It was Saturday night. I was sitting with thousands of people watching a Rugby game in New Zealand, where I live, and musing at the stark differences between myself (an American mom), and the New Zealand mother behind me.
The conversation went a little something like this…
Me to my son Max: "Yell loud buddy! Louder. Scream as loud as you want! ‘Go Highlanders!’”
New Zealand mom behind me to her son, after he had been screaming and cheering: "Josh, Shhhhh. Be quiet. Not so loud."
Josh: "It IS a rugby game you know."
Mom: "It doesn't matter. You are too loud. Shhhhh."
Now, I'm the first to admit, I'm loud, emotional and passionate – the classic American stereotype. And truth be known, this Mom is most likely reserved, quiet and cautious – the classic New Zealand stereotype. I could be wrong, but this I know for sure: people are different. Not bad, just different.
Sometimes you and I relate to God a particular way. We can feel close to Him, known by Him and loved by Him when engaging in certain activities. For instance, you might connect with the Lord by listening to worship music, studying your Bible in depth, serving people, being an activist for what is on God's heart, or simply being quiet or getting active in nature.
It's easy to think our way is the only ‘right’ way to connect with God. And sadly, it can be even easier to have a narrow mind and judge or look down on someone who does it differently. Most of the time we are like this because the way someone else experiences God, may not even remind us there is a God.
For example, I don't experience or feel close to God at all in nature. When someone comes back from a walk or bike ride and says they met with God, heard Him, knew they were loved or were just at peace, I have to admit I have thought, ‘What?! How can that be a significant time with God, or an investment in to developing your relationship with Him?’ Ironically, the reverse is also true. Anyone who draws close to God through nature might observe my style of feeling tight with the Lord, and think, ‘She’s crazy and can’t possibly really know Him.’
Again, this is what I do know: People are different. Not bad, just different.
Let me share with you what I am learning… Firstly, the way in which people connect with God is not mine to judge. However it is good to be aware there are unique ways people relate to the Lord, and this fact only highlights that people are created different. Not bad, just different. Secondly, we need to learn to honor others and trust God enough to celebrate individual connection and experience with Him.
For those of you who feel closest to God in less conventional ways or situations, be encouraged. Be thankful you see and experience a part of God when you are running or playing sports or painting or serving – whatever your expression of intimacy. And don't try to fit into someone else's way of connecting, even if you admire them.
Relationships are established by learning about each other, and how to trust and be trusted. We do this as we spend time together. Relationship with God is the same, but here is the kicker: He is always trustworthy. He is also consistently available, no matter what. As you get to know God and learn who He is and who you are, embrace the moments you hear Him, sense Him, just plain know He's there – and enjoy Him.
Then maybe, just maybe, as you listen to others, try searching for how they experience God. Delight in their diversity. Celebrate their encounters. Be pure of heart and free of criticism. Encourage every little moment someone sees God, hears even the faintest whispers, and feels loved and accepted. For in that moment, my guess is, you too will experience God in a new way.
"You're blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.” – Matthew 5:8 (The Message)