The idea of romance with God has been mainstream for probably 15 years now and I have heard the term many times, however it never really made any sense to me. This is not because I didn’t believe in the idea of a romance with God, but it just wasn’t a very real concept to me. Of course, this could be because some concepts in the Christian life really don’t make much sense at all until you are mature enough in your walk and life experience to understand their full significance. Think of explaining “romance” to a child. They will understand something, but it will be quite far from the full significance of the term. So, anyway, for whatever reason, the divine romance was not clicking for me.
In my uninitiated mind, the idea meant either:
- How an omnipotent God reaches out toward you. He is chasing down your worthless puny self.
- How you are in this intense end-time over the top bridal romance, longing for his presence with an undying devotion.
Not sure about you, but neither one of these really relates to emotions that I experience on any kind of regular basis. God however, has been opening this box for me lately in a way that connects with both my experience as a husband and as a pastor.
First let’s take a look at how romance works. Think when you are dating or courting. First, you meet someone you might like. You engage them in some basic ways. If they do not respond, you are likely to become less interested. If they do respond to your interest though you become more interested. You escalate more. Perhaps you ask them on a date. If it does not go well, you will back off in the relationship, but if it does, you may escalate further. This cycle continues until the relationship ends or you reach the ultimate state of a life commitment to be together — marriage.
Now, something funny happens to us when we get married. The romance cycle grinds to a halt. Because you are not trying to win the other person over, you start treating them like they are taken for granted. Women quit dressing up so nice, smiling so much, making eyes, etc. Men quit all of the overwhelming displays of interest and settle into their own private routine. Basically you love one another, but there is not a natural cycle of “romance.” Because you already have each other, the wooing stops.
One of the funny effects of this non-romance is what it does to physical intimacy. People often say that it is Satan or simply sin that pushes you toward sex before you are married, and of course there is truth in that, but what pushes you toward sex even more is the wooing that you are doing. You keep back your negative thoughts. You smile at her, she smiles at you. You hold hands. You kiss. The whole process just naturally escalates to the bedroom. Marriage, and even living together, eliminate the need for the wooing, because you now have one another. The romance dies, the drive toward sex wanes.
But of course if you are good marriage partners, you continue to have a regular sex life anyway. It may not be romantic, but it serves the function of reinforcing your relationship. Now, there is nothing innately wrong with that, but it can become kind of functional rather than intimate. After a lot of emotional distance one of you shows up in the bedroom and says “I’m ready to go!” This often means your emotional connection and physical connection are out of sync. You can’t just throttle your emotions from 0 to 60 in 2.6 seconds. What romance does is move you along a spectrum from disconnected to deep connection — so deep that you want to share your bed together.
Now there are all kinds of obstacles that block this in real life, but one of the most important is that we do not cultivate the connection opportunities when they come. One person reaches out and the other one shuts them down. The other reaches out and gets shut down in return. After a few times of this, both people stop the reaching out altogether, and start to be permanently disconnected. The romance is gone.
Romance With God
Now what does all of this have to do with God? Well I started realizing that my relationship with God is kind of like that married sex life. I have this tendency to ignore God all day long with the idea that at some point I’ll be ready to rush into the “bedroom” of deep intimacy. And just like that functional marriage sex, the intimacy will be there, but it’s a lot shallower. It draws on the reserves of the past instead of the living relationship of the moment. We’re in “the bed” because of some history and standing connection as opposed to a real and vibrant connection we are experiencing right at the moment.
And God started showing me that he is “romancing” me all the time and that I can “romance” Him back. I’m sitting at my office desk, and I have a mild but abrupt feeling of God’s presence. It’s a romantic opportunity. But how does it start? It starts with you having openness. Just like you are not going to go flirt with some girl that doesn’t want your attention, God isn’t usually going to show up if you are not open to it. So the first step is being at least somewhat available.
Assume that you’ve done that. Now what? When you feel God is there, you have to respond. Go with it. Allow Him to move your heart and emotions right then. Don’t miss it. I was thinking about it like “what if a friend came to visit?” There is no way i would tell them to come back at the end of the day. As an extravert, I would literally drop everything and eagerly engage the relationship. But with God, He gets the “come back later” treatment. I shut down the romance. And when the bedroom time comes, it’s stale.
And it works both ways. When I think of God or feel drawn to Him, I just turn my heart and attention to Him for a moment and we share a brief moment of connection. Now we’re in relationship. We start out distant, and move closer and closer. I start to “cultivate” the presence of God. I’ve heard people talk about this cultivation too, but it also came off sounding really functional to me as well. Like cultivating a garden. That’s not what you want. This is a romance. You are cultivating intimacy. It’s keeping your lover close.
And keeping your lover close means several things. As I just explained, it means being available when He comes and it means going to Him when you feel your desire toward Him. But it also means not arresting the intimacy with something jarring. If you flirt with another woman, it’s going to set back your relationship with your wife. It breaks the intimacy. If you get interrupted during your romance, it’s going to break the intimacy. If you want passion and connection, it must be cultivated actively and protected.
You can see how this can really be a game changer. We talk about relationship with God but what we functionally mean is something more like “ending your estrangement from God while learning about him in the Bible and talking about Him with other people in the same situation, and occasionally letting His Spirit do something great through us.” There isn’t much actual relationship. In a relationship, you relate. That means there is give and take, back and forth. God takes initiative, you take initiative. Embracing the romance process is an important step toward a real relationship.