I just watched episode sixteen of Ore Monogatari, and I was hit yet again by Takeo’s love for Yamato. It is passionate, spontaneous, and faithful.
Everything she does makes his heart exclaim, “I love you!”
She blows on her food longer than anyone else. “I love you!”
She presents food she made and says tada! “I love you!”
The repetition is a little comic, but it’s also touching. They’ve been in a relationship for months now, and Takeo’s passion for Yamato only grows stronger. It’s only natural for him to sprint to see her, to remain loyal, to spontaneously (albeit only mentally) shout his love.
Isn’t that what passionate love for the Lord is like?
There was a time when I felt like that. I saw the sun on the grass and bushes lining the sidewalk outside my dorm, and praise for the Creator welled to my front of my mind. “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good!”
The chapel speaker’s painful story brought tears to my eyes, and I thought of the One who sustains and redeems. “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever!”
I read about God’s justice, vengeance, mercy, compassion… “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever,” a mighty, jealous, unfathomable love!
Joy and wonder spilled from my heart. The words from Psalm 136 became both their vessel and their inspiration. It didn’t matter if I was running in the rain or skipping over warm pavement to class. When I mourned, laughed, or studied God’s Word… I can’t say the praise was constant, but it was common. Sometimes, I was as giddy about Jesus as some girls get about their crush.
That was a couple years ago. Today, when I leave my house for class or church, the praise doesn’t come so naturally. I may remember to say “Thank you for the lovely day” as I don my sunglasses. But not always. And when it finally rains? I think about how clean my windshield will get.
Where did my passion go? I often feel adrift, unfocused… and I know why. The moments I remember above came from a time when I regularly, purposefully read and studied my Bible. In addition to journaling, Bible homework, and other reading, I had a notebook in which I re-wrote Psalm 136 repeatedly, in an attempt to memorize it. I studied multiple translations of it, too, and sat in awe of the Lord God, both because of what the psalm said about him and how the poet wrote it. This project didn’t last as long as I intended, and I never finished memorizing the psalm. But it focused me in the short term, and it strengthened my picture of God in the long term. As I journaled about what I studied and memorized, and regularly reflected on other sources of wisdom, I grew–and my relationship with the Lord kept me grounded. Outside sources helped: my class times and on-campus status helped me get to chapel. I had a roommate, so I went to bed earlier to avoid disturbing her–which made it easier to get up and journal, though it still didn’t happen every day. Seeing her journal on occasion and talking with her about life encouraged me to prioritize my faith. It was drudgery at times, and I wasn’t as consistent as many, but the result? A passion that would burst into praise.
This summer, I had very little routine to keep me accountable. I was caught up in a whirl of work, volunteering, and Netflix. My attempts to spend more time in the Word were weak… it hasn’t felt good. I miss God. Yes, the Holy Spirit is with me always. But when I don’t consistently draw near to him, I start to feel empty. The absence of spontaneous praise is symptomatic of my neglect. If I were otherwise regular in my devotions, this absence would compel me back. Like Takeo sprints to Yamato–whether to apologize or share excitement–I’d force time into my day to come back to the Lord. But when I’ve been ignoring that compulsion for more than a day or two, it becomes harder to return. I feel the ache for God, and I know he deserves my worship, but it’s hard.
There’s more to the battle here. I didn’t realize it until I processed my reaction to another part of the same Ore Monogatari!! episode. Romantic love serves as a great analogy for our relationship with God, so it’s no surprise that Takeo’s love for Yamato spurred multiple reflections on my part. Here’s the second: Takeo’s faithfulness.
Yamato’s friends suggested to her that Takeo’s female classmates could steal him away. To Yamato, that’s not far fetched–it’s hard for her to believe so few girls are interested in her amazing boyfriend. Takeo tries to reassure her by saying that he’s not popular with girls. That’s not very reassuring, really. If their relationship is only safe because he doesn’t have any other options, she’s not going to feel very loved, let alone secure.
Of course, that’s not the case, and Takeo finally finds words to express his feelings after Saijou confesses. He explains he can’t respond in kind, not just because he already has a girlfriend, so it would be wrong, but because he loves Yamato, and only Yamato. No one else has a chance beyond friendship. Even when he hangs out with Suna and Saijou, he keeps in touch with Yamato, making plans to connect later.
He loves her too much to even consider anyone else.
I have never been in a romantic relationship. I don’t know what it’s like to consistently carve time out of my week just for one person. Even when I’ve had something close to a crush, I observed other young bachelors, casually and automatically taking mental notes on their eligibility. That’s cooled down lately, but that’s because of a changed perspective, not because I’m in love.
The closest I have is my relationship with God. I could say I love him faithfully because I have no choice. There aren’t any other all-powerful deities or saviors to choose from. Unlike the Israelites, I have no desire to copy a golden calf design from the next country over. But that’s not proof of my love.
I might not be tempted to worship something else, or to give credit for God’s great work to something else, but that doesn’t mean I’m faithful. God demands attention. He knows what’s good for us, and that’s to know him and celebrate him. When I get so caught up in lesser things I forget how long it’s been since my last devotional time, I’m being unfaithful with my time. As a result, I find myself in a less healthy state. My perspective gets warped, and I associate devotional time with boredom and struggling to focus, even though I know it’s actually very fulfilling. In fact, I’m comparable to the TV spouses who use work, friends, and drinks to avoid going home, and then complain about the lack of passion in their marriage. When I don’t actively love God, our relationship suffers, and I suffer. It’s similar to what would happen if Takeo spent so much time and energy on other friends, his only contact with Yamato was a few texts over the span of a month.
Takeo can be pulled away from Yamato even if no one else seems romantically interested in him.
I can cheat on God even though he has no rivals for the position of “my Lord God.”
A relationship isn’t secure because there are no other outlets for your time and affection. It’s secure because you love each other, and you faithfully act on that, without letting other things or people get in the way.
I look at how God loves me: not because he has no other options. He loves plenty of other people, and many of them are more faithful servants than I am. Yet he’s still passionate about each of us, about the Church as a whole, and yes, still about Israel as a whole. He’s God, not human, so he can faithfully love billions of people. He makes that choice… and he requires each of us to make a choice as well.
Takeo loves Yamato because she’s Yamato. Everything about her triggers a response of love. The more time he spends with her, the stronger his feelings become.
I don’t love God because he’s the only god. No, it’s because he’s the Lord God, Yahweh. He’s wise, forgiving, fierce, frightening, loving, compassionate, creative. He’s the holy, all mighty ruler, but he leads as a servant as well. For all this and much, much more, I should love him “with all my heart, all my soul, all my mind” (Matt. 22:37). I want to know more about him, as he calls me to.
It’s hard. Regular readers may remember that discipline doesn’t come easily to me. Every time there’s a change in routine, the struggle intensifies. This summer I’m planning a routine that prioritizes Bible in the morning, above hair time (slightly inspired by Paul’s words on hair versus spiritual beauty). Devoting regular time to God’s Word and to reflection is the best way I know to revive a passionate, faithful love that results in spontaneous worship.
I like to use “I” language and share from personal experience to help me avoid preaching. But I hope you will reflect with me this week: What does it mean to faithfully love and serve God? When was the last time you felt passionate about God? What was different about your habits at that time? Are you honestly being faithful?