The other night my husband and I went on a date. We are able to do this frequently in this season of life. We enjoy each other’s company—we’re comfortable with each other. It wasn’t until we were walking from the car to the restaurant that I noticed I was wearing my slippers. Ha! I guess after 36 years of marriage, I don’t spend as much time on the details of my appearance as I did previously. He assured me that my slippers look like shoes (they don’t) and we went on with our dinner.
The early part of our relationship was exciting–the rush of adrenaline that I used to experience when I knew I would see him, the desire to please him. I wanted to be perfect for him. It was a wonderful time in our relationship. But the fireworks tone down and lead to this current season; which is sweet as well. There is something endearing about being so relaxed with each other. Neither of us gave my odd shoes a second thought as we enjoyed our time together. We are comfortable with the idiosyncrasies of each other—one of mine being that I am absent-minded at times. We can pretty much guess what the other will order at a restaurant and are not surprised by the topics of conversation. We know each other well. We are in the “companionate” stage of love according to Harville Hendrix. The companionate stage is the rich time of a relationship. We know the dirt about each other, we know the good and bad and we have stuck around. It is the longest stage of a relationship, if the relationship lasts beyond the excitement of the first stage. The is time at which we have developed a history together and recognize that we are committed to each other for life. This kind of love is not accidental. It takes intention and hard work. It requires a long view—knowing that even though we may not like each other at times, we are willing to love each other. The affection returns, but only if we are still here!
This is similar to our relationship with God. Over the years as I spend more and more time with God, a level of comfort develops. Glenn Clark addresses it in this manner:
It has been my observation that all great praying men are simple, relaxed men. Mrs. Thomas A. Edison once said to me, “Mr. Edison’s methods are just like yours. He is always perfectly natural and always perfectly relaxed. He feels that all of his discoveries have ‘come through him,’ that he is but a channel for forces greater than himself.”
Always natural, and always, relaxed! I do not like to see men work too hard at their prayers. Beware lest the zeal of thy house shall eat thee up. When one strains and labors over his dream he is too often carving ivory and not polishing horn. Don’t cut too deeply, don’t carve too hard, don’t pain the picture too much yourself. Get still awhile, and let God pain it through you. Wrote Gutzon Borglum, “When I carve a statue, it is very simple. I merely cut away the pieces that don’t belong there and the statue itself presently comes into view. It was there all the time. (Clark 1937)”
I learn to enjoy the friendly silence between us. I enjoy God’s company. The more time I spend with God, the more I understand God’s ways. It is a delight to be together—even when the topic of conversation is difficult. I comprehend at a deeper and deeper level that God loves me without condition. There are times when I am angry with God–when I do not like what God allows to take place in this world. But as in my relationship with my husband, I am committed to staying for the long haul. The sweetness returns in time—especially as I talk it through with God. And I am certain that God not only is okay with my idiosyncrasies and my mistakes, but delights in me.
The analogy breaks down in a number of ways. We are not on equal ground. God is faithful and I know that God will never leave me—even when I choose to walk away from God. And I do not understand God. I can become familiar with God and develop a deeper and deeper relationship with God. My experience with God attests to the truth of God’s love. But I will never understand the mystery of who God is or the ways of God. After all, God is God and I am not!
Each year I take an eight-day silent retreat. It is focused time with God. I guard this time. It is so important! I approach these retreats with both trepidation and excitement. I know that God will leave no stone unturned and I typically know what is under those stones as I enter into this space. The retreats follow a pattern. It takes a day or so to settle in and let go of what is happening in my life. When I “arrive,” the wire-brush scrubbing begins. It is painful, yet cleansing as God brings thoughts and behavior to the surface. The longer I am in silence, the more layers are peeled away. I don’t know if I could bear this if not for the manner in which I am cherished. As I give myself into God’s care, I experience a tremendous sense of being loved. There is nothing like it.
I don’t understand the rationale for God being in relationship with me. It is far beyond my comprehension. But it is this mystery that makes the closeness with God even sweeter. My response can only be one of gratitude.