loving God in lots of different ways

loving God in lots of waysthis summer at our weekend gatherings the refuge has been focusing on the practice of love–loving God, others, ourselves.  it’s been a fun mix of different conversations & one thing is really clear–they each are intimately connected and can’t be separated or parsed out from each other.  this past saturday we did a fun interactive exercise centered on discovering the different ways we love and connect with God.  i mentioned that “love” can be a really strong and scary word, especially for people who are in a season of healing from religion. hearing we’re going to talk about “loving God” can make some break out in hives because it can feel like pressure or demands or one more way we’re supposed to conform to a particular form of worship.  to me, love is about connection so i encouraged any who struggle with “loving God” to consider replacing “love” with “connecting with, communing with, hanging out with, getting energized by, feeling more alive with,” etc.

God is big.

we are unique.

opening up to recognizing and respecting our individual preferences can be really freeing.

i can’t re-create the experience but we adapted material from a book called sacred pathways: discovering your soul’s path to God by gary thomas and had 10 stations around the room with 5 questions for each.  each one of these stations represented a different way we connect with God.  everyone split up and moved through the questions and tallied the number they had for each (if you want the questions that help discern, email me and i’ll send them to you. we adapted them from the book, too, some were just a little too churchy for us).  after everyone was done tallying,  i shared this chart & we processed a bit together in the large group.

here’s a short blurb on each of the 10 types (the book only has 9 but we added the “healers” category).

#1 NATURALISTS:  loving God through nature – learn best God lessons in the outdoors, can visualize scriptural truths, see God more clearly & learn to rest in the outdoors, feel free & unconstricted outside.

#2 SENSATES: loving God through the sensesconnect with God through sight, smell, taste, touch, and sound.  inspired by tangible experiences that connect with the senses (see God in art, feel textures, listen to music, smell perfume, taste food).

#3 TRADITIONALISTS: loving God through ritual & symbolvalue rituals, symbols, and liturgical practices. appreciate reading or saying specific prayers. high value on the beauty of the  church calendar, including the practices of lent and advent.

#4 ASCETICS: loving God through silence & solitudelove being alone with God. value simplicity.  make room for quiet. like to fast and pray, distracted by senses.

#5 ACTIVISTS: loving God through confrontationspiritually nourished through the battle of a “cause”. connect with God through social activism, advocating on behalf of others.  offer time and energy to create change.

#6 CAREGIVERS: loving God through loving others – love to help, listen, care for others in a variety of ways including listening, actively helping, repairing broken things for others. feel close to God when actively engaged with people.

#7 ENTHUSIASTS: loving God through mystery & celebration – love getting caught up in worship experiences. look for movements of God–both big and small. expectant about God’s power & possibility, dreams & visions.

#8 CONTEMPLATIVES: loving God through adoration – love to rest in God’s presence. value spending quality time connecting with God through different forms of prayer including centering prayer, intercessory prayer, meditative prayers.

#9 INTELLECTUALS: loving God with the mind – love the Bible, systematic theology, and creeds.  value beliefs about God. stimulated by Bible studies, lectionaries, and historical texts as well as philosophical conversations about God.

# 10 HEALERS: loving God through recovery – feel close to God when we are powerless & desperate. experience connection with God through the principles of the 12 steps. find God’s love through connecting with own and others pain.

which ones are you? 

my top 3 were strong and clear–wanna guess?  yep, activist, caregiver, healer.  i’m so predictable. i definitely had some marks in several other categories, though, too, and i do love being outside, quiet, and connecting with God through art, music & beauty, but they are definitely not as strong.  some people were really surprised by theirs.  many expressed it feeling freeing somehow.  others shared how years ago they were in a different place on their journey and would have fallen in a different category.  for me, it was this beautiful reminder that this is just “me” and i feel connected to God when i am in the trenches with people.  it doesn’t make me less spiritual or less worshipful.

also, each of these has a danger, a dark side.  i really appreciated that part & connected with the dangers in each of my categories.  download the chart to see some of the potential dangers.

