I had a bit of an epiphany Sunday morning (during our Easter morning worship service--triggered by a comment in our pastor's message) and I'm hoping I can translate it into words....
If I've heard these phrases once, I've heard them a thousand times: "[Christianity] is not a religion, it's a relationship," and "Spending time with the Lord is the way to get to know him better." Now, I will quickly clarify that I do agree with these statements.... It's just that sometimes when I hear them I want to pick up something and hurl it. Very Christ-like of me, huh?
I'll take on the second statement first. I know that I won't learn more about how to follow Christ if I don't "spend time with him;" that is, reading the Bible, studying it through the teaching of godly men and women, praying. But then the rubber meets the road...or more accurately, then the kids wake up from their naps, the baby starts grabbing at the paper of the book I'm trying to read, WWIII breaks out when one daughter takes something that the other daughter absolutely MUST have, dinner has to get made, laundry switched from washer to dryer.... You get the picture. By the time the dear little ones are in bed, the brain is fried, and in the early morning hours, well, it all starts over. I can't blame it all on kids, either. I have enough of my own nature to fight. For one, I love to read, and I don't mean deep, theological treatises or good spiritual self-help books. I'm also not one who will just pick up my Bible for a casual few minutes of pleasure. Nope. I love to read novels. I'm an admitted bookaholic. I recently came off a four-book binge and realized that I needed to get my brain back in the game, so I've fed my "need to read" with magazine articles in the last few weeks. That's been helpful, but doesn't take care of that "spending time with the Lord" part. So, I get frustrated.... I know in my head that it takes time and diligence, and I wonder if I'm being horrible and sinful because I'm not making more of an effort.
The other statement leads me to my epiphany, and I hope, in some way, it answers some of my angst about not "spending time with the Lord." While I have agreed with my head that "[Christianity] is a relationship, not a religion," I haven't been able to put it into my own words so that it really means something to me. I know that I have (to use the Christian-ese language) a "relationship with Jesus Christ." He saved me--I have no doubts; I am his. I don't go to church, follow a set of rules, etc., because that's what a Christian is supposed to do. I know that Jesus lived, died and rose again for me, and I believe that, as he says, he is "the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through" him (John 14:6). But how does that play out in the busyness of everyday life?
Our pastor yesterday spoke about the empty grave clothes that Jesus left in the tomb when he rose again, and how that made his resurrection personal. It wasn't something we see from far off--his followers saw and touched those empty grave clothes; Jesus appeared to them personally so they would know he lived. It was a living, growing relationship, and it is for us, too, no matter how long we've known this. And that's when it hit me: I've been a believer in this Truth for a long time--in some ways, it's been my entire life, though I can pinpoint the exact moment when I was four and prayed that Jesus would forgive my sin so that I could go to heaven to be with him when I died. And in those many years, I've gotten to know Jesus better. Everything that has happened in my life has ebbed and flowed out of my interaction with him. Even though it's been thirty-four years since I "prayed the prayer" I am constantly learning new things about who Christ is, who God is, and how much he loves me. Even in times when I've felt like he was distant, the overall theme has been one of growth. He's used even those distant times to help me know him better.
He's not just "God." He's not just "My Savior." He's not even just the more familiar "friend." Really, when it comes down to it, he's truly my family. The Bible relates how Jesus' relationship to us is like a husband's love for his wife (Ephesians 5:25-33), and there's the fact that when we accept that he died for us, we are adopted as God's children (Ephesians 1:5). I realized that this family picture helps me understand my relationship with Jesus better than anything else.
Now, granted, I have a close-knit, healthy family, so I can relate (my post Family Wranglings gives a better picture of that). But I've been thinking of the husband/wife scenario more recently as a result of some messages I've been listening to through Robert McLaughlin Bible Ministries (specifically a series early in March on Romans 6). In this life, as I grow and go through this and that experience, I have the chance to interact with Christ in many ways. I can reject him and God and shake my fist in his face, or I can accept the experience, learn from it, and rest in him...and as a result, get to know better him and his love for me. When I think of how Kraig and I have gotten to know each other better over the years, that helps me understand this better, too. We've been through plenty of ups and downs, particularly when we faced miscarriages, then having Keren and losing her. We're learning plenty about each other in how we interact with each of our kids, and our frustrations and joys there. With Kraig, I can be myself, but I don't get to be with him all the time (obviously), and there are even times when I don't want to hang out with him (shocker!), or times when I can't for the life of me understand his point or perspective (and vice versa). I am still learning new things about him, and I know we've both changed over the years, becoming more "one." I know that I love him, even when I don't feel it emotionally, and I want to know what makes him tick and to live life with him to the fullest so that we can do everything that God has planned for us.
So many of these aspects of my relationship with Kraig are like my relationship with Christ. I have times when I don't want to spend time with him, or can't. I have times when I don't understand him. There are times when I'm frustrated with the way he's doing things. But there are the underlying, unchanging truths: I can be myself with him; I love him, even when I don't have an emotional high about it. I'm committed to him and want to live my life for him to the fullest. When my steps are faltering, and I'm swamped with life and not resting in him, I know that he still loves me...and that draws me back to him. And over the years, I pray that I am becoming more and more like him, so that together we can live life to the fullest and do everything God has planned for me.
And if that's not a relationship, I don't know what is!