I play a bit of a flirtatious game with my husband, Chresten, on a consistent basis. Perhaps it's the nature of his frequent travels and my fear of becoming too easily isolated, too independent, or just more needy of his affection at times. But I often tease him when he's home or over the phone by saying, "It's too bad you don't love me as much as I love you!" "Do you love me?". "But do you like me?" "Are you wild and crazy about me?" Unashamedly, I'm clearly communicating: "I need and desire continual affirmation of your love and desire for me." And after 18+ years of marriage, 27+ years of knowing one another, 18+ years of road-beating ministry, two children, some valleys and mountains conquered, and menopause just a breath away, that's most certainly warranted!
I don't have valid cause to actually question his love for me. This guy was rather persistent in his quest to win me for life. After dating long distance in high school, I "broke his heart" to free myself for the full experience of independence as a freshman in college. After all, Chresten was attending a college over seven hours northeast of my college of choice. In the age of land lines, snail mail, word processors and electric typewriters, the connection would be strained and weighted.
Although we remained good friends, his heart apparently never fully recovered, and when I transferred midway to a college only 45 minutes from his, the phone calls increased. I was determined to maintain only friendship. Owning the shameless black-and-white perspective I had relied upon for my 19 years of life, I shut him down to a place of pity from my own family...for HIM. It was at the urging of my mother that I consented to actually pray about a future with Chresten Tomlin. And I did. I prayed against it with all my heart.
But God prevailed and Chresten was the valiant winner of my heart and my loyalty. And my love for him only grows by the day. No, it hasn't always been a rose petal-lined trail, each mile we've traveled. There have been some amazing days where I blissfully looked about, thinking, "how could I not love this life and this man?!" And then there have been some trying, heart-wrenching days when I sucked carpet and thought, "why did I ever get married? I am far too selfish for such a thing! And what happened to HIM?!" (Surely you've been in both places, as well?)
As I look back and then look ahead, I find myself pondering the scales and balances of this beautifully simple but complex life called 'marriage and ministry' and know in my gut: I'm far more blessed than any person I know. I simply cannot describe it to you. We have walked through tough places. But we learned something from them. We have known need but never known hunger. We have fallen short but have always pursued obedience. We have made mistakes but have had many successes. We may fall short of man's idea of success but have felt the Father's favor shine brightly upon us.
And in all of this I hear my Heavenly Father saying, flirtatiously, "It's too bad you'll never love Me as much as I love you!" "Are you wild and crazy about Me?" "Oh, but do you like Me?"
The liking is just as important as the loving part. In my estimation, the liking is what creates the joy for the journey. This is cultivated in relationships because sometimes circumstances and choices in behavior greatly diminish or increase the way we feel about our spouse, or even about our Father, right? Have you ever felt "put out" with God? Perhaps it feels like He abandoned you or didn't answer the prayer you passionately and desperately prayed in a timely fashion. Or the people you trusted and served with a wide-open soul and heart crushed you when you least expected it.
And, in those painful desert experiences, you just don't really like God.
What I've come to realize, after multiple opportunities to learn it, is that there is always a rebound when we are open to it. And it's likely that, despite our loyalties to out-stubborn the Lord, while praying against the decision we know He truly desires us to make, out of our deep love for Him, we relent. Out of our deep love for Him we learn to like Him and His plan, once again, as we faithfully surrender each step in obedience.
Your own love story with God the Father may resemble my wrestle to surrender to Chresten's chronic phone calls and visits to eat at my mother's table. You may be going along, determined to keep things on your terms, and keeping His prodding at bay. But He is passionately pursuing your liking, your loving, and your surrender to His arms and His will. Whatever that may be for you, I'm anxious to hear the final chapter. I can tell you--surrender to His plan always brings about a peace that passes all understanding and a reward that keeps on paying.
Could I press you today to take just a few moments and verbalize your love--and your like--for the Heavenly Father? He desires to abide in the praises of His people. Like the psalmist, may we continually voice our affections for Him.
Psalms 63:1-8: "O God, You are my God; I earnestly search for You. My souls thirsts for You; my whole body longs for You in this parched and weary land where there is no water. I have seen You in Your sanctuary and gazed upon Your power and glory. Your unfailing love is better than life itself; how I praise You! I will praise You as long as I live, lifting up my hands to You in prayer. You satisfy me more than the richest feast. I will praise You with songs of joy. I lie awake thinking of You, meditating on You through the night. Because You are my helper, I sing for joy in the shadow of Your wings. I cling to You; Your strong right hand holds me securely."
Bridgette Tomlin is a wife, mother of two girls, and 'minister of the et cetera' alongside her husband, Chresten from Tulsa, Oklahoma. She loves a great cup of steaming hot tea, the blessing of quiet spaces where she can think now and again, and the art of a handwritten note. While she's a vocalist, speaker, writer, and admin, Bridgette's heart is fully engaged in connecting every woman to their God-given call and gifts with authentic candor. You can follow her blog from their ministry site at www.ctministries.com.