Sunday, January 1, 2012

surrender

I used to make New Year’s resolutions. I usually made them thoughtfully and sincerely, and they were mostly very worthwhile goals to set for the coming year – ranging from ‘getting fit’, ