What to Do When Your Relationship with God is Ready to Shift
I just got back from a retreat — a three-day, self-guided retreat where I met with a spiritual director and told her what was going on in my life and what questions I was bringing to this retreat. She helped me see where God was working and made suggestions as to how I might spend my time on the retreat so as to cultivate a deeper intimacy with God.
At some point, maybe I’ll get to sit down and share my whole “wild and crazy” spiritual journey with you (or, at least write about it so you can read it). It’s had its ups and its downs, and it continues to twist and turn in beautifully unknown ways, much like the grassy, flowered paths I walked in the woods on my retreat.
Spirituality is a twisty journey. It can be messy and confusing because we are imperfect people trying to know a perfect God, but if there’s anything I’ve learned so far it’s this: God is both bigger than you know and much closer than you think. The more I get to know him, the more I understand just how high and wide and long and deep his love his for us. And the more I know this truth, the less I’m able understand it because, as Paul writes in Ephesians, it’s a love that surpasses all knowledge.
I’ve been caught up in a couple different conversations, recently, where people have felt frustrated in their relationships with God. He feels distant to them and they’re wondering if he is even still around or if he’s even still good or if he still has the best in mind for them. The pattern I’m seeing, though, isn’t that God has left these people or that they’ve done something wrong or that he’s punishing them, it’s that their relationship is ready for a shift.
I remember when my long-distance best friend Michelle first got married, our relationship had to shift and we didn’t get to talk on the phone for hours on end whenever we liked. In fact, right after her wedding, we went a few months without talking on the phone at all and I was so frustrated and mad about it. Michelle was my person! How could she forget about me just because she was married to some man (whom I totally approved of!) now?
Looking back, it seems silly. I now understand what happens in those first few months after marriage — you’re exhausted from the wedding planning process and really just don’t want to do anything. You go on a (hopefully) magical honeymoon and then come back to recover while possibly settling into a new home with new furniture and brand new human being who previously was only there sometimes, but is now there all the time. It’s a lot and it takes a few months to emerge as a regular person again.
Michelle and I eventually talked it out. We shared our feelings, said sorry where we needed to, and re-calibrated our expectations for what phone calls and friendship would look like in this new season.
Then, I got married. Then, she had a baby, and then...another baby! And each time our relationship has shifted. Our phone calls are often shorter. The longer ones have to be scheduled weeks in advance. The spontaneity with which we used to be able to hop on a train to visit each other has waned, and we have to be more strategic with our in-person friendship time.
The shifts haven’t always been comfortable and sometimes I still get sad for the way things were. But the point is, the friendship was never over, it just needed to shift. It needed to make room for more humans for each of us to love and more room for love between the two of us as we shared hurt feelings or missed expectations and navigated our way through them.
And so it is with God.
If you’re like me, then you have either experienced or are experiencing a time where your faith just isn’t working anymore. The Bible doesn’t come to life the way it used to. The words don’t come for prayers the way they used to. You’ve learned some things that contradict what you knew as a child, and the doubts that are creeping in feel like they might consume you.
But I’m here to tell you, they won’t consume you...at least not forever. If anything, they have the power to move you deeper and wider into the vastness of God’s love for you.
A friend of mine recently pointed out how difficult it would be to navigate a shift in your relationship with God if you didn’t have anyone to guide you, to which I surmised that most people probably don’t have anyone to navigate those waters with them. If you don’t have anyone in your life to tell you that your relationship with God is ready to shift, then how can you know that’s what’s happening? And even if you do know that that’s what is happening, how can you know what to do with that shift?
The full answer to those questions is much bigger than a blog post can answer, but I wanted to offer a few things that I have seen work in my life and that I recently saw work for a woman in my small group. She navigated a shift and was freed from something that had been holding her back for five years. It was incredible to witness.
Afterwards, I’ll also share a few resources that are helping me navigate my current shift in relation to God because, just like our human friendships, our relationship with God will shift on more than one occasion.
Tips for Navigating a Spiritual Shift:
1. Grab a friend
We were never meant to walk this life alone. Our faith cannot fully be lived out in a vacuum. So grab a friend or trusted mentor and ask them if they’ll take some time to listen to the things you are experiencing and walk with you as you navigate them.
If you don’t have a friend or trusted mentor, that’s okay! You can still begin navigating these waters on your own, but I’d encourage you to consider visiting some churches, going to a conference, and begin the process of finding a faith community (I know, I know. That sounds like an awful thing to have to do on your own, but embrace the mantra: with great risk comes great reward. You need community!).
2. Grab a journal, and follow these prompts:
Write down the current feelings you have about God. Does he feel distant or close? Are you angry or euphoric? Be as honest as you can be.
Do you notice any patterns? Are there any phrases that come up again and again?
Write that phrase or phrases down and consider where they’re coming from. Bring it to God and ask him to show you why you’re thinking this way. For the woman in my small group, I noticed she kept saying things like “maybe I’m just not good enough,” or “maybe God thought I wasn’t good enough for xyz.” So I pointed it out to her and told her to just sit with it. She wrote down the phrase and considered the questions: Where is this coming from? Why am I thinking this? Does God really think I’m not good enough?
Consider the ways in which you’ve walked with God before. What did you do? Pray? Read the Bible? Journal? Volunteer? How are those working for you right now?
3. Do Nothing
Our Western culture likes to emphasize doing so much so that we forget God’s ultimate purpose for our lives is that we would be with him. So challenge yourself to do nothing for a time. Sit in silence for 10 minutes. God for a walk with no agenda. Decide not to go to church for a Sunday. Do nothing and notice what your experience is like.
As you consider all of these things, I encourage you not to worry about the outcomes. If you don’t have answers to some the journal questions, that’s okay. Your heart and mind just might need a bit more time to chew on them.
If the ways in which you’ve been relating to God feel difficult or stale, I want to offer some new tools for your toolbox and invite you deeper into your journey. And if doubt currently has you swirling in the waters of anxiety, I leave you with this quote from my pastor Jeanne: Doubt is a sign that your faith is ready to grow up.”
God is a God of love and a God of mystery. Don’t be afraid of him.
An (old) new way of engaging with scripture:
Prayer is much much more than words. That’s why Paul tells us in Romans that the spirit moans on our behalf when we don’t have words. Listed below are some additional ways to pray that I have found helpful: