Finally I have a little time to resume my story. Before continuing to share about falling back in love with God, it might be helpful to give you a little of our history.
God has been a character in my life for as long as my parents have been, which is to say my whole life. Both of my parents are devout Christians. They prayed with us before meals and every night before bed. We went to church and Sunday school and for a few years (a very few something like kindergarten, first grade and second) I went to a private Christian school. On top of this, they always had serious conversations with us about God.
My life was saturated with Biblical stories and sermons. Still, God was always more intimate to me than just a concept I heard about. What has shaped my relationship with God as much as, and often more than, my church experiences has been my experience of God’s presence. I cannot remember a time before I felt the presence of God. It’s hard to explain exactly what I mean by ‘God’s presence.’ You might say that God was like my imaginary, invisible friend. That is an easy way to explain something of what it is like (if you understand how real an imaginary friend can seem), though God’s presence is also distinctly different. And I knew the difference.
As a child I not only had imaginary friends, I had imaginary worlds. I went on all sorts of imaginary adventures. Some of which I’d invite my sister Christa or my friends to go on with me (yes, meaning I basically turned them into role playing games). Most of the time, I’d play them out with my Barbies or in my head until I eventually started writing them down. So I’m no stranger to the power of the imagination. But there is something about the presence of God that is indescribably but undeniably Other.
God was my closest companion during those early years. Still, this is often true. People who see me in a social setting may not realize how solitary I am and have always been. They do not realize just how much time I spend alone, by choice. I’ve always created a wide space of solitude around myself. God has crept into this space more than anyone else. Still, early on, I began questioning this relationship and reality.
Imaginative as I was, I was always a budding little philosopher too (not that I realized it at the time, it was a long time before I knew about proper philosophy). From elementary school through high school, I wrestled with the reality of God. I didn’t need to be introduced to Ludwig Feuerbach or Sigmund Freud to consider the possibility that God might be our projection or a comfortable figment of our collective imagination. I pondered it myself. Though I can see how this can be true, that some gods do seem very much to be our creations and projections, I did not and have not found that the God of the Bible, or of my experience, comfortably fits within these rationalizations. Or is adequately explained away by these explanations.
Even when intellectually I was debating God existence, his reality was too real for me to truly disbelieve. Too Other for me to be convinced it was just one of my imaginings. At times, he was much too uncomfortable to believe he was just for my comfort. Ever since I accepted Jesus into my heart at five years old, despite emotionally and intellectually wrestling with God fiercely, this has always been true for me. But belief is not the whole battle. To me, at least, it is a very petty one. Just because it is easy to believe my parents exist, it is up to me to choose whether or not to love, honor and trust them. That is much more challenging. The same is true of God.
Loving God when I was little was easy and automatic. Like loving my parents. Letting God into my life and mind and adventures was easier back then too. Like how simple it was to become fast friends. Falling in love with God came much later. A child is not mature enough for that kind of love, for love that is responsible and involves actively choosing another.
I didn’t start actually falling in love with God until my sophomore year of high school. Like falling in love with a person, it was a long complicated process that had been building throughout all of those years. Though intellectually there is a lot that I like about Christianity and believe rings true, that is not why I fell in love with God. I fell in love with him because of who he has revealed himself to be in the Bible and how he’s revealed himself in my life through people and experiences. I fell in love with him because of my enjoyment of him and because I love who I am with him.
I love God because he is the God Who Sees (Genesis 16). In particular, he is the God who sees women. In a Theology of God class I took in grad school it was brought to my attention that Hagar (Sarai’s handmaiden who gave birth to Ishmael) was the first person in the Bible to give God a name and this is the name she gave him. In both ancient cultures and many myths, to give someone a name and to know someone’s name is incredibly intimate and often gives you power over them. So this is a rather monumental moment. She gives him this name because he sees her when she is alone and distressed and speaks to her. Leah, Jacob’s wife, reiterates this name when he sees that she is unloved by her husband and opens her womb to give her a child to love and comfort her. Over and over again, there are intimate moments in the Bible when God sees women and personally responds. He has done the same in my life.
I love God because he takes oppression and injustice more seriously than the most serious humanitarian. I love that he hates bloodshed so much that even after Cain had killed Abel he put a mark on him to protect him from being murdered (he only instituted death for death after the flood, after the world had been overrun with violence, the purpose was to make men pause and understand the gravity of their action by giving it a grave consequence. It is a reminder that no life is more valuable than another, that no price can compensate for taking a life but it is only equal to the loss of another). I love that he pleads for orphans and widows and strangers.
I love God for fighting for those he loves. For fighting for their love. For sending his prophets to plead and beg and warn. For sending Christ not just as a savior but as a symbol and sign of his love. For loving us enough to let us choose, but loving us too much to not be overwhelmed with grief and sadness and righteous jealousy when we do not choose him. I love him for not letting it be easy for me to let him go. (If you let me go, if you don’t fight for me, you can lose me pretty easily. I think I’m a little more prone than the average person to walk away and not return – for lots of reasons).
…I cannot even capture or articulate all that I love about God or how I love him. But this is a start.
Still, no relationship is easy. I had all of those rocky years with God. When I came back, though we’ve been on good terms and gotten along, I didn’t work hard enough on falling back in love with him. So there I was at the beginning of July feeling like we were strangers. I was as much a stranger to him as him to me.
…This story is long enough for today. I’ll stop here for now but don’t worry, I’ll finish it soon