Monday, July 13, 2009

I Do Not Need a Personal Relationship with Jesus Christ

Note: What follows is a little bit like a rant and a little bit like a prayer. I don't know what category it should fall into, really, but I thank my readers in advance for accepting my honesty without reproach. You may quibble with my quibbles, but know that the desperate heart behind the words is real.

Life has been tough recently. And, frankly, I haven't done life very well, either. While I think I've adjusted to motherhood pretty well, and I've managed not to make any major blunders with William so far, in every other way, I have struggled. If life is an ocean, then I've been dog-paddling inefficiently for weeks, occasionally dipping below the surface, only to pop up a few seconds later gasping and sputtering, and flailing for help. Unfortunately, there's not a rescue boat in sight.

In all this, I have found myself feeling very alone. Although my two degrees in theology tell me that God is everywhere-present and will never leave me or forsake me, I have walked around for weeks with a hollow belly--the kind of feeling you get when you haven't eaten all day--the hunger gnawing at your insides like a rottweiler chomping a rawhide bone. The hollowness has been almost unbearable, particularly since circumstances in our life are such that what I really want is a warm, enveloping feeling of peace and security. But, this comfort has eluded me.

Which brings me to the title of this blog. I've heard many fellow Christians going through similarly difficult times proclaim, "If it weren't for my relationship with Jesus, I don't know what I'd do." Or, "I don't know what people do who don't have a relationship with Jesus."

Of course, I understand where they are coming from and the idea they intend to convey when then say such things. They are saying that without their faith in Christ, they would be without hope. Even so, perhaps its the theologian in me, but in light of my current circumstances and spiritual state, I feel compelled to quibble with the verbiage.

When I examine my heart in light of recent struggles, I realize that my relationship with Jesus Christ is not enough. Yes, I have a relationship with Jesus. In part, at least, I know what makes him happy and sad. I know some of his favorite sayings and most memorable stories. And, he knows all theses things about me, as well. I can speak to him and expect him to respond. I can become angry with him, and he with me, and we can "make up" and enjoy each others company again.

Yes, I have a relationship with Jesus--a unique one, for sure--but I have a "relationship" with my Starbucks barista and regular handy-man, as well.

As I see it, there's a problem with the word "relationship," for it says nothing about the proximity of the two persons to one another, nor does it properly address the spiritual trajectory intended for all those who characterize themselves as Christians. The truth is, I do not need a relationship with Jesus Christ (and neither do you). What I need is union with him. The chief end of all Christians is not a good relationship with Jesus, it is union with Christ.

Right now, my "relationship" with Jesus brings me little peace, comfort, or joy. I know he is with me, but I feel like there's a smog of unspoken tensions and misunderstandings clouding the space between us. We continue to "relate" to each other, but not in the way that brings me ultimate freedom, or Christ ultimate glory. Because I am only in a "relationship" with him, I continue to live my own way, think my own thoughts, make my own plans, and then throw a toddleresque temper tantrum when Jesus doesn't conform to my will.

Thus, my conclusion: my relationship with Christ isn't good enough. I need to be one with him. What I need is not give-and-take with him--I need to be completely undone and consumed within his goodness and grace. I need the life of Christ to become my life--"it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me" (Gal 2:20). I need to experience (and not just pay lip-service to) the life of one who "abides" in Christ and knows for a fact that apart from him, the Vine, I can do nothing (John 15:5).

I need to be so united with Jesus that every minute of every day I'm smiling when he smiles, weeping when he weeps, and laughing when he laughs. Only by union with Christ can I truly know myself, for through the eyes of Truth, I can finally see what is true about me. I need the security that comes, not from knowing all--for even Jesus did not know some of the Father's plans--but from resting in the love of the Father, who cares for us. Only through union--oneness of mind and spirit--with Christ, can I truly "cease striving and know God" (Ps 46:10).

The good news is, in the words of Brennan Manning: "Love by its nature seeks union." This means that even as I observe my present life and realize how impoverished my spirit has become, I know that the love of Christ is such that he is already seeking to unite with me and provide satisfaction. It is the nature of Love to do this and it is the nature of our God, as well. In a sense, he cannot help it. Christ's foolish, serendipitous, jealous, and unbounded love compels him to woo me into union with him. If only I would stop flailing in the ocean, give up my hunger pains, and surrender. Let us pray for each other as we pursue that end.


my footsteps said...

