Let’s be clear about something – I love football. No if, ands or buts about it (for that matter no butts either.) A few years back I was deprived of my favorite game because of a player strike. Sunday afternoons from September to January just weren’t the same without grown men throwing a piece of inflated pigskin back and forth while they clobber each other senselessly. I love football.
It seems that sometimes you don’t fully understand how much you love something or what love truly is until it is absent, or about to be absent. This is a truth very familiar to those who have lost loved ones too young – or as it always seems far too soon. It’s also especially true to those who have recently felt the pain of a damaged or ended relationship – we long for things to go back to the way they were.
But a few years ago, I experienced this realization of love in a different and completely unexpected experience. Having grown up in church and been a person of faith for basically my entire adult life, my “normal” has been to feel and be aware of God’s presence and involvement in my life on almost daily basis. Daily prayer, time spent in worship, a real relationship with my Creator – these things were all parts of my daily faith experience. And then, through life circumstances, I woke up one day and felt as though all that was gone.
I experienced doubt in ways I never had before. I felt suddenly and scarily alone. What had always been present – was now seemingly absent. It was at this point that my love of God came into real question. Did I truly love Him, or did I love the idea of Him? Was I engaged in a loving relationship with Him, or was I in love with the feeling of His presence and reality? Did I really love Him, or did I love what it felt like He did for me. For the first time in my life, something that had always been there seemed absent – and I was left to figure out just what it meant to love the God who claimed to love me so much.
And so it began. What seemed at times like an unending and impossible quest to find out if God was there, if He loved me, and if and how much I loved Him in return. Books, videos, small groups, long conversations with trusted friends and advisors – these were all part of my process.
It was long, tedious, time consuming and terrifying. I had suspected from the beginning of the process that there would be some sort of AHA moment, where the familiar feelings I had associated with God’s love and my love of Him would just “reappear.” But as things continued, it became more and more obvious to me that this would not be the case.
And while I desperately longed for those “feelings” to return (and sometimes still do), what developed as a result of my hard work, investigation and introspection, did and continues to surprise me. As the reality of God became apparent to me (another topic for another day), I began to realize not only THAT I loved Him, but WHY. Truths about Him that I had previously just accepted without much thought became inspiration towards appreciation. Bible verses that had seemed ancient and lifeless – were now transcendent, challenging and convicting. And what had always been more of a feeling – had now become an understanding and a reality unlike any other I have ever experienced.
The truth is God was never absent from me, but I believe He allowed me to feel like He was so that I could understand the depth and beauty of His love for me, and grow and become solidified in my love for Him. I would never wish the emotions and feelings of God’s absence that I had on anyone, even my worst enemy – but I can honestly say now that they were in a way, a blessing to me in my life. Now I know. God really does love me, and I honestly and authentically love Him. Do I still have questions? Yup. Are there times I still doubt? Uh – huh. Do I ever feel like He’s not there? Less and less, but yes. But these things now serve as a reminder and indicator of our love – the fact that it’s here and it’s real – and that it’s even better than the return of NFL football.