When Jesus won’t be your boyfriend {guest post}

Jenn LeBow is one of my favourite people. She is a spinner of stories, and her blog is always full of light and joy and colour. She and her husband (referred to simply as ‘Honey’ on her blog) have lived in many different countries, and I love learning from her global perspective and generous heart. It’s a joy to have her here:

One of the stealthiest secrets of my Christian life is my continual yearning for more. At 17, I heard Bono belt out, “You know I belieeeeve it… but I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.” And I got that. In my Christian circles at the time, though, no one else admitted that they were still looking for anything. Many of them gushed about their love from and for Jesus in a way that made me uncomfortable, almost. Jealous, almost. Like watching your best friend and her greatest-guy-ever boyfriend cook dinner together, laughing and talking. You know it’s a good thing, and you don’t want her boyfriend, but you want something like that for yourself. Only, I did want their Jesus. My Jesus seemed so much more reserved.
But how can you tell your friends who are whooping it up with Jesus that you’re not having as much fun with such a great guy? That you don’t feel the same way they do? You can’t, at least not without bracing yourself for the pity in their eyes as they reassess the sincerity of your faith. Who, after all, among believers, wouldn’t be fully satisfied by Jesus?
Especially when there’s nothing else to be dissatisfied with. I have lived an abundant life for all my life. I have a strong, healthy body. I grew up in a middle-class family, not spoiled but certainly never lacking for anything. I’m white and straight and part of the majority prevailing religion where I grew up. No one abused me as a child, verbally, physically, or sexually. Education and civic duty were important to both sides of my extended family. And for crying out loud, I’m a Texan on top of all that! Jackpot, baby.
By the time I got to college, I’d gotten pretty good at summoning up enough religious enthusiasm. When others spoke glowingly of Jesus, I could, too. I wasn’t exactly faking it; I genuinely felt (and feel) a deep gratitude to, and need for, Jesus. But I didn’t love Him in quite the way it seemed I ought to, and I didn’t feel Him loving me that way. I believed that He did, I just didn’t feel it.
Growing up in the family and church I did, Christianity had both a social outreach aspect and a theological curiosity to it that appealed to me deeply. I thought you should know well the beliefs you profess, and even be willing to discuss the implications of those beliefs in real-life settings. I intuited that faith alone, however, didn’t do anyone much good, and that what we said we believed ought to carry over into our actions. Particularly as we meet those who hurt, who hunger, who need healing, who need help, our beliefs should manifest themselves as respectful, compassionate action. This is where I came from.
Yet as a young adult, I had become so disenchanted by not feeling in love with God, as so many of my friends did, that I walked away from Jesus altogether. It didn’t help that I found myself at graduation with no job, no husband, no plan. “I’ve done things Your way, ” I shouted over my shoulder as I broke up with Jesus. “It’s not working. Now I’m going to see how my way works.”

I’ll spare you stories of the bad dates, the bad hangovers, the bad jobs that followed. My way stunk, frankly, and now I found myself with a real problem: I couldn’t live with Jesus, and I couldn’t live without Him.
Here’s where the answer to my spiritual dilemma got real: in the eyes of a guy who wouldn’t play games with me; who loved me but didn’t let me boss him around; who called me out on my inconsistencies or wrongheaded thinking, but never made me feel judged. Who made me feel as if I was the only one in the world for him.
In other words, someone who made me feel like Jesus was always “supposed” to make me feel.
This is Honey we’re talking about, of course.
Looking back, I can see how dangerous a gamble God took in sending him to me. I could easily have opted to satisfy myself with Honey and never tried to reconnect with Jesus. On the other hand, perhaps God took into account my literalism, my very small understanding of love, and my yearning. Perhaps into that mix, He sent in the right player to win one for the team.
This would be a great time to tell you about the abundant love I have found in Jesus since then. I’d really love to wrap this up in a neat package for you. However, as always, I’ve lived with the same spiritual ache since I came back to Jesus.

