It is so easy to run to something when you know you’ll get something out of it. But that’s not how relationships work, most especially our relationship with God.
It’s late. You’re in your hotel room, wishing you had a snack. You grab $1.25 and you head to the vending machine at the end of the hallway. You eye the M&M’s and insert your money. You click C-4. The next thing you know, you’re holding your bag of M&M’s and savoring every piece.
It was that easy.
We seek easy. In a world of instant comfort and gratification, the acceptance of anything less than seems unthinkable. While that isn’t inherently bad, it has done its part in making humans selfish, impatient, and demanding. And when the solutions of this world do not fix that which we are seeking, we turn to the One we know could help first and foremost. And what do we often do? We treat Him just the same as a vending machine.
A Vending Machine God
In my premature faith, my conversations with God sounded a lot like a wish list. Kind of like the $1.25 I would put in the vending machine, I asked God for what I wanted in exchange for something. It could have been an additional prayer, a kind deed, a promise for the future, etc. Whatever it was that I was going to give, I assumed my wishes would be granted in return – just like getting those M&M’s I put my money in for. It made my relationship with Him and my incentives purely selfish. I would turn to God for what I can get from Him, not for the love that He readily gives. I wanted answers to my problems, healing for that which hurt, and for Him to grant all these desires in my heart that I thought would make life better. I thought, “if you really exist and you really loved me, you would do this for me.” And maybe you’ve felt something similar.
Before I truly took the time to learn and to grow my relationship with God, my faith felt like a faith of ultimatums. Sadly, this is not rare. How many times have we heard ourselves or those dear to us consider leaving the faith if the consolation they were seeking did not come to fruition? If our prayers aren’t answered, we assume God does not care for us and we seek help elsewhere. In my own life, I’ve tried this transactional approach and when it didn’t work, I ran in the opposite direction. And when times got hard again, I repeated this vicious cycle. It’s a hard reality to hear and to grapple with, yet it is so humanly real. We have been trained by society to think like this. We believe in a vending machine God, and that sets us up for a weak faith. It wasn’t until I heard this phrase in a homily that made me realize I’d been approaching it all wrong:
“We are called to love the God of consolations, not the consolations of God.” - St. Francis de Sales
It is so easy to run to something when we know we’ll get something out of it. But that’s not how relationships should work, most especially our relationship with God. Of course God wants us to come to Him and tell Him about our desires and with our requests, but He also wants an authentic relationship with us – to be fully known and loved for simply being. He wants to be known not for what He can give, but for who He is. He is not our vending machine of desires.
Think about yourself. In any relationship, you want to be solely loved for being you, not for what you can offer. We want to be enough and we should be. In fact, we are enough. Any relationship that leaves you otherwise will have you feeling hurt and inadequate. It is the opposite of genuine connection and love. It’s these very relationships that we are guided to step away from. And yet, it is often representational of our view of God.
God wants a relationship with you, no benefits. Sure, God gives consolations, but it’s about loving Him even when we are not given what we ask for. It’s when we take the time to explore who God is that we realize we don’t always need the consolations, we plainly just need Him. He is the comfort, the shoulder to cry on, the gentle embrace. He is the very thing we are subconsciously pleading for. Just as St. Augustine famously alludes, our hearts are restless until they rest in Him. When we discover the peace of resting in who He is, by His grace our faith will be unshakeable.
Though difficult, we must learn to seek His face before we seek His hands. It is then that we understand that the outcome does not determine His goodness. However, there will always be temptations in our lives to treat God as a vending machine, even after our genuine attempts to alter this mindset. We must continue to strive and make conscious decisions everyday to love Him wholeheartedly. So with that, I would like to leave you with some of the lyrics from the song “More Than Anything” by Natalie Grant that keep me striving. Let them sink in, making this song your anthem of love:
“Help me want the healer more than the healing, Help me want the savior more than the saving, Help me want the giver more than the giving, Oh help me want you Jesus more than anything” - Natalie Grant (More Than Anything)