As foster parents sometimes we come into contact with some interesting attitudes about relationships and parenting. Sometimes it seems like parents are in love with the idea of parenting. They want to have children. They want to be a mom or dad. But this desire isn’t really about the children. Its about the idea of being a parent. Usually these parents are missing love themselves. There is a hole in their heart and they think that it will be filled by the love in a parent relationship. When a child comes onto the scene, he’s a nuisance, messing up this ideal image that the parents have in their heads. Somehow they are missing the fact that parenting is about loving real children, who are real people too. Parenting is about having a relationship with a child. You can’t be a parent unless there is a child involved, and the ideal of parenting isn’t what’s important. The child is a person who matters. These situations are tragic, both for the parent and the child. Often they end up with a new generation who are wounded, and don’t know how to love.
Or maybe you’ve met a young lady who is in love with the idea of marriage. The only problem is that she’s missing a young man. Sometimes she’ll take anybody, as long as he looks right and he’s apparently breathing, because the man isn’t really the important part of the equation. The groom, when he arrives, he is almost a prop in her fantasy about being married. For her, marriage isn’t about a relationship with a person she loves. It’s an abstract ideal.
In fact, both of these relationship problems are actually the same issue. The parents and the bride have a self centered idea of what love is about. The relationship is idealized, and they have lost the understanding that love is about a relationship between people. It isn’t really the love that matters in some abstract sense. It isn’t about how it feels to love. It isn’t about filling up some hole in the heart of the one who loves. It is about a relationship with a real person.
Sometimes our relationship with God looks like these relationships. We have an idealized idea of God, or of faith or love as abstract concepts. We strive to follow these ideals, to live up to our lists of what Christianity is about. Maybe we do our quiet time. We go to church. The problem is that we aren’t in love with a Person. We’re following an ideal, like a parent who wants to be a parent but doesn’t really love their child as an individual.
Our heavenly Father is a person. If you are his child, then he loves you personally. He doesn’t love you as an ideal or as an abstract. You are individually and lovingly crafted. He knows you and loves you personally as his child. He loves you so much that when you were lost he went to whatever length was necessary to bring you back, even to the point of paying your debt himself even though the price was death.
Sometimes we hear people talk about love and faith as abstract ideas. We have songs about “That’s what faith can do,” and “Faith can move mountains” and “All you need is love.” We forget that faith is significant only when it is faith in someone who is trustworthy. God can move mountains. Jesus tells us that if we have faith we can move mountains, but the most important part of that is who we place the faith in. It isn’t really the faith that matters. Its the person with whom we have a relationship, and the faith is a part of that relationship.
The “secret” to a successful walk with God is that there’s no secret or trick to it. Its just about having a relationship with someone who loves us. Its about focusing on the person we love, rather than on the love in some abstract sense. We talk about quiet time as time alone with a book, doing things like reading or praying. We lose track of the fact that what we’re after is intimacy with a Person.
The young lady who feels a void in her heart that she’s trying to fill up with an ideal of marriage is missing the point of marriage. Marriage is about a relationship with a person, who she will wake up with and live her days with and go through highs and lows of a partnership relationship with. That hole is not filled up by a marriage. It is filled up by a person who she loves and loves her too.
The hole in our hearts that only God can fill is not filled by religion, or by spending time with a book, or even by knowledge about God. It is filled only when we have a relationship with God, when we come to an intimate place with him. That means that our conversations with him are personal, like we’re talking to a person. He is really there, really listening, and really engaging with us on an intimate level of conversation that flows both ways. When I read my Bible, I need to read it not as a book, or a manual, or as a religious duty. Rather, I am seeking to know someone who I love, and want to know more. Not just to know more about him, but to know him more. Its personal. Its relationship.
Last week I talked about shifting our focus from the purely physical world to seeing reality as both physical and spiritual, seeing our struggles and life as a part of eternity and a part of what God is actively doing in our lives and in our hearts. The spiritual world is a big part of reality, and things and events in our physical world take on their meaning and significance when they are seen in the context of that whole reality. This week I hope to understand that God is not some far away idea. Christianity isn’t about religious activity, or the right state of mind. Our heavenly Father is a real person. He is here now, speaking to you, loving you, longing for you to engage him in a real conversation and a real and personal relationship. His hand is on your shoulder. He leans in to listen to what you have to say to him, not because he doesn’t know what’s on your heart unless you tell him, but because that’s a part of intimate relationship. He loves you as a true Father loves his child. He longs for you to know his heart as well.