As I mentioned in Part One, relationships are a key part of finding the path we are intended to follow. God made us in His image, and His image is a relationship.
But there are so many possible circles of relationships. And relationships are complex because they deal with mixing emotions and circumstances and history of multiple personalities. Even focusing on just one broken relationship can be exhausting, so when thinking that your whole series of circles might be broken, it can be overwhelming.
But this is where my “aha moment” happened.
To be good at relationships, you need a relationship – with the One who is and created relationships. Aha.
So my inner-most circle needs to be just the Holy Trinity and me. When that relationship is solid, then it won’t be so overwhelming to fix the rest of my relationships – because I won’t be fixing them alone. It’s vitally important to get that inner-most circle in working order. If it’s working, then the rest of the circles will start working too. Because when we live how we were intended to live, all is well.
Now, the all-important question. But HOW? How do I have a real relationship with God?
I think it’s time for a quick disclaimer here. I don’t have all the answers. I’m still getting to know God myself. So as I share what has worked for me, keep in mind that every person is different; therefore, every relationship is different. As you try different methods, keep in mind that your body is wired to tell you what’s working and what’s not. It’s like a game of hot and cold. If it feels as if a certain method is getting you closer to God, move more in that direction. If it’s not, move in another direction.
So where to start?
I have found that the best place to start is always by simply asking God for help. Yes, that means prayer.
This can feel overwhelming on its own. My mind went through every excuse in the book to put off praying. “I don’t know how to pray.” “I feel stupid talking to someone I can’t physically see.” “God already knows, so it feels silly to say it to Him.” But I can’t shut God out because I’m worried that I don’t know how to pray or because it feels silly at first. Would I turn away a child who needs my help because they didn’t know how to ask for it? No. Do I think a child looks silly when they ask for help? No. And my Father won’t turn me away or think I look silly either. If my kids need help with anything, I desperately want them to come to me for answers. God desperately wants us to come to Him.
As with every big change, I have to back away from it and tackle the smallest piece I can first. Then I’ll tackle another, and another. I can figure out how to pray excellently later.
For starters, I just kept it simple and humble. “God, I don’t know how to do this, but I want to know You better. Will You please open my heart to You and show me how?”
Next, I had to change my perception. I had to push the negative thoughts (He’s never going to answer me. That was ridiculous.) out of my head. I replaced them with the assumption that He would answer me, because He is real. I repeated it to myself over and over and over.
He is real. He will answer me. He is real. He will answer me. He is real. He will answer me.
Next, I had to pay attention. Conversation is a two-way street, right? So if I talk to Him, I expect Him to talk to me. How does this actually happen? Trust me; when you ask Him to come into your life, He will reach you in whatever way He can. He knows you, even if you don’t know Him. So he’ll meet you wherever you are.
I was buried in Facebook and Pinterest, so He started there with me. An inspirational quote that was so spot on to what I needed to hear it gave me goosebumps. A link to a story that was perfectly timed. An old friend reaching out, saying something that made no sense for anyone but me. An invitation to a Bible study.
So after that initial prayer, and the expectation that He would answer me, I paid attention to the answers He was giving me. And I stopped seeing them as coincidences. Instead, I started seeing them as the miracle of God speaking directly to me.
That was the nudge I needed to go tackle the next step, and the next. I prayed more. I got more specific. I told Him about the struggles in my life. I asked for help. I thanked Him for answering me. When He gave me direction, I followed it. The more I treat this as a real relationship, a give and take, the more I can literally feel Him tugging me in one direction or another. The more I can feel His arms around me, supporting me. Holding me together.
I had made great progress, but at this point, I was faced with frustration again. I tend to get frustrated when I don’t understand why. If I can just clear up WHY I’m doing something, or WHY it’s so hard, then I can typically get on board. My big question was WHY do we have to communicate this way – looking for clues, like the answers are hidden? Why does it feel so cryptic? Why doesn’t He just show Himself to us and talk to us openly, so we KNOW that He is God?
So it was time to move past the surface. God was tugging me to pull my Bible off the shelf. Because guess what? The answers to all of life’s big questions are in the Bible. I had read the Bible stories as a kid. Even certain verses and passages as an adult, in a Sunday School setting. But honestly, I had never read the Bible from the perspective of wanting to know God. Wanting to know WHY.
Changing my perspective on this literally changed my life. The Bible is not outdated. It is not irrelevant. It has all the answers. It is God talking directly to us. Confirming His love for us. Instructing us. Guiding us. Teaching us how to live.
