What does it mean to have a ‘personal relationship’ with God?

Could someone spell out for me in simple English what it means to have a ‘personal relationship’ with God, what this looks like in practice and how you know when you have one? Is it even part of Catholic theology?

I live with a serious mental illness and don’t often feel God’s presence. Am I doing something wrong? I love God and Jesus with all my heart.

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I think it’s more than a feeling. Continue to pray for faith, hope and CHARITY. Courage, God loves you

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The terminology “personal relationship with God” is from Protestantism. Used in the evangelical Protestant sense, it is not proper to Catholics to make such a claim. Implied is that your Faith must be accompanied (or proven) by feelings and a specific, remembered spiritual “experience.” In effect, this makes one’s faith in God dependent upon man or the one who holds it, a most prideful assumption!
It is Christ Who is the “Person” in the “personal” relationship, not you! Read St. John 15:16. Our Lord Himself states as much. To the Protestant, the time at which one commenced having a “personal relationship with God” is synonymous with the phrases, “was born again, accepted Christ, was saved, took Christ for my personal Lord and Savior.” Catholics indeed have all of these, and more, namely, actual grace bestowed upon us at Baptism.
If you were Baptized in infancy as most cradle Catholics, it is not something you consciously remember, nonetheless, Baptism forgives the stain of Original Sin and grants you a personal relationship with God. You can rest assure that you indeed have one, that you’re born again, saved (from sin while in a state of grace), and so on.
Please study your Catechism on Baptism, what it is, what happens, its effects, how to maintain its graces. If you have tarnished that relationship through sin, go to Confession.
If you wish to be reassured, make an appointment with the priest to discuss and pray about your uneasiness and questions. He will be more than willingly to assist you to make a good Confession.
As for mental illness, that is among the many trials to which humans are subject, that Our Lord assures us cannot separate us from God. Read St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, chapter 8, (towards the end, not sure which verses!). If you lack “feelings” don’t let that stop you from praying, hearing Mass, receiving the Sacraments. If we depended upon our feelings for everything, imagine what would happen! Last week I felt furious at my nephew for how he treated his mother, my sister. The thought occurred to me to come in the night and destroy the bicycle I gave him. Did I do it? Of course not. At the same time, I lacked deep sorrow for my elderly mother confined to the hospital. Did I fail to pray for her and call her? No. I did not go by my feelings, or lack thereof.
If you wish to study further, there is a sermon by Fr. Chad Ripperger on Sensus Fidelium YouTube channel dealing with this topic. You could search for it.
I will say a Hail Mary for you tonight.

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It is a great question!
Catholics don’t often use the phrase “personal relationship with Jesus,” like some Protestants do, but they certainly believe it. We desire to become disciples of Jesus in the same way the Gospels show us His disciples. That is, daily we follow Him, take up our Cross, and strive to know, love, and serve Him above all things. To do so means we, primarily, have to pray to Him daily, accept His will in our lives and seek to do it, read and meditate on His word, and stay close to the sacraments of the Catholic church that He established to give us grace to stay close to Him.
Mental illness or any other type of illness is no barrier whatsoever to loving God and being very close to Him. In fact, Jesus tells us repeatedly that He is especially close to the suffering, the outcast, the lonely, the poor.
To pray daily, meditate on God’s word in the Bible, seek God’s will for your life, and use the sacraments (if Catholic), is doing what you can to have a “personal relationship with Jesus.” Everything else is God’s will, and He will manifest Himself in your life in His good timing.
Finally, don’t rely on feelings. Many people are very close to God but feel very little. In fact, God often withholds “feeling” His presence in order to purify faith, hope, and charity. You might want to read Mother Teresa’s journal to understand how a great saint “felt” nothing for years and years, as she well describes.

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I have a personal relationship with God because I talk to him all the time and I know he’s there, present and working in my life. As others have said, feelings are a bad indicator of whether God is present. It is normal for people, including very holy, saintly people, to have periods of time (often called “Spiritual dryness”) where they feel God is distant or even that he has abandoned them. There are a lot of reasons a person can feel this way, including stress, grief/ loss, or mental illness. It is important to keep believing God is still there and still loves and cares about you even when he seems distant or hidden or is not making himself known through consoling feelings or communication. This is difficult but as mentioned by someone else, St. Mother Teresa herself went through this for years.

I also experience my personal relationship with God through my relationships with other people and with God’s creation. When Jesus ascended to Heaven, we were called to become Jesus’ eyes and hands and so forth in this world. When we interact with others, it is a chance for us to “be like Jesus” to them, something at which we all no doubt fail miserably a lot of the time because we’re lowly humans with faults, but we can try to be a little kinder or a little more helpful or humble. Jesus says when we do something for the least of our brothers, we’re doing it for him, so helping someone in need is in a sense having a personal relationship with Jesus.

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All relationships depend on communication.

Talk to God by prayer, and set aside time to do this.

