When we talk about a relationship with God we are always talking about at least three levels. What you think about Him, how you feel emotionally about Him and in His presence, and how you feel in your chest and gut. In order to really understand your relationship with Him, you must become aware of and understand each of those levels.
When you think of God does He FEEL close or distant? Do you imagine Him in heaven or do you imagine him right beside you? Pay attention to your immediate reactions- those reactions are what the Cognitive Therapy folks call Automatic Thoughts and they are road maps to the Core Beliefs that guide our behaviors and emotional life. As you read this, do imagine Him sitting next you, arm around your shoulders, excited about what you might take away from this? Do you picture Him smiling with delight as He enjoys the idea that you have discovered something new? Awareness is always the key. Becoming aware of how you perceive God on a moment to moment basis is crucial in understanding your relationship with Him.
If deep underneath there is a sense that He is disappointed or ready to punish, there will be a naturally occurring distancing and forgetting in your day to day life that would go unnoticed or become frustrating. How you believe God views and FEELS about your anger or failings will determine whether you can hold both in your awareness at the same time. In other words, how you imagine God reacting to those failings will determine whether you imagine God close or far as you think about them. A key part of relationship is how we imagine others think and feel. God is no exception to this. How we imagine his emotional reactions to things will determine whether it is possible for us to experience God close while struggling in a particular area. Let me be clear, I would argue that even while you are repenting of a sin, if it is too shameful for you, you cannot hold God in your awareness and the failing. At best you will hold a disappointed, distant God, not a loving accepting one.
If you think back to earlier blogs, our brain creates a neural map another person. This provides us with the ability to have a “felt sense” of them and it also provides us with an understanding of who they are and how they will react. What is your current map of God? How do you understand who he is? How do you perceive him?
What emotions does he primarily feel? This is an important question. Think back to what you imagine about God on a daily basis. Do you imagine him angry often? Do you imagine him patient? Do you tend to imagine him sorrowful? Think about the primary emotions that you imagine/perceive that God feels regularly.
What thoughts does he think of you? How does he envision you? What kind of parent is he?
When you sing worship songs, how do you feel? What does your body feel? When reading devotionally, what emotions are stirred up for you, what do you feel in your body? These activities are both a reflection of and reinforcement of your view of God.
Part of what we will be discussing in upcoming blogs is developing a better relationship with ourselves. If we don’t know us, we can’t change and we can’t bring our whole selves to God. Emotions and bodily feelings are often unnoticed and misunderstood. Often people will say that they don’t feel anything or have no physical sensations, but most of the time it is not a lack of these feelings but a poor awareness of them. The neurological pathways from these experiences to conscious awareness are weak.
Being able to bring our whole body to worship requires that we are in touch with our whole body. Being able to believe God’s love in my heart and gut rather than just my head requires that I truly understand what’s going on in all three. AWARENESS!
For now I’d just challenge you to dig deep in your understanding of how you experience God and begin to challenge any experiences and thoughts that do not line up with the God of love.