Again, the overwhelming feeling crept in. The Bible is huge. I thought I didn’t have time to read it. So I broke it into smaller pieces. Honestly, I Googled “how to read the Bible” and found all sorts of plans for tackling this. I picked one that I thought I could stick with. And since I’m so attached to my phone, I found apps to use (I like Bible Gateway and First 5). I also read books that explained the Bible in terms I could better relate to at first (see my Read page for suggestions).
What has really made a difference for me has been doing this first thing in the morning, while everyone else in my house is still asleep. Before the to-do list gets my attention. Before any other distractions take over. I pray for God to open my heart to what He wants me to hear today, then I open those apps and read His Word, then I pray about what I read. I tell God what I think it meant and ask that He will continue to guide me throughout my day.
I cannot even put into adequate words how much this has changed my relationship with God. I feel Him walking with me. I feel physical sensations like goosebumps and tingles when I see Him working in my life as things just fall into place around me.
But I didn’t really answer the question by talking about reading the Bible, did I? Why do I have to decipher the Bible to get the answers I need? Why can’t He just speak to me? Moses saw Him in a burning bush. Where is the burning bush today??
Here’s what I have learned, in a nutshell. The Bible provides a history of God being present and speaking to His people in various ways.
In the beginning, He walked with Adam and Eve in the garden. He openly talked to them. This is how it was intended. But they rejected Him. (See Genesis 2 & 3)
Next, God spoke through select, chosen people like Moses. His constant presence was gone, but He came to his people as a pillar of cloud or fire, dwelling in a tabernacle. They rejected Him. (See Exodus)
Then “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (See John 1:14). God sent Jesus – part of Himself, part of the Holy Trinity, to live among the people. They talked to Him. They got direct answers and guidance. He provided a perfect example for how to live. And of course, they rejected Him and nailed Him to a cross. (See John 19)
But the good news is that because of His death on the cross, we are forever joined to Him! Beyond that, before He ascended to Heaven, He gave us the power of the Holy Spirit. To live inside of us! (See Acts)
I have to pause here, because that realization was just huge for me. Here I was, complaining that I wanted to see Him in a burning bush, when God has given me so much more! He gave me Jesus! He gave me the Holy Spirit! They are all three living inside of me! How much closer do I expect to get?!? All I have to do is open my heart to SEE Him.
And that is all any of us have to do. Don’t repeat history. Don’t reject Him. Don’t ignore the fact that He IS here, with all of us, all of the time. And most importantly, don’t take my word for it. Open the Bible and let Him tell you Himself.
Okay, so I know I need to pray. I know I need to read the Bible. But knowing is not enough. To make my relationship with God complete, I must take action.
This has meant rearranging my priorities to focus on Him. I had to stop doing some things so that I had time for prayer and studying the Bible. It isn’t easy. Society pushes back all the time, kicking and screaming at me. The distractions seem to get louder every day. I finally said “enough” and scheduled an entire weekend away at a secluded place (thank you House of Prayer Retreat Center!) so I could just be with Him.
I can’t always escape like that, and that’s okay. Sometimes it’s simply finding a quiet place in my house (even the closet) and telling my family I am off limits for 30 minutes a day. Sometimes it means committing to a weekly Bible study. But whatever works best at the time, I know I have to start doing it. Knowing means nothing if I don’t let it change me through action.
When I feel the excuses start coming, telling me this isn’t possible because I don’t have time, I compare it to the things I do sacrifice my time for. Am I willing to leave my family for a weekend to go on a trip with my friends? Am I willing to leave my responsibilities behind to travel for work? Am I willing to watch an hour of TV every day? Are any of those things more worthy than God?
Sometimes I worry about the people in my other circles. What will they think if I disappear for a while to get to know God? What if they feel ignored because they are used to being the center of my attention? But what I discovered is that the people worthy of my circles were waiting for me, more curious than judgmental, when I got back. And I came back with the power of God on my side. He is helping me fix anything that threatened to break while I took the most important time-out of my life.
After all this, do I feel like I have a real relationship with Him? Are we friends? Yes. But I’m still figuring this part out. There is so much to learn about Him; it will be an ongoing thing – just like I experience with my human relationships, but so much more. I feel comfortable with Him like a close friend. But I also feel a fear and a reverence. And a desire to actually treat Him like a King, because He is a King. And getting used to a spiritual relationship is so far outside of my comfort zone. It’s going to take a lot more blogging to sort through it all! But in the meantime, I can feel Him with me.
I’ve been talking a lot about getting to know God. But to complete this innermost relationship circle, there is another participant. Myself.
In part three of this series, I’ll dive into the other half of that relationship – how I got to know MYSELF. Figuring out these two pieces of this innermost circle has helped every other thing in my life start falling into place. I hope you crave that outcome – a life where things fall into place, a life without worry because you are not alone – like I do. I can promise you the work is worth it, and the journey is fascinating!