Listen to God by Bible reading and reading of solid spiritual writings.

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The term is definitely within Catholic theology. Here are two (of the three) uses of the term in the universal Catechism of the Catholic Church:

299 Because God creates through wisdom, his creation is ordered: “You have arranged all things by measure and number and weight.”<Wis 11:20> The universe, created in and by the eternal Word, the “image of the invisible God”, is destined for and addressed to man, himself created in the “image of God” and called to a personal relationship with God.<Col 1:15, Gen 1:26> Our human understanding, which shares in the light of the divine intellect, can understand what God tells us by means of his creation, though not without great effort and only in a spirit of humility and respect before the Creator and his work.<Cf. Ps 19:2-5; Job 42:3> Because creation comes forth from God’s goodness, it shares in that goodness - “And God saw that it was good. . . very good”<Gen 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 31>- for God willed creation as a gift addressed to man, an inheritance destined for and entrusted to him. On many occasions the Church has had to defend the goodness of creation, including that of the physical world.<Cf. DS 286; 455-463; 800; 1333; 3002>

and:

2558 “Great is the mystery of the faith!” The Church professes this mystery in the Apostles’ Creed (Part One) and celebrates it in the sacramental liturgy (Part Two), so that the life of the faithful may be conformed to Christ in the Holy Spirit to the glory of God the Father (Part Three). This mystery, then, requires that the faithful believe in it, that they celebrate it, and that they live from it in a vital and personal relationship with the living and true God. This relationship is prayer.

The first Catechism reference shows how a “personal relationship” is even possible, between the eternal Almighty God and us - poor, weak, often sinful creatures that we are. This amazing relationship is possible because God made us in His divine image - in the image of God - so that we can come into His holy relationship of love, the very bond that is the union of God Himself, a union of three Persons in One.

The second reference tells us how we can experience this “personal relationship” - it is in prayer. We are called to grow in prayer, and when we do, we can begin to experience His Presence, His Love, in the divine union which is prayer. (St. John Vianney wrote, “Prayer is nothing other than union with God.” - an article on this)

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In Catholicism it’s what communion is all about. It’s to know Him; the “knowledge of God” is what Jesus came to reveal, the full knowledge of the true God so that we may be reconciled with Him as we come to believe in Him, and so place our trust/hope in Him, and, ultimately and most importantly, come to love Him. This is a personal and direct knowledge even if not perfectly complete in this life, not simply “head knowledge”:
For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.“ 1 Cor 13:12

“Now” In the above verse is this life, “then” is the next life. Our faith, itself, as a supernatural gift, is said to be a sort of dim foretaste of that future “vision” of God where we meet Him “face to face”. And that faith is meant to grow as we continue to walk with God and exercise that faith; it can be more or less deep and strong. Consider these other verses that teach about this knowledge which is the basis of faith, of our relationship with God IOW:

No longer will they teach their neighbor,
or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest,”
declares the Lord.
“For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more.”
Jer 31:34, part of the New Covenant prophecy of Jer 31:32-34

Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.
John 17:3

This knowledge desires and means communion with God. The Eucharist is our sacramental way of acknowledging and experiencing this gift of Himself while prayer is the regular means of communicating with Him in seeking and In talking as a friend. But all of this will continue to be a struggle in this life, but a good one where, hopefully, with the help of His grace we grow nearer and nearer to Him and nearer to alignment with His will.

But there are many distractions and obstacles and temptations away from this union which man was made for, not the least of which is our own pride which has more to do with fear of man than fear of God. We don’t necessarily even want to know God. By his sin of disobedience Adam preferred Himself to God as the catechism teaches, effectively dismissing God as his God. We’re here to come to learn how wrong Adam was, and how much we need God.

Anyway, the ultimate goal of our faith is to come to love Him with our whole heart, soul, mind and strength, to fulfill the Greatest Commandment. To truly know God is to love Him in this way and to love Him in this way is to achieve our full justice, righteous, perfection: to reach our purpose, our teleios. But it will always involve struggle, until we’re fully and freely “bound” to Him as the catechism also teaches.

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He is our Creator, our Father, our Everything. We should have Him on our mind, in our heart and speak of Him with every breath we take. We are nothing without Him, so He should always be first in our lives. In other words wake up with Him, think nothing throughout the day without thinking of Him first, do nothing without it being His will, plan nothing without considering what He wants of you, and most importantly give Him praise, glory, honor, adoration in everything and before closing your eyes each night telling Him how much you love Him. God loves you more than you love yourself and He knows you better than you know yourself. He knit you in your mother’s womb. He knew you from before you were born. He should be your whole world. Even if you were the last and only person in the universe you are not alone because you have God. Talk to Him always and spend time just with Him often.

