How often in Christianity are we told that we need to have a personal relationship with God? Being asked if you have a “close and personal relationship with God” is practically a cliche turn of phrase these days, so that we may not even really consider what it means to have a “relationship with God.”
How often do we think of our relationship with God in the same way that we think about our earthly relationships, such as with our friends or significant others? The Apostle John rightly said, “If any one says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.” (1 John 4:20) And, I know, it can be hard enough just to love the people around us sometimes. But I think we also forget that vital next step: that in learning to love our neighbors we should learn how to better love God. John also said, “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” (1 John 4:16) Love is always the goal.
Earlier this summer, I attended the Catholic youth conference, Steubenville Atlanta. At one point during the weekend, Father Mike Schmitz gave a talk directed at those who might be feeling a call to religious life as priests or religious brothers or sisters. One piece of advice that he gave to the girls who were discerning religious life, in which case they would become Brides of Christ, was to do what anyone does when they are considering marrying someone: go on dates with him. Now, spending quality time with God is a little different than going out to dinner and a movie, but it’s still a valid point. If you truly want to give yourself to God, the way that you would give yourself to a spouse, then spending regular quality time with Him is just the beginning. Father Mike’s recommendation that the girls make a point to spend time with our Lord in prayer and adoration, getting to know Him and learning to open their hearts to Him, really struck a chord with me. (Let me be clear, because I know some of you will be asking, that I am not personally discerning a call to religious life, though I have the utmost respect and admiration for those that do. It’s just not what I feel the Lord is calling me to right now.)
The idea of building a relationship with God in the same ways that we build relationships with our friends, family, and potential spouses has stuck with me the last few months since hearing Father Mike’s talk. Especially at my current stage of life (in my 30s and single), I’m learning to recognize this time as a gift that I have been given so that I can better sort out all kinds of things, including my relationship with God. I’m still learning how to be a good daughter, sister, aunt, and friend, and I’ve seen how all of those relationships improve when I also feel closer to God. And if our God is a living God, it makes sense to relate to Him in the ways that we relate to the other living people in our lives.
And all of this finally brings me to my love of personality quizzes. Yes, I am one of those people who takes the quizzes to find out which Disney Princess/Parks and Recreation character/breakfast food I would be. But actually, some of the better known psychological profiles can be very helpful in learning about your own unique personality and can help you relate better with other people and with your surroundings in general. When it comes to relationships, and especially more intimate relationships, one of the popular profiles is the Five Love Languages, defined by Gary Chapman. Chapman’s theory is that there are five different ways that people either express or receive love: quality time, gifts, acts of service, physical touch, and words of affirmation. And there is even a handy quiz on his website to help you determine what your own primary love languages are.
If we can figure out how we best express our love for other people, why not use those same principles to determine how we can best express our love for God?
Here are just a few ways that occurred to me about how to apply the 5 Love Languages to our relationship with God. I am sure that you will find that as you examine your own way of expressing love and compare it with your prayer life you will be surprised at how much they coincide. This list is not exhaustive, and I would love to hear your own examples!
- Quality Time – Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and scriptural reading. This is my own top Love Language, and it’s very true that I never feel closer to Our Lord than when I am spending time silently in front of the Eucharist or reading scripture (and I often do both at the same time). Sitting in silence with the Lord allows me to give Him my full attention, to share my worries and also my gratitude with Him. Reading from the Bible helps me to be aware of His attention on me; He gave us scripture as the most direct way of communicating with us throughout the ages.
- Gifts – Giving of our treasure. Not all of us are financially blessed, but if this is your Love Language I’ll bet you still find ways to give little gifts to the people who are important to you. Maybe you stop eating out for a week or more, and take the money that you would have spent on food and instead donate it to a local charity or put it in your church’s Poor Box. Maybe you don’t buy the latest iPhone and, again, donate that money to a cause that you know would be pleasing to God. No matter how much money any of us earn, we all know how to scrimp and save and sacrifice when there is something important that we want, so what can we do that for that is important to God?
- Acts of Service – Giving of our time and talent. “As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:40) You don’t necessarily have to volunteer all of your time at a soup kitchen or Habitat for Humanity (though perhaps that is what you feel called to!), but maybe you can offer to cut the lawn of your next-door neighbor? Or bring a meal to someone who is having a hard time? If Acts of Service is your Love Language, you are probably already doing things for the people you love. So take it to the next level: do things for people that you don’t necessarily have a relationship with already, do things for people who can’t necessarily reciprocate, and do it for love of God and because you know it will please Him. Just like you might empty the dishwasher so that your spouse or roommate won’t have to, you do it because it makes them feel loved.
- Physical Touch – the Rosary. Whenever I pray the rosary, I imagine that I am holding the hand of Our Lady as together we contemplate the life of Christ. If you are a tactile kind of person, finding the right rosary to run through your hands as you pray with Our Lady can make a world of difference to your prayer life. You can also pray the Divine Mercy chaplet on a rosary, which is a wonderful prayer especially during these difficult times. I’ve also seen what, I think, are called Worry Crosses: wooden crosses that fit comfortably in your hand for those who tend to fidget or again just need something tactile while they pray.
- Words of Affirmation – Sharing our love of Christ with others. We should all be praising and thanking God as part of our regular prayers, but I’m sure that God appreciates it when we take it a step further, too. It’s great when someone tells you how proud they are of you, how much they appreciate you, but how wonderful does it feel when their love and appreciation is so strong that they have to tell other people, too? We shouldn’t evangelize to people just because we feel it to be a duty, or because they need to be “saved”, we should be evangelizing because we love God so much that we want to share that love with others. Don’t be afraid to talk about your faith, how the love of God has changed you, how His love is real. Maybe this means leading a bible study, teaching religious education on Sundays, or just being open and having conversations with your friends who are questioning the faith.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “In the New Covenant, prayer is the living relationship of the children of God with their Father who is good beyond measure, and with his Son Jesus Christ and with the Holy Spirit. The grace of the Kingdom is ‘union of the entire holy and royal Trinity… with the whole human spirit.’ Thus, the life of prayer is the habit of being in the presence of the thrice-holy God and in communion with him. This communion of life is always possible because, through Baptism, we have already been united with Christ. Prayer is Christian insofar as it is communion with Christ and extends throughout the Church, which is his Body. Its dimensions are those of Christ’s love.” (CCC 2565)
How can you show God your love today?
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