WOW!! Thank you girl for sharing your heart! Awesome! Very challenging! Love ya!

Bob Cleveland said...


As Max Lucado (I think it was...) pointed out, the disciples placed their faith in Jesus when He turned the water into wine, but when He rescued them from the storm at sea .. a storm into which HE had sent them .. THEN they worshiped Him.

Whatever your "relationship" is now, I figure He's about to "kick it up a notch". Maybe a big one. And I figure He's the one who sent this storm, too.

You are a blessed lady. It might take a while to see it .. to understand it .. but that's ok.

May God bless you some special way, today.

Thy Peace said...

Emily, God bless you. I do not know your situation. Forgive me, if I say it does sound like postpartum depression. Of course, that could be totally wrong.

Then the closest I can think of what you write is described by St. John of the Cross.

One Dark Night.
St. John of the Cross

One dark night
Fired with love's urgent longings
Ah the sheer grace
In the darkness
I went out unseen
My house being all now still

In the darkness
Secured by love's secret ladder
Disguised oh the sheer grace
In the darkness
And in my concealment
My house being all now still

On that glad night
In the secret. for no one saw me
Nor did I see any other thing at all
With no other light to guide me
Than the Light burning in my heart

And this Light guided me more surely
Than the light of the noon
To where He lay waiting for me, waiting for me
Him I knew so well
In a place where no one else appeared

Oh guiding night
A Light more lovely than the dawn
A night that has united
Ever now the Lover now with His beloved
Transforming two now into one

Upon my flowering breast
There He lay sleeping
Which I kept for Him alone
And I embraced Him
And I caressed Him
In a breeze blowing from the forest

And when this breeze blew in from the forest
Blowing back our hair
He wounded my soul with His gentle hand
Suspending all my senses
And I abandoned. forgetting myself
Laying my face on my Beloved
All things ceasing
I went out from myself
To leave my cares forgotten
With the lilies of the field

The Dark Night by St. John of the Cross.

Wiki: Dark Night of the Soul.

God bless you Emily and may He give you Peace. I too struggle with my faith and belief, and currently (and for a long time) I am at the place where only one thing is being required of me ... and that is to simply trust as a child does, of Our Lord Jesus Christ. This is actually harder than it sounds.

traci said...

and to that i pray "thank you Lord for answering this prayer, amen."

Christiane said...

Hello EMILY,

My name is L's (Christiane) and I was sent here to help by THY PEACE, who told us to check on you when we were on Wade Burleson's blog.

You might be having some PPD (post-partum blues).

All through pregnancy, your body is filled with the most comforting hormones. Lovely ones, that bring joy and calm, as the Good Lord forms your little one within you.

And then, almost immediately after the child is born, the level of these hormones drops dramatically.
The effect can be startling. And can last for a while, until your body adjusts to the change.

I know it's hard, especially if this is your first experience with the emotional roller-coaster of new motherhood, but YES, you will get through it. We all do.

Call your doctor. Make an appointment and take some notes with you about what you are going through. He will know what to do.
You do not have to worry, or suffer needlessly.

I hope you are nursing your little one, if possible. That is the most comforting and rewarding experience of new motherhood.

Put all those books away. Get a nice second-hand English-style perambulator and take that baby out for walks in the sunshine and fresh air. Get a rocking chair at the Salvation Army. Enjoy him.
You need to eat well, now, also.
And try to get family to help out for a while, so you can get some extra sleep. Lack of sleep is probably part of your trouble.

I will pray for you to feel better soon. Love, L's/Christiane

Emily Hunter McGowin said...

Thy Peace and Christiane,

Thank you for your concern, counsel, and encouragement.

I assure you that I am not dealing with postpartum depression at this time. I have had typical down days that come with the hormone roller-coaster, lack of sleep, etc, with a new baby. But, as someone who has been diagnosed with and received treatment for, depression in the past, I can say for sure this is not depression.

What I've described in my blog post is a struggle that is mostly spiritual in nature, born of a number of circumstances (other than William's birth), over the past two years. It has many sources and influences that I might detail in a later blog post, if I feel the freedom.

I shared my spiritual state with my readers hoping for two things: (1) to satisfy my need for confession and transparency in the midst of the struggle; (2) to encourage my readers, who may have, at one time or another, experienced something similar. In both cases, its important to know that sometimes its OK not to be OK. God continues to move.