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Always pray from your heart. :heart:

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Prayer

Catechism of the Catholic Church

2558 “Great is the mystery of the faith!” The Church professes this mystery in the Apostles’ Creed ( Part One ) and celebrates it in the sacramental liturgy ( Part Two ), so that the life of the faithful may be conformed to Christ in the Holy Spirit to the glory of God the Father ( Part Three ). This mystery, then, requires that the faithful believe in it, that they celebrate it, and that they live from it in a vital and personal relationship with the living and true God. This relationship is prayer.

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Sometimes, one’s faith is accompanied by feelings and a spiritual experience. For example - here’s a (Catholic) description of what an ACTs retreat is all about:

“The weekend can be a powerful and enduring personal conversion experience. Activities conducted during the weekend give Retreatants a better understanding of the significance and importance of prayer, Liturgy, the Sacraments, Scripture, community, service and healing. It is a powerful community building experience for Sacred Heart parish. The Goal of the Retreat is to deepen one’s personal relationship with Jesus Christ and His Church.”

Reformed Protestants are more concerned with action (no pun intended) that accompany one’s personal relationship with Christ, rather than feelings (than perhaps other Protestant denominations). From the Westminster Confession of Faith:

“These good works, done in obedience to God’s commandments, are the fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith: and by them believers manifest their thankfulness, strengthen their assurance, edify their brethren, adorn the profession of the gospel, stop the mouths of the adversaries, and glorify God, whose workmanship they are, created in Christ Jesus thereunto, that, having their fruit unto holiness, they may have the end, eternal life.”

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Thanks everyone for your replies which have helped me immensely.

I can see now that I do have a personal relationship with God and Jesus.

At times my mental illness confuses me by having me believe that if I’m not in a permanent state of ecstasy then I am not in relationship. I suffer from abandonment issues and these don’t help.

I have reminded myself that God didn’t speak to Elijah in the wind, earthquake or fire, but in a still small voice.

I will keep up my spiritual disciplines.

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Keep in mind that everything the church does is encouraging us to deeply personalize our faith, to see God as intensely interested in us personally, and not just liking us in a vague way as part of a large crowd of people he loves. Think about the sacraments. The body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus actually entering into your physical body. Think about being prayed over to personally receive one of the three members of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. Think about Jesus telling you you’re forgiven personally and directly right through the priest. And as others have already said very well, just having the opportunity to talk to him all the time, and for him to drop thoughts into your own mind as well.

He’s omnipresent, so that means, he never takes us eyes off you personally, he never stops listening to you personally, he enjoys being part of your own individual life. If we had full confidence in that, we would feel like his favorite all the time. I don’t think any of us can fully see just how crazy he is about each of us individually, just as a baby does not understand the fullness of a good parents love for them. That’s the direction I’m striving in.

In addition to our wonderful memorized prayers, I pray in my own words a lot, and I often write them down in a journal in the form of a letter to God. I love doing this, it really helps me pray in a deeper way.

He seems maddeningly absent at times. But that is a perception problem on my part. The fact is, he loves me, the fact is, he’s with me. I believe these facts over my own feelings.

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Note they say “Can be”. Not that it necessarily “Will be”.

There are plenty of Catholics who find the type of experience pushed by an ACTs retreat to seem inauthentic or simply not their preference. Charismatic Catholicism in general also puts a big emphasis on feelings and emotions. This works great for some people, but for many of us it feels fake and like people are just reacting to the fact that they’re expected to have feelings rather than actually having the experience of the Spirit. There’s also the risk that the person who comes to the retreat and feels nothing will get a negative impression as a result, perhaps that they are somehow rejected by God or that a different church might give them the “feels” they seek.

I personally wouldn’t have anything to do with an ACTs retreat.

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My younger daughter shares your illness; and I am aware of the difficulties- and fears - it can bring. It has been said that a relationship with the Beloved is less one of ‘feeling’ or emotion, and more one of trust and certainty…even - and perhaps especially - in our darkest moments. We can be certain of His presence; of His abiding love. Remember Him; He will remember you.

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I had to chuckle at your “permanent state of ecstasy.” The reality for most of us, I think, it a lot of just plain day to day discipline with little to no feelings, certainly not ecstatic ones! God really does work through the mundane, and again as I mentioned having no sensible feelings actually purifies faith, hope, and love because we have to go on faith, hope, and love alone with little consolation. Once you grasp this thought, you realize why God allows us to feel so little so often.
As mentioned above, nothing is more “personal” in terms of relationship than the intimacy of receiving the Eucharist–Christ Himself.

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I believe the term “consolation” is what the Church uses to describe what is happening when God lets a person know that He is there, or He has not left you, or something to that effect. Consolation is certainly not a feeling per se, but it can certainly result in good feelings. If Im not mistaken, and I may be, consolation may also result in fear. For example, St. Faustina had many interactions with God through apparitions. She was not always sure, or felt good, about these interactions.

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For prayer is nothing else than being on terms of friendship with God. - St Teresa of Avila

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