A lot of the people I know struggle with God. The realities of poverty, past abuse, daily battles with chronic pain, the ongoing toll of mental illness, painful church experiences, and a host of other reasons make connecting with God a tricky dance.
It’s not that the desire isn’t there. It’s not that there’s not a hope for deeper intimacy and connection. It’s the reality of wondering what does it really mean to connect with a God who seemingly allows so much pain and suffering in this world? What does it mean when we cry out over and over and don’t receive the relief we hope for? What does it mean when the only words that seem to come related to God sound like anger and sadness and confusion?
In my former church experience, I was taught to have a “devotional time” with Jesus every morning, a set-apart time where we read the Bible, prayed, journaled, brought our hearts to God. We were supposed to “sit in His lap” or “at His feet.” It was meant to be a worshipful time where we turned our hearts away from ourselves and towards God.
When I think of the word “devotion” I think of smiley eyes and melted hearts, of warmth, of worship. I have had many experiences with God like that. Tender, beautiful moments where I was overwhelmed with God’s goodness, faithfulness, and mercy. Where I felt the Spirit move in deep places in my heart. Where my bones felt more sturdy and my blood flowed with hope. Devotion is a great word for those experiences.
But one of the things I have also come to passionately believe is that devotion doesn’t have to just be centered on what we perceive as “good” or “happy” or “connected” related to our intersection with God. What if we began to re-think devotion not as something just warm and melty but also raw and real and vulnerable and rough and scared and angry, too?
Years ago I was afraid to bring my honesty to God in those “quiet times” because it didn’t feel like the right place. What ended up happening in the end is that I experienced a split—I had the right words I brought to God in my “spiritual life” and the real feelings I was experiencing and trying to hide from God in my “real life.” The result: an inauthentic relationship with God and myself.
One thing I most respect about my friends struggling with God is that they are honest about it. It’s tough to hear sometimes, but it’s so good, too. It’s tough for me to share my real struggles with God out loud, too. I can hear that mean little voice inside that says, “You’re not spiritual enough, faithful enough, devoted enough.” But really, I believe we are living the Bible, which is filled with so many struggles and mistrust and fear and honesty with God that we often are taught to squeeze out or gloss over in favor of “perfect trust.” In the old churches I was in we had to hide these honest feelings out of fear.
When I think of devotion these days, I have a completely different vision of what it is. I now think of it as “an openness to God no matter what that looks like.”
An openness to God no matter what that looks like.
It reminds me of so many different stories in the gospels where people came to Jesus in search of healing. We see all kinds of stories where people crawled, yelled, busted through doors, and weaved their way through crowds to get to Him. Jesus healed them in all kinds of different ways. Their devotion was desperate.
But what about the people we don’t hear about who stood on the sidelines as he walked past, who held themselves on the fringes while he healed people they may have known for years, who didn’t have the boldness to “ask” but wanted to? Who were cynical about what was happening in front of their very eyes but had a little spark deep inside that wondered, “Hmm, I wonder if this is real?” Who doubted, who wondered, who questioned? Who were trying to unclench their fists and receive but weren’t quite sure how?
I think they were devoted, too. Because they were at least in the room. They were there when they could have been somewhere else. They were present. They showed up.
They were trying to be open to Jesus, too. It may have just looked different at the time.
Sometimes people have criticized me and my “hurting-in-terms-of-faith” or “struggling-with-being-mad-at-God” friends as not faithful enough. Or, people have said, “If they just believed the Bible more …” or “they just need to….” or “their hearts are hard.”
That’s not true.
They’re still here when they could be somewhere else.
They’re still showing up in relationship when they could have run away completely.
They are trying to be open.
They are just being honest.
And that’s devotion, too.