A few years ago, I had a turning point in my relationship with God. Until then, I had been fixated on the doing of things that would make Him happy or proud and on not doing the things that would displease Him. And, then, of course, there was the aspect of Him doing things. There was the matter of things I would ask Him to do, and a lot of me reading into things He did that I hadn’t asked Him to do—being discouraged when it seemed He was doing things that weren’t in my interest, and getting hung up on trying to figure out why He was doing them.
Then I had an epiphany that made me look at God and my interactions with Him very differently. It came about as a result of something I read, about loving God for Himself, for who He is, and not for what He does for us. I’m sure I had heard that before, but this time, it changed me.
I started thinking about what that meant for me—loving God for Himself. I started thinking more about being than doing—about being with God, enjoying Him, being the kind of person He would enjoy being around. I thought about getting to know His person, and about our deep spiritual connection—spirit with spirit, mind with mind. Each human soul is deep, complex, and not that easy to get to know or define—how much more so the God of all things? How could I have dumbed Him down so much?
I realized that I had been looking at Him almost as a caricature. Sometimes I saw Him as a kind of “cosmic genie” who ran around “magically” getting things for me and doing things for me (in the good times). Or doing things “to” me (in the bad times). In other cases, my thoughts toward Him were as if He were a boss or “overlord” who always wanted me to do something for Him and take care of things for Him. A guy who had a list of expectations and was always keeping score.
After my epiphany, I tried to think along the lines of, If God were a person, and I had a relationship with Him, what would we do together? What would we talk about? What would I share with Him? What would I want Him to share with me, and what would I ask Him about?
The answer to that isn’t clear or simple; but the core concept is that when we love someone and want to spend time with them, we don’t usually spend that time talking about what we accomplished today, or what we did wrong, or going over our to-do list. There’s a time and place for that, but building a loving relationship is more about deep thoughts, feelings, and the things we care about. It’s also not one-sided, with either side making all the requests or doing all the work.
So we walk together, or go for a jog, and we talk. While I walk or run, ideally in nature, I turn my thoughts toward Him. I try not to do all the talking. I try to listen. I avoid expecting anything in particular as far as the direction the conversation will go. I know that there’s a time and place for asking for things in prayer, but to break bad habits, for a while I stopped asking for anything at all from Him during these times. I think thoughts of gratitude and praise. I focus on His attributes and character and nature—the things that He is, rather than the things that He does. I meditate on how I can be more like Him and like all the good things that He is. The one thing I ask of Him during these conversations is to help me do that.
I’ve also learned to think differently about the idea of God “watching us.” I love people-watching. Whenever I’m in a restaurant or bar, an airport or train station, it’s fascinating to me to observe what people do—from how they dress and how they walk or carry themselves to what they’re reading to how they talk and interact with other people. I now think about the concept of “God watching us” more along the lines of me watching people. In other words, rather than thinking about Him examining and measuring everything I do and every word I say, and judging me, I think about how He must be enjoying observing what everyone is doing and saying and how we’re interacting.
I imagine how I would feel if I made a huge Lego construction and it all came to life, like in The Lego Movie. How much would I love watching that?! I realize that’s a very simplistic way of looking at it, but I think there’s something to the idea that God enjoys watching us and finds us fascinating. In the same sense that we love Him for Himself, He loves us for ourselves—for who we are, for what interests us, for what matters to us, for our peculiarities and preferences. He loves watching us, and He loves being with us.