Q & A – relationship with God

This obviously sincere and deeply important question came in the other day:

I recently read “The Shack” and it’s theme somewhat describes my ongoing search for a personal relationship with God. I was encouraged today by my small group to ask an intelligent person I know the question that remains unresolved for me. If you are willing to be that intelligent person, here’s my question: Assuming God wants a close relationship with me, and I (claim to) want a close relationship with him, why do we not have it?
My wife and I each desire relationship, so we both move toward the other and a deeper relationship ensues, but with God… not so much. It would seem that the failure is mine, yet I do not know how to seek him in a way that is more effective. How have you bridged the chasm? Thank you for your time and for your many contributions to my faith journey.

This question surfaces something so many people feel. The term “personal relationship with God” is thrown around so often – frequently modified with adjectives like “intimate” and “dynamic” – that many people feel disillusioned when it doesn’t happen to them. I sometimes wonder if religious leaders do for spirituality what popular music does for romance – celebrate the extraordinary in such a way that it’s made to seem normative, leaving “normal” to seem disappointing. Here are a few responses to this important question …

First, it sounds like you’re already part of a faith community, and that’s a good thing. Your honesty, I’ll bet, is helping your colleagues to be more honest about the ups and downs of their spiritual lives as well, so not only will they be of support and help to you, but you to them.
Second, many people haven’t learned to open up their more mystical or experiential side. The process, I think, is a lot like opening up one’s artistic side … it’s awkward at first, unnatural, and probably unrewarding … but that’s how most things are in their early stages. I wouldn’t put this in terms of failure – as in “the failure is mine” – just as we wouldn’t criticize a hard-working bricklayer for not knowing how to write poetry. Instead, we’d celebrate the bricklayer’s desire to learn something new. That’s how I hear your desire for a deeper personal relationship with God.
Third, I think you would be helped a great deal by the idea of spiritual practices or disciplines. I write about them in my newest book, Finding Our Way Again. You might also find some help in Richard Foster’s classic book, Celebration of Discipline. I should add that one of my next two books (not sure which yet) will be on prayer and experiencing God … so your question strikes a chord with me: people need help in learning to find God “here and near.”
Fourth, just a hunch. I’ve noticed that many of us sense God’s presence most when we’re serving others. It might be that by seeking a way to serve people in real need – some way that you feel a tug in your heart toward doing – you will find a relationship with God that is more like being colleagues or coworkers than it is like being in a romantic relationship with your spouse. Both kinds of relationships are good and in the long run, both are needed, but perhaps this path of service would be a good place for you to start.
One last thing … I believe God loves you. I believe God’s grace and acceptance surround you. In one sense, the good relationship is already there, a gift given to every human being by our gracious creator. God’s very being flows out in love to all creatures, all people. It might help to change the terms of your quest from seeking a personal relationship with God to discovering or realizing the love and acceptance that are already there. My prayers are with you today, and with all of us who continue to awaken to the love and grace in which we live and move and have our being. I hope that’s helpful in some small way.