Relationships take work. A lot of work. Whether they’re friendships, Church connections, family relationships, or romantic relationships, there’s a lot that we need to do if we want to keep them strong.
You’ve probably heard about the rough times that come for married couples after the honeymoon period. Though they’re glowing after their wedding, like they did when they were first dating, after a while couples begin to look more at their phones than they do into each other’s eyes.
Commitment is hard, and it seems that more and more people are wary of commitment because it seems to mean less and less. Divorce is increasingly the norm, and friendships come and go. So if marriages and friendships break up when things get hard, it seems only normal that people would approach their relationships with God with the same distrust and disinterest.
When the fire dies out, we can walk out of Church just as easily as we can walk out of our marriages and friendships.
Between going to college and working with teens, I have seen a lot of Christians in the honeymoon stage with the Lord. When people are received into the Orthodox Church, they’re on fire for Christ. When a college student first goes on their short-term mission trip, they’re confident they’ll be a missionary. High schoolers go to Church Camp and come back either wanting to be a priest or a chanter.
And then life happens and the fire dies out.
Perhaps we get disheartened by the scandals and weakness we sometimes see in the Church. Perhaps we get caught up by the stress of needing to do “important things” like get a “stable” job and pay back student loans. Or perhaps, when we get back from Church Camp, we struggle to regain the peace and joy we found there.
So how are we to stick with Christ after the honeymoon period wears off and life starts to wear down on us? Here are several things that can help any relationship, but especially the one we have with God.
1. Hold onto good experiences
They say to trust your gut. While it’s easy to get confused by emotions and to get stuck in our heads with our thoughts, our experiences with people and with God are authentically our own, and we need to trust them.
If you ever had an experience with God, if you ever had a moment where you especially felt Christ’s presence in a certain place or with a certain person, remember that. Hold onto it. If He was with you then, He is with you now. God isn’t bound to places or certain times or to our emotions. He isn’t stuck in camp, or stuck in that summer with those friends who will never be together there again.
He is here, now.
We also need to trust that we are loved and accepted by God, today just as we were yesterday. Sometimes, we compare ourselves to others and to ourselves from years past, and let ourselves slip further from God as if we aren’t worthy of Him. We should trust in God and His mercy, not in the lies we tell ourselves.
As with any relationship, having a relationship with God means we have to actually communicate with Him. Any relationship where we aren’t able to be open and share what’s on our minds is doomed to fail. We have to set time aside to keep in touch with our friends and family when we’re far apart, and the same is true with God.
Keeping the lines of communication open with Jesus will help to keep the relationship stable.
Pour your heart out to Christ. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6). Everyone needs someone they can go to, to let it all out, where they know they’ll be understood, accepted, and not judged.
Jesus is our person.
Lay it all out there to Him. The more you do, the stronger you’ll find your relationship will be with Him. We should do this every day, and regularly through the Sacrament of Confession.
3. Focus on listening
Most of us are bad listeners these days. Okay, I’ll speak for myself- I’m a bad listener. When people introduce themselves to me, I can never remember their name because I’m too focused on what I’m going to say next. In prayer, it’s easy for me to focus too much on what I’m saying and fail to listen to what God is trying to tell me.
I can be praying during the liturgy, or in personal prayer, and realize I’ve had an entire conversation with myself in my head.
We all are prone to this sort of daydreaming during liturgy or in conversation with people we love. The truth is, though it’s not always interesting to talk to someone, regular connection makes the relationship stronger. Not every conversation we have with our best friend is a riveting one, but when that friend is ranting on, we live out our friendship by listening. Not every Liturgy is going to blow our socks off, but they are always more meaningful when we let ourselves listen to the words of the Liturgy, and make those words our own.
4. Find a support system
We need to surround ourselves with people who are just as committed to relationships as we are. If we want good friendships, we need to make friends who value the time they spend with their friends. If we want strong marriages, we should spend time with couples who have strong marriages.
If we want to have a stable relationship with God, we should surround ourselves with people who want the same.
An added benefit to this sort of support system is that it gives us the community we need to live out the first three points with other people. When we are struggling to listen to God’s voice, we can practice being open to God by listening to our friends, family, and that special someone even when we don’t want to. When we’re not feeling so on fire about going to Church, we can share our frustration and even our doubts with our friends.
We need this support to keep us connected to others and to God when our natural instinct is to isolate ourselves. And it’s in isolation that we make bad decisions, doubt our relationships, and start believing we can find better relationships somewhere else.
The more we trust in our experiences with Christ, the more we will be able to recognize His presence with us today. The more we communicate with Him openly and listen to His voice, the stronger our connection will be with Him. The more we grow in relationships with others who are striving for the same sorts of relationships we are, the better we will live those relationships out.
What do you do to keep your relationship alive with Christ today? What will you do today to help you stick with Jesus, now that the honeymoon is over?
Sam is the Director of Youth & Young Adult Ministries at Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Wyckoff, New Jersey. He grew up in Powhatan, Virginia and studied International Affairs and Spanish at James Madison University. Sam received his MDiv from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in 2013. He loves food, languages and good coffee.