Thanks again for your kind words.

Grace and peace,


Thy Peace said...

Thank you Emily for clarifying. I am sorry for assuming PPD. I too have struggled with depression. I enjoy reading your posts on your blog, for to me they are well written and thought out. God bless you, sister in Christ.

Christiane said...


Here is some healing for you from Psalm 42. I hope it helps.

God Bless You. Love, L's

Charlie Mac said...

The SS lesson from James 1 which I am attempting to prepare for this week contains a verse about asking God for wisdom, without doubting.

How difficult that is for us mortals to do. We have a certain knowledge abut God. We so need wisdom to complement that knowledge, which is easy to ask for.

But doubts arise to cloud and block our receptors and the wisdom from God is jumbled like static on a short wave radio.

It is probably true that the more knowledge we have about God, and I know that you have studied theology deeply for years, the more we need wisdom to be able apply and share that knowledge.

I'm already praying for wisdom and the suppression of the static of doubt for myself. I will include you. (And probably feel more confident that God will increase your wisdom, than that He will increase mine)

Thank you for insight into your struggle to other struggling Christians.

Lory said...

Beautifully said, Em. Although I don't understand your exact situation, I find your words echoing the deepest cries of my heart lately. I know I should want to give Christ total control and let him woo me, but honestly, right now, I just don't want to. I know (cognitively) I need just that, but emotionally, I just want to hide from everyone and everything. Granted, some of mine is depression, which has been particularly present over the last six months, but I know there is more than just that.

Thanks for writing and sharing and being you. love you.

Jeff Flowers said...

This is real spirituality. I love your heart and honesty. Although, it's funny to me that some of your commenters feel the need to blame your "prayer rant" on having a baby, or whatever. Why do people who claim to be spiritual shift our life struggles toward a lesson in self-mastery or "He's about to kick it up a notch" What strange theology your commenters have left you with — kick it up a notch; the dark night of the soul? Really?

Hey, you're struggling. You're relationship with Ron, your mom, or even Jesus isn't going to "help" you. Jesus does not equal therapy.

If your degrees in theology taught you anything, it taught you that doubt, questions, storms or what have you are the wounds of the authentic spiritualist. They are the "real" stuff our lives are made of that help us keep our eyes on Jesus on not on the "lesson He's trying to teach you." If I've learned one thing about trying to serve Jesus, it's this: He's less interested in teaching me personal lessons and more about teaching me to obey His.

UnderMidnight said...

when there is no boat you just keep on swimming.
i believe in you.
i have no hope of peace on this earth. but i do have hope that one day all of this meaningless toil will come to an end and i'll have rest. as alone as i feel on this earth i know eternity has a place where i belong.
i never believed in jesus for comfort. he is the exact opposite for me. jesus is a challenge to take up a cross, which i don't do so well. but i try. i live for jesus because i chose to do so. i follow him because i can do nothing else. i began this journey and i'm going to finish it.
your of swimming alone is one i feel close to.
god grant us the tenacity to keep swimming until the day we die.

i'm sleepy so this didn't come out well at all.

Ashley said...


I really love this post. I love how you describe the gnawing on the inside and feeling so empty even with all the "knowledge of God" us Christians have. As I have shared with you, I have struggled with PPD this time around with Emma, and felt really guilty for doing so. I felt blank, dark, and unable to communicate with God. Even though you clarified that you weren't experiencing PPD (thankfully!), you put words to what so many of us feel during this difficult time.

Dark times happen in our lives for many reasons, and the ultimate goal (at least for me) is to see that it was not in vain. Through my experiences, God has opened up a whole new chapter in my life in which I am working through some past situations and learning to heal from wounds. However, had it not been for having Emma at this time and experiencing PPD, I am not sure I would have thought things were bad enough to seek help, and counseling- during which I have been able to talk with others who feel alone while struggling with depression. The honesty and transparency has been refreshing on such a taboo topic for a Christian. So in order to sound profoundly spiritual, lets just say "all things are working together for good". :)

Jeff- I'm not so sure those other commenters were blaming her thoughts on hormones, as much as saying "we have been through PPD, and what you are describing sounds like what we went through"... Those of us who have experienced it, see some warning signs in others, and don't want anyone who has it to go without help... therefore reaching out with advice and counsel. No matter what the cause of a spiritual journey, the outcome is no less valid. :)