Only maybe not exactly the same one. I’m still not a gusher about a lovey-dovey relationship with God, it’s true, but over the years, God has become more and more real to me. I’ve learned to look for His hand in my life. I’ve turned again and again to gratitude, not envy, hoping that one day, I’ll be transformed into a more naturally grateful person.
Most importantly, I accepted an entirely different relationship than I “should” have with Jesus as a gift, not leftover scraps. Living with yearning for more in the midst of my ridiculous physical privilege has developed in me a heartfelt compassion for those whose yearnings are of a more tangible nature: for shelter, food, safety, good health. Not feeling fully satisfied in this world helps me connect with people who suffer from grief, loss, separation, loneliness. Knowing I can’t fix everything helps me rely more on Someone who ultimately will, but it also keeps me on edge to look for ways I can work for more justice in this world right now.
Jesus felt need in this world: hunger, pain, loneliness, betrayal. Some of His prayers speak of longing to be with the Father. He wanted more from Jerusalem: the opportunity to show them mother-hen love. He joyfully took part in eating with “sinners,” teaching in the temple, and celebrating the feasts, but Jesus wasn’t living a carefree life. He also didn’t fix everything that came His way, at least not in the sense that His contemporaries understood. He “let” Lazarus die. He healed many, but sometimes encountered disbelief and in those cases, didn’t force-heal anyone. Wanting to be more like Him might, I realized, mean that I need to come to terms with both abundance and longing.
Dear friends of mine, people whose faith journey I respect and trust, have spoken to me of having a flash of recognition when they heard Jason Gray sing the lyrics, “It’s gotta be more like falling in love than something to believe in, more like losing my heart than giving my allegiance…” And I agree that Jesus relates with them in that way. I’m even to the point of rejoicing with them that He does.
But He doesn’t with me. And I’m still learning to rejoice in the way we continue on, together but with some longings unfilled.

Jenn LeBow would love to say she spends her time peacefully drinking tea, reading books, and calmly suggesting minor tweaks in behavior from her nearly-perfect children. Unfortunately, life isn’t always that simple. In between all the craziness of life as a wife, mom of four wonderful (but not nearly-perfect) children, and follower of Jesus, though, Jenn does squeeze in her fair share of tea and books. Living in Havana, Cuba, Jenn blogs at www.jennlebow.com and tweets @hobwas.

Over to you:

  • What characterises your relationship with Jesus?
  • “I need to come to terms with both abundance and longing.” Can you relate to this?

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12 Responses to When Jesus won’t be your boyfriend {guest post}

  1. Liz Eph 11th September, 2013 at 9:30 am #

    I think that expecting romance all the time is a very nineteenth century escapist dream. It’s a nice extra, but for most relationships in most parts of the world through most of history it’s a luxury. Notice it’s the man who has to love his wife, and even there the word isn’t eros or even a word that means romance but the very pragmatic agape which is the love expected of all christians. Many women have to think first about ensuring themselves a stable future in cultures where women don’t get paid for their work.

    Many of us don’t feel that much. Others feel an awful lot. There has to be a place for all of us. Maybe we can gain some measure of freedom of feelings and some people definitely need to get all that under control !

    However I think in the Bible God does introduce the idea of romance in how he speaks to us. It comes in the song of songs of course, but also in the prophets which is pretty ironic. They’ve been a chosen people behaving badly and are about to get violently chucked out of the promised land – and lo and behold there are these lovely romantic bits in Isaiah and Zephenaiah – reminding us that’s how he thinks about us all along and we got hung up on law – well, not doing it, and the rituals.

    I think the same happened in protestantism a bit. We got a bit hung up on being right, truth, hard work and the movement to bring romance into worship has had a prophetic feel to it. BUT it’s only part of the story and to make it the whole story is to get into and equal unbalance the other way. I was part of that generation who were thrilled to get a little bit of freedom and feeling in worship but I didn’t want it to pendulum swing to the opposite !

    I got caught on something similar but on the other end of the pendulum swing. I came under condemnation because I don’t read the Bible every day. I just don’t manage it. I can’t cope with a new idea every day. Until there were the Jeff Lucas daily notes I couldn’t bear them either. But when I do read it I read a whole lot, study it and then think it through – which can take months. There has to be a place for both. Diversity of approaches should be seen as a strength in protestantism instead of clamping down on it.

    Condemnation is not a sign of the Holy Spirit at work.

    Thank you for so honestly sharing Jenn.

    • Tanya 14th September, 2013 at 11:06 am #

      Thanks Liz, and thanks especially for sharing your Bible-reading habits – I found it really helpful. 🙂

  2. Mark Allman 10th September, 2013 at 8:34 pm #

    It is a struggle at times to know I stand blessed but wanting to be blown away by more in the sense I know there is more; sometimes wondering what “abundant life really means”. I don’t want to love God because I am blessed… I want to love Him because of who He is not what He does for me. I hope that the choices I make are not in effort to manipulate but in effort to be that which I believe I should be. Still I believe great love should produce overflowing abundance in life and I want that.

    • Jenn LeBow 10th September, 2013 at 10:00 pm #

      Mark, thanks for your great points. I agree with you that great love should produce overflowing abundance. I want that, too. In the best example I personally have of generous love (though still faint compared to the love of God), which is love in a family unit, I experience an ebb & flow of that abundant feeling. Some days it’s powerful and I do feel like I’m overflowing with love. Other days I do what is expected of me to maintain the status quo. I wish I could be at my peak at giving and receiving love every day, but I don’t question whether our family still loves one another on the “down” days. I’m not sure that my interpretation is correct (there’s certainly plenty of precedent with me being wrong!), but for now I am comfortable with having some days when I feel less blessed or loved or close to God than I logically know myself to be. I’d love to hear more of your thoughts on this!

  3. A fan in the Fort 10th September, 2013 at 3:50 pm #

    Your insights are comforting and wise. It seems that I am expected more and more to fit into one mold considered correct by others. It is refreshing to read the thoughtful description of your spiritual journey. How to blend change with core values is important and takes lots of work. I appreciate your honesty and the wonderful way you weave strong messages with your words.

    • Jenn LeBow 10th September, 2013 at 9:51 pm #

      Thank you for your encouraging words. I hope we will never take on the role that others try to put us in as “the” correct one. That role works well for some; it doesn’t for me, or you either, apparently. I like what you said about blending change and core values.

  4. Alice 10th September, 2013 at 2:18 pm #

    Wow. Exceptional timing. Thank you. x

  5. Helen 10th September, 2013 at 8:35 am #

    So very true, God is God, He is worthy, He is majesty, I could go on… He is our all in all and we must revere Him as such, not as our best mate…or boyfriend!

    • Jenn LeBow 10th September, 2013 at 9:48 pm #

      Thanks, Helen! I think one of my favourite things about God is that He created such a wide range of personalities in us, and is able to meet the needs of each personality type. For me (and it sounds like for you as well), the gushy love isn’t a good fit. I’m thankful that that doesn’t leave us without any options when it comes to faith in Christ, and I’m also thankful that my friends who do receive His love in that way have done so in a genuine manner. Your comment made me smile today. Thanks!

  6. Diana Trautwein 10th September, 2013 at 7:14 am #

    Wow, do I get this one. Thanks, Tanya, for consistently inviting such stellar guest posts here. And thanks, Jenn, for your honesty and your heart, which bleeds through every word. I, too, am not completely comfortable with the ‘boyfriend’ language in so much contemporary Christianity, especially some of the music and a lot of the ‘prayer’ language bandied about in many places online. I do not question anyone’s sincerity – I just can’t quite relate. And you know what? I think that is just fine. I actually like the biblical picture of Jesus as my elder brother and my high priest. I love the way Jesus interacts with women in scripture – not one bit ‘romantic,’ but so deeply insightful and loving. And that is pretty much how my own experience of faith has unfolded over my lifetime journey with him. And I LOVE the hold-it-in-tension contrast between abundance and longing – yes! Exactly. Thank you so much.

    • Jenn LeBow 10th September, 2013 at 9:42 pm #

      Diana, I appreciate your comments. It’s encouraging to me to hear that others have experienced a similar relationship with Christ – not because I don’t want that for anyone else if I can’t have it, but because it always seems to help us stand stronger when we hear we are not the only one who _____ (fill in the blank). Your words often touch me deeply, so I am thankful you took the time to comment!


  1. When Jesus Won’t Be Your Boyfriend | Hang On, Baby, We're Almost… Somewhere - 10th September, 2013

    […] am honored to appear on Tanya Marlow’s wonderful blog, Thorns and Gold, today. You can read the rest of my post here. Tanya has several intriguing series, including one about God and Suffering, running. Please stop […]

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