Monday, July 28, 2014

When Your Heart's Not In The Relationship

It is hard to put ourselves out there, to unlock the armor surrounding our hearts and make ourselves vulnerable to another. 

Marriage, friendship, parenthood--no matter the relationship, each involves tearing down protective walls we so carefully construct, many whose brick and mortar we have painstakingly laid by hand after some past hurt or betrayal.

I've been there numerous times, closed tight as a newly formed rose bud, separated from all others around me as I promised myself I would simply live at a distance from everyone and anyone in order to never be hurt like that again.

But time and time again, I have felt others' kindness and offers of love and friendship carefully soften the petals of the heart until my heart is in full bloom of a healthy relationship, once again vulnerable as I extend part of me beyond the safe walls of myself.  

It's a cycle of separation and safety followed by the terror and joy of entering into relationship again only to find myself back at the beginning all too quickly.  

Keeping people at arm's length is a safe existence.  But it's also quite lonely.

What's more, it is not what God intended, especially when it comes to our relationship with Him. 

The prophet Isaiah cautions the people of Israel concerning this type of cold relationship towards God, warning of pending judgment "Because this people draw near with their words And honor Me with their lip service, But they remove their hearts far from Me, And their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote" (Is. 29:13).

The Israelites had religion.  They had their sacrifices, offerings, feasts, and prayers down pat.  But there were two problems.

One, their hearts weren't in their worship, and secondly, their worship was "tradition learned by rote."  Neither was a true relationship with the One whom they served with their lips and hands.

To begin with, a real relationship with God must involve our hearts.  At one point in our lives, we've all probably said something like, "My heart just wasn't in it."  In other words, we did whatever it was, but we didn't want to and likely didn't do it to the best of our ability. It was just a task to check off our lists.

On the contrary, a relationship that pleases God is one where our heart is fully in it.  He can't just be another thing to check off our list each day.

A heart-involved relationship requires us to be honest with God, to tell Him when we're upset over the path He's asked us to walk (it's not like He doesn't know anyway!) versus simply praying words we think He wants to hear but that we don't really feel inside. Such transparency fosters trust as real truth is spoken instead of platitudes.

Next to honesty, it also requires us to share every part of our lives with Him.  That means we can't relegate Him to certain times of the day, certain activities, or particular days of the week.  We must seek to worship Him when doing the mundane tasks like washing clothes, listen for that still small voice when weeding the flower bed or mowing the lawn, and look for His fingerprints when stuck in traffic or at the doctor's office.  It's a 24-7-365 relationship.

Secondly, a real relationship can't be mere tradition.  As Isaiah said, it can't be a routine.  Instead, we must seek to make our hearts tender to the Spirit's prompting over our sin so that we can repent quickly and be reconciled with God. 

As the Psalmist writes, "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise" (Ps. 51:17). This is what God wants from us.

At times, we may feel hurt or betrayed by what God has allowed to happen to us. Yet, while our flesh may tell us to protect our hearts from Him by merely giving lip service to that relationship, it is in these moments that we most need Him fully in our lives.  

Unlike those around us, He is the only one we can trust with our whole heart. He will never leave us nor forsake us...and that's a promise He sealed with the blood of His only Son. 

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