My husband and I are coming up on our one year anniversary soon. Along with getting ready to bust out some leftover wedding cake and the other usual traditions, I have been reflecting back on this crazy, hard and exciting first year.
I’ve realized that what makes celebrating this milestone exciting is that this is just the beginning. The strong marriages that I have seen get better as they go. They have conflict, but all of those struggles produce a strength that only becomes more valuable as the years go on.
Thank goodness we don’t have to “arrive” after only one year!
Like marriage, our relationship with God is meant to grow over the years. And with growth comes change.
Seeking the Spiritual High
For a considerable season of my life, I thought something was wrong with me because I no longer felt the way I did when I first came to the Lord. That “on fire” feeling I always had as a new believer was suddenly impossible to attain.
No matter how many new books I read or church services I attended, I couldn’t find that same feeling. For two years, I kept this search up.
Finally, one night as I just sat and cried with God, a simple realization came into my heart: I was asking for too little. God wanted to express so many things to me in new ways, but I couldn’t let Him. I was still clinging to the mountain-top views behind me, when He was wanting to climb an even higher summit with me.
My fear was that if it didn’t feel like the first season of my life as a Christian, it wouldn’t be as authentic. I had had some initial mountaintop experiences, and I was now associating those intense emotions with a healthy relationship with God. I liked that mountain, and I didn’t want to put in the effort of climbing a new one.
The Ups and Downs
All of us have similar memories of an almost honeymoon season with God. Revelation 2 refers to it as our “first love.” Like a husband remembers the beauty and simple purity of his bride on their wedding day, God is asking us to remember the simple beauty of who Jesus is. We should never lose this. We should never lose the tenderness that the cross evokes in our hearts. It should continuously take our breath away.
With that said, the reality of human life is that there will be some days that aren’t mountaintop experiences. Some days will be filled with conflict, homework, errands, laundry, loss, pain, bitterness and—hardest of all—apathy. I wish every day were filled with great community, exciting missions work, christian concerts and prayer gatherings. But the truth is, most of our lives are spent somewhere between these two realities. Most days we get a little of both.
We desperately need to let this truth sink down within us: Our relationship with God will not always look like it did in the beginning, and that’s OK. In fact, it’s a sign we are maturing.
If you’re not as “on fire for God” as you once were, it doesn’t mean you’re not as good of a Christian as you once were. Being a Christian has little to do with how you feel, but everything to do with God’s covenant with you. Sometimes our love for Him will be strong, sometimes it will be weak. The important part is that it’s real, and that His love for us never changes or diminishes.
So many people spend their whole lives suffocated in condemnation, feeling their love for God is too weak, that their zeal has fizzled out. They see through a lense where their story has come to a close. Peter was as weak and fizzled out as one could get after betraying Jesus and running back to his fishing boat. He thought his story with Jesus had ended.
Thank goodness God wasn’t finished with Peter. And no matter if you feel “on fire” or like you’re walking through a desert, He’s not finished with you.
The sign of an authentic relationship with God is that it allows itself to change over time. In any relationship, we have to adapt and fight to overcome new challenges. If we try to cling to how it was at the beginning, we will never grow in actual relationship. The truth of God’s unconditional love for us never changes, but we have to let that truth be expressed differently as needed in different seasons.
Beginnings are a wonderful thing, full of excitement and wonder. However, the journey itself is what any good story is all about. We don’t love Lord of the Rings simply because Frodo left the Shire. And we don’t enjoy the story of Narnia because a little girl named Lucy stumbled into a wardrobe. What stirs our hearts is their perseverance until the ring is destroyed and the White Witch is defeated.
On the days you feel trapped between where you’ve been and where you’re going, let go of what you think your relationship with God has to look like. He leads us in ways we can’t anticipate, but ways that make our hearts come alive in ways we could never imagine.
Editor’s Note: A version of this article originally ran in 2016.