In a conversation with my daughter last night, I have come to the awareness that we know little what to do with our emotions as those who follow Christ. Of course, she is 13 and I do expect a little (OK…a lot) of irrationality, she also voiced an ideology that I think runs rampant among us. Even if we don’t say it out loud, we – in the depths of our souls – believe it.
The conversation (translation::argument) began when I told both of my kids the time of night had come to read. She complained of “not having anything to read” (translation::I don’t want to) to which I suggested she read a portion of the Scriptures. This began a whining session full of thirteen year old rebuttal as to why she did not want to do that. She didn’t like the fact that I had TOLD her to…it didn’t feel authentic. She doesn’t like to read her Bible very much…and isn’t that just being a hypocrite toward God when she does? She didn’t FEEL like it…and since God knows her heart anyway, it wouldn’t “count”! (Please don’t judge her harshly….she is a great kid and honestly, I am sure I have thought many of those things, but just don’t have enough honesty to say them out loud.)
After the snow flurry of emotion subsided a little, I tried to logically reason with her. Bad mistake!! I just go more of the same rhetoric from before. Then God opened my eyes and let me catch a glimpse into what (perhaps) He sees. What I saw was a beautiful, young woman on the precipice of a new place in her spiritual formation (in being formed by His story). Up to this point (and still all around her) she had received the message that God is awesome, and fun, and amazing, and He talks to you, and He makes you feel good, and answers your prayers and when we are full of good emotion we worship Him…..
Now, many of those things are true, but when that is how we view God, we begin to love God for what He gives us – the fun, emotion, good feelings, answered prayer, etc. At that place in our spiritual formation, we love God for pleasure’s sake. And I don’t think that is inherently bad. When we are new believers (or young in our faith), God feeds us just like a mother nurses her baby. I explained to her that just like when an infant cries, her mother responds to her with gentle caresses, something to eat, taking care of her every need…so God does that in our early life with Him. He does this because He knows this moves the soul toward spiritual things because of the pleasure we get from them. It moves us into the process of being formed by His story, but then something switches inside us. Sure, we know the spiritual pleasures are given to us from God, but the pleasures become the goal of what we think our relationship with God is all about.
Both my thirteen year old and I laughed at the idea that she would still be breastfed at her age…in fact, she wrinkled her face up and used the term “That’s gross!!” We talked about all the other food she now enjoyed but only because she had to give up the first infant pleasure. We also talked about all the food she doesn’t enjoy, but knows she needs to eat in order to stay healthy. I reminded her that God loves us so much that He will not leave us to get caught in our pleasure seeking faith, but brings about a discontentedness in order to move us away from loving Him for pleasure’s sake. (What a great risk on His part!)
Instead, it feels as though He begins to pull away. He doesn’t give the feelings as much any more, nor does it seem like He answers prayer like He once did. What was once fun and happy-slappy-clappy, becomes boring, dull and dry. And in it all, He works to grow our soul to abandon loving Him for pleasure’s sake, and learn to love Him for love’s sake. This is a love based on a real relationship between two persons (with all the good, bad and ugly) and involves a letting go of the key barometer being pleasurable feelings. I explained that it is like a mom who takes care of her baby. That baby does not always give her pleasure, and in fact, many times brings the absolute opposite of it, but she loves that baby anyway because she CHOOSES to.
We went on to talk about how it is not “being a hypocrite” or being “inauthentic” to read our Bible, pray or worship when we don’t feel like it. It is actually entering the next place in the formation process; it is choosing God even when the feelings (pleasures) aren’t there.
And then I was reminded of one of my favorite books in the Bible…the book of Psalms. The poetry and imagery are often as raw as that discussion with my thirteen year old. The feelings abound…God is questioned…He is accused of having left and taking His pleasures with Him. But each psalmist comes back to a solitary conviction….despite the feelings (which God is big enough to handle, by the way!), it is always good and right to worship God for Who He is and to pursue Him for love’s sake.
That is the journey my thirteen year old is on….she must, at some point, make peace with the psalmists.