I missed ‘us.’ Like you don’t just miss qualities that you like about your friends. You miss their whole essence and who you are with them and the pleasure you both take in being together. For the last month, I’ve been working on getting that us-ness back.
…I desperately want to finish this story but…I’m running way late to meet my parents. More to come…