I’d written several drafts covering various topics I thought would seem relevant or relatable to other Christians reading this — community, prayer, idolatry. But every time I tried to string ‘Christianese’ ideas with googled bible verses woven in, what materialised kept feeling impatient, contrived and disingenuous. I had no idea what I was getting at, and symptomatic of my prayers in recent weeks, I had nothing to say.
We don’t talk about this often, somehow it seems taboo. But I doubt that the struggle of spiritual dryness and feeling distant from God which plagues my spiritual walk is all that foreign to many believers. I’ve always heard it said that Christianity isn’t a religion, but a relationship. Like any friendship or romantic endeavour, we know that quality time spent talking and getting to know someone is how a relationship flowers and matures. Relationships are beautiful and wondrous and life-changing, but they take time and effort. The fallibility of our flesh coupled with the distractions and temptations of everyday life really makes it a challenge to remain in a committed relationship with God.
The cycle of backsliding might start with innocent forgetfulness that slowly takes the form of conscious neglect. Worldly activities catch up with us quickly. Sometimes even Christian activities and obligations start to consume our time and headspace. We’re so exhausted trying to “serve” or keep up and react to every new thing thrown at us that our time spent reading daily devotionals are placed on the backburner, and we convince ourselves a two-minute prayer before bed is sufficient accountability to God.
The more time we spend hiding from God, the more His heart breaks for us. All God ever wanted was a relationship with us. He wanted us in the garden, in unadulterated, pure communion with Him. Yet because we are fallen, like Adam and Eve we cower behind our fig leaves and are too ashamed of our brokenness to look God in all his faultless glory. But God already knew all of this. It is exactly why He has given us the sacrifice of His own son, to redeem the broken. He didn’t just do this once – Jesus’s death redeems us every day, redeeming every sin and shame that we have faced in times past, in times present, in time to come.
There is no perfect Christian, only a perfect sacrifice. There is no shame in being broken. One of my favourite verses comes from Psalm 51 that chronicles David’s painful confession to God after he, God’s chosen king, committed adultery with Bathsheba. In this prayer, David comes into deep and desperate surrender, and addresses the true identity of our God — the always merciful, always forgiving, loving Father. “My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.” (Psalm 51:17)
The bible teems with stories of how God powerfully used weak and flawed figures to fulfill His great promises to His people. Every time I’ve hit a low in my relationship with God, I find myself at Psalm 51. Ironic that as an actor, I’ve really come to appreciate the sobriety of dropping the act. Abandon Christianese and Christian performativity. Talk to our Father as a child talks. The spirit searches our hearts and gives us the words. And when I fail to find the words, I turn to David’s prayer of repentance to lead me home to the Father, and to a renewed belief that God can still use me to do His holy work and do so joyously. “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” (Psalm 51: 10-12)
Lasting relationships are founded on genuine love and disciplined commitment. This means spending time with Him every day. One or two or three missed devotionals or prayers aren’t deal-breakers. Even a grave misstep is not enough to separate us from God’s love and mercy. Because He has offered us an undeserved Grace, abundant pardon and holds for us deep affection, we can always, always return to Him. God is telling us to come out of hiding and to come as you are. He is always at the door, waiting for us to let Him in.