You know how every now and then you open a present, and the present is nestled and hidden away in endless sheets of tissue paper? And you find it and eventually unwrap it, but when you’re ready to put the box away you discover that there’s another present even deeper down and hidden better still?
Or that feeling you get when you open a birthday card and a very unexpected check falls out?
My relationship with God is like that lately. I keep carrying around a set of expectations for the good things that are going to happen in it—and they do—but then, to my surprise, something better that I didn’t bother to plan for tumbles out into my lap.
I want to tell you about it, because I think it will strike a chord with you, too.
I’ve been dissatisfied with myself lately, spiritually. In fact, my own dissatisfaction with my spiritual life has been one of the primary things on my mind.
I reflect on this and I talk about it to God. A lot. To and from work, in my quiet moments at home, in bed at night before I fall asleep. Mostly, I’m disappointed that my faith is so easily shaken. I’m bothered that, in the face of conflict, uncertainty, or even circumstances I just plain don’t like, my immediate instinct is to start wondering what’s gone wrong or where God is. I don’t want to lose heart as much as I do. I’d like for my prayers to be 50% less whining. I want to want more than comfort, fun, and happiness, and I know that I all too often don’t.
This was all in the back of my head recently when our washing machine starting making a weird noise during the rinse cycle. My husband, who could hear it from downstairs, came up to join me in my examination of the machine. Together we stopped it, started it, jiggled random things, thumped it with our fists, and wondered aloud whether or not the noise was a harbinger of doom or not.
As we both stood staring at it in mute frustration, no doubt wondering why we were spending the last hours of our evening standing over an appliance likely in its death throes, my husband draped his arm over my shoulders. “At least we’re spending time together,” he teased, and I laughed. It was true: over a washing machine or not, our time together is the best no matter what.
So I was surprised when that thought struck me again, several days ago, on my morning commute. As I grappled silently with my spiritual frustrations and all the things I don’t do and the attitude I haven’t cultivated, I felt the warmest and happiest sense of God’s presence.
At least we’re spending time together.
Friends: even when you are not where you want to be, figuring out how to get there counts for something. Being aware of your own spiritual flaws and failures counts for something. Thinking about those things means you’re thinking about God and your relationship with Him. It’s evidence that you care. It’s evidence that you’re present and, however blindly, reaching toward Him.
And God loves that.
God loves an honest seeker. God loves and will honor a desire for Him. As I drove that morning, I realized that while I might not be where I want to be spiritually when I struggle through uncomfortable circumstances, the fact that I want to be better is evidence of God working in me. That I see it, that I share my frustration about it with Him, that I notice it: it’s the fresh and convicting presence of God Himself.
When you’re repentant over sin, when you’re wishing that you could have a better attitude, when you’re conscious of your own lack, God is right there, and pleased that your mind is on Him. You’re giving Him the only raw material He needs: a willing and open heart, and a desire for Him. That’s all He’s after. That is the best thing you could possibly give.
So when you’re not where you want to be spiritually – when you’re ungrateful, when you’re bad at cultivating joy, when your faith wavers in the face of uncertainty and doubt—and you struggle over that and you desire to change it, take heart: it’s evidence of a warm and loving relationship. It’s the opposite of apathy, of indifference. What you show, in those moments, is affection and love and desire. And God hears it.
Take heart: when you think about God, about how to be better, about how to grow, it counts for something. It counts for a lot.