A friend of mine met his wife a year and a half before they got married, and they've been together a couple of years now. Recently, they've discovered a problem. They always thought they had a lot in common, despite differences in personal and family culture (one grew up a bookworm, one a film buff, etc). But my friend has realized that he was so deeply in love, he has been doing everything in his life for one reason: to make his wife happy. As a result, he hasn't been expressing his own personality, his likes and dislikes, his personal culture. When he does, it becomes apparent that they don't have as much in common as they thought.
Because he set himself aside in an attempt to make her happy, they don't know each other as well as they thought. They've been happy because they seemed so alike, but they haven't been able to achieve a deep union because of this gap in knowledge. Without knowing someone's differences, we can't learn to love them for themselves.
It's a difficult transition. The happy relationship they thought they had has proved shallow, and the happy marriage they had started building must be partially torn down and built again. It's threatening. It's unnerving. But if accomplished, the marriage will become stronger. Two people who know each other well and love each other through that knowledge create a strong and beautiful partnership.
This isn't true just of marriage.
It's true of our relationship with God, as well.
In fact, it describes quite clearly my current spiritual journey.
During the years when I was unemployed, I never felt that God was absent. Rather, I felt like one of those girls who will do crazy stupid things for the boy she loves, and go on doing them even if the boy in question doesn't know she exists. Or if he likes the attention but doesn't care enough to give her anything in return.
I spent years pursuing God, learning to love him and to love other people. I sought to serve him. I gave myself away and set myself apart. I loved him, and I knew that he loved me. But I didn't feel as though he cared enough to save or heal me. People around me did stupid, hurtful things, and I saw them rescued out of their mistakes. I saw them accepted and made whole, while I—who did my best to seek God—was left alone, empty, and wounded.
I could not understand why he refused to do for me what I could see him doing for others. Was I not worthy enough? Did he not love me as much as he loved them? Did he not care that I'd devoted my entire life, my entire existence, to loving him?
Read that sentence again. That's the key, right there.
I lived my life in love with God, and like my married friend, I thought that meant I had to silence myself, curb myself, cut myself into the right shape to make him happy. Deny myself to make room for him. Set aside everything within me that I couldn't fit into the boxes I learned about in church.
That's where I went wrong: I devoted my entire life to trying to make God happy.
In pursuit of that sacrifice, I didn't allow for the actual love God wanted to give me.
Here is the startling truth: God doesn't love me because I do things that make him happy. He loves me because I am myself. He likes it when I do things that make him happy (just as my husband enjoys finding dinner made when he gets home), but that's never his reason for loving me.
As I absorb this revelation, I'm learning to set aside rules I've tried to follow. I'm learning that doing things to make God happy is going to have zero effect—positive or negative--on his regard for me.
In the wake of that sudden freedom, I'm learning to be myself, to find my passions, to reach out for the things that make me happy. God made me who I am for a reason. I want to discover those reasons, not make up ones that sound spiritual or wise, but are based solely on the lives of others. I don't want to waste any more time pursuing some nebulous idea of purpose, when my purpose is already inherent in who God created me to be.
We're like trees. God prunes and shapes us, but he never meant for us to be boxed up in tiny pots or to have our branches wired into place, like a bonsai tree. He guides our growth, but above all he wants us to grow. No matter how messy or uncomfortable it might be, he wants us to fully become the person he already loves—ourselves.
The marriage analogy isn't perfect. God already knows each of us better than we will ever know ourselves. But we still behave as my friend did, withholding who we are in hopes of pleasing God. In doing so, we lose out on the union that God offers to our whole being. If we allow ourselves to open up and grow, to become whole, then we can live in partnership with our creator, forging new and beautiful things.