the part i loved the most about this exercise is respecting our uniqueness and embracing the freedom to be who we are & to let others be free to be who they are, too.  it doesn’t mean that we can’t learn and grow from being exposed to different ways.  it’s good for us to stretch and try and expand.  i also think that when churches/communities/groups only rely on one way in all of their practices, they leave out a big chunk of people.  diversity is key.  creating spaces that honors this diversity is very rare, but i think it’s sort of our call as individuals–and to those who are community cultivators–to honor & respect that everyone loves God in all kinds of different ways & to not expect everyone to conform to one as “the best” or “the right way”.  i felt humbled & challenged.

what do you think?  how do you connect with God? have the structures you’ve been part of helped you cultivate this?

here’s an uncropped fuzzy picture of the cool symbols my lovely friend jenny came up with for each type that was up front.  the communion table was really pretty, too, even though this picture doesn’t give it justice.  all different colored cups, same elements.  all different ways to love, same God. amen.






Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar is dedicated to creating safe and brave spaces for transformation and healing in real life, online, and outside. She co-pastors at The Refuge, a hub for healing community, social action, and creative collaboration in North Denver, co-directs #communityheals, a non-profit organization dedicated to making spaces for transformation accessible for all, and is the author of Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World, Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.


  • What an awesome idea; this look so beautiful, challenging and inspiring. I wish I could have been there.
    I have definitely been an ‘enthusiast’ for most of my life. And I’m pretty familiar with the dangers, especially when i want to re-live a past mountaintop experience by going back to the same conference a second time. I want to get more involved in contemplative prayer, but it’s been hard to find opportunities. And I’ve definitely felt God’s love the deepest (after a lot of wrestling) as the healer, going through my pain and the pain of people i love.
    It has really been on my heart to facilitate an evening of contemplative prayer, scripture meditations and quiet worship music… but it’s just a fledgling dream at this point.. especially since I don’t know many people who desire an opportunity to connect with God in that way.

    • thanks gloria and it was so fun to see you & sweet keenan on friday night at voca too! oh we have a lot to talk about on thursday 🙂

  • Kathy!
    This is awesome, I love it and would like to use it at The Bridge… could you send me those questions to help discern the types?
    I miss you, call me when you get a chance!

    • can’t wait to hear what you guys pull together on it up there, keep me posted. talk to you later this week. xo

  • I have been struggling with how I love God for a while. I know I love Him, but my love looks so different from those around me. Looking at your list I am an intellectual, a traditionalist, a contemplative. I find God in His word. I find him in church. I find Him through music. But my response is intellectual. It is a series of beliefs that dictate my choices. It is not a feeling thing. It is a thinking love. And sometimes this doesn’t feel adequate, like I love God enough because my emotions are not affected. Thanks for this post. It reminded me that we give and experience love differently. Not better or worse, just differently. My love for God is very real, even if it looks foreign to those around me.

    • thanks, jen. i am glad you are noticing that even though it is different from those around you, it is you and that’s okay. i think that “my love is supposed to look like _____” expectation that we have can be really dangerous and somehow we end up feeling like we fall short. we talked a little bit about that this saturday night, how easy it is to compare and say “this one’s more spiritual than that one” instead of embracing they are just different…thanks so much for sharing what you are learning, i always love hearing the processing going on..

  • Interesting. A friend and I were just talking about this a few minutes ago. I told her how, when we pray together, I always feel like she is closer to God than I am. The voice of old religious tapes telling me everyone doers it better than I can. Hmm… she explained why that was silly. 🙂

    In looking at the list, this is where I was 5-10 years ago:
    1: Naturalist; 4: Ascetic; 3: Intellectual.

    It’s shifted, now I am more:
    1: Naturalist, 7: Enthusiast; 8: Contemplative; and 10: Healers.
    I know that’s 4, but they’re all too close to separate. 🙂

    • thanks katherine. yeah, as i just said in jen’s comment, that comparing thing is so “yikes!” and so the opposite of freedom. and so common for so many of us because of how we’ve been taught. but recognizing it is so beautiful because we can go “yep, there it is and now i’m going to send it on its way and feel free in who i am and how i am with God…”

  • 1. Ascetic
    2. Contemplative
    3. Traditionalist

    4. What of loving God through seeing unchurched people connect with God? The evangelist heart

    • i always like additions! good one. since most people have somehow negatively intersected with God stuff/church people, i like to say i’m a reevangelist: http://www.kathyescobar.com/2008/05/20/hmmm-maybe-im-a-re-evangelist/ i wouldn’t have thought of it until you mentioned it, but it is definitely so energizing for me & i feel so connected to God in those moments. thanks for sharing. boy do i wish we could have hung out more when you were here, we could have had fun dreaming!

  • I’m trying to find the ‘right’ way to connect with God. I think that I’ll work through the list systematically and see what happens.

    I suspect, though, that I need to follow the path of the Activist; which is pretty confronting for me, given that I have a very small comfort zone! Oh dear…….

    • thanks for sharing, eva, and i had a thought about maybe considering letting go of the “right” and think of the ones that feel really energizing/inspiring to you first on a gut level & then consider the challenges. i, too, like the challenges because they stretch and grow me but it’s good to know which ones really fill me up and help me feel more free and connected to God first. not to only rely on them but to embrace the natural-ness that emerges from it. look forward to hearing what you find on your exploration!

  • As a follow up, I just went to Amazon to buy the kindle book. This sounds fascinating. I’ll let you know the link if I blog about it 😉

  • My top 3 are the same as yours, except I reverse the order of the first 2. No wonder we get along! No wonder we’re not a fit for the IC!

    Just the other day I was thinking (gets me into trouble every time) – If we tell the truth about what we have found and continue to see in the IC, it is “anger, lies” and so on. Yet if they tell lies about people like us, it is “truth telling” (or telling us what the Bible really says).

    The followers of Jesus are out there with the people, loving them where they are, wrapping the arms of Jesus around them. (Here I go getting into trouble again – It is not “telling the truth” to people about how they’re all screwed up according to my theology and my interpretation of the Bible. We’re all screwed up. We don’t need someone else telling us. We need someone who loves us unconditionally!)

    • that’s funny, our similarities! the part i liked about it is recognizing that some people just do connect with God differently and that’s a beautiful thing, but i don’t think it lets any of us off the hook on practicing the ways of love that Jesus challenges us to.

  • Kathy,

    Great list, not sure any list can be all inclusive, but this is great. I have listed my top 3.

    #2 Sensate – anyone who has ridden a motorcycle across the country and not experienced the presence God needs their pulse checked.
    #5 Activist – I am naturally bent towards being a bully and God has called me to use this bent to be a strong advocate.
    #9 Intellectual – I love to engage my mind and when I am most deep in thought I am most connected to God.

    Men of Praise Motorcycle Ministry

    • thanks fedex, for sharing, too. i agree, none of these can be all-inclusive and what i love about it is the challenge to step out and explore different ways while at the same time leaning into who we are and living in that freedom in connecting with God. thanks for reading & always praying for you guys!

  • Hi Kathy! I actually did this with my church last yr. I came out as high in Contemplative, Enthusiast and Intellectual. It makes me understand more about why and how I worship and pray the way I do. I’ve missed you! Hope you’re well. Updates on my life – got ordained on Easter along with my husband; stepping down from pastoring at the end of the yr coinciding with taking leave of absence from my public school teaching job due to baby #2 coming in Dec! =D Also had to quit seminary indefinitely. God is calling me on to a major project. Share more in the future. Much love from NYC! =)

    • great to hear from you, and congrats, too! i am excited to hear what’s brewing for the future. congrats on ordination, too, for both of you. meanwhile, take good care of that sweet girl and the one on the way. nothing like these precious years, that’s for sure. soak in every bit, they go way too fast. lots of love from colorado…

  • This is so freeing! I love it. Talk about validating the way we were created. Just from reading rhough here, I think that I lean towards Contemplative, Enthusiast (I am charismatic, after all…) and Activist. I’ll be sharing this, for sure. Thank you!

    • i’m glad you liked it. we sure did have fun with it and i agree with you, “freeing” is the right word! thanks for reading & sharing, too.

    • hey kari, i emailed you the questions. let me know if for some reason you didn’t get them (sometimes my refuge email goes to junk mail for people). enjoy!

  • Hi Kathy. I reckon my choices would have been #4, #8 & #9. I guess that speaks to my own personality and to my Asperger’s. Contemplation, silence and solitude is where I seem to feel closer to (connect with) God.


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