“Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm; for love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame. Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot sweep it away.” (Song of Songs 8:6-7a NIV)
I never tire of reading about the power of romantic love. People have done crazy things for love. Some are amazing and inspiring, like a husband visiting his wife of 50 years whose mind has forgotten him. Others are tragic and sickening, like a woman who killed her children because she thought it would help her relationship with her current lover. Of course, she wasn’t in her right mind, but love can do that too. While it’s an incomplete reflection, romantic love is the closest analogy we have for the kind of fierce, tenacious khesed (love) of a God who pursues us.
But let’s be honest. In the real world, that kind of ardor is hard to sustain. When my husband (then boyfriend) proposed to me, it was the happiest I’ve ever felt. Now, five years later, I think we’re doing pretty well, but the giddiness does wear off. That’s not all bad — it’s nice to be able to think straight again — but, like banking a fire, a deep and abiding love needs to take hold after the first heat of romance or the flames will go out.
One of my friends is currently going through a tough time in his marriage. In the course of trying to improve the relationship, he’s been doing a lot of research. One of the articles he shared resonated deeply with me. The author explains that couples feel in love when they are meeting each other’s emotional needs. The main point of this particular article was that couples will find it extremely difficult to maintain their emotional connection if they’re not spending time giving each other their undivided attention.
That insight had obvious implications for my marriage (and all marriages), but given my original analogy, I think you’ll see where I’m going with this. Most Christians say they’d like to feel closer to God, just as most married people would say they’d like to feel closer to their spouses. In both cases, however, people’s actions reflect their — perhaps unconscious — belief that there must be some magic way to squeeze it into their busy lives without changing anything else they’re doing.
If you’ve been in church for any length of time, you’ve almost certainly heard before that you have to give God time. We also hear that sometimes you just won’t feel close to God. But thinking about the policy of undivided attention gives us a hint about what we can do when we feel far apart. “Quality time” is not entirely a myth. For example, I can have a good time going to the movies or to a party with my husband, but because conversation is one of my main emotional needs, it might be the ten minutes we spend talking before bed that make the most difference to how in love with him I feel. Similarly, the amount of focused attention you give to God during your quiet time might make more of a difference than the length of that quiet time.
Since God isn’t a person who’ll audibly call you out when your attention wanders, you might also benefit from knowing which of your emotional needs are the most important to you. If you highly value affection or admiration, then spending focused time reading verses about God’s love for you might give you more “bang for your minute” when you’re feeling the furthest away from God. Obviously not all the emotional needs of marriage translate directly to feelings for God, but I think you see my point. If you want your love to continue to “burn like blazing fire,” make sure you’re fanning the flames with lots of undivided attention.
Abigail can doesn’t want to discount the happiness of the day her son was born or the day she got married, but those events had other stress and anxiety around them. The proposal was out of the blue with nothing but excitement and a big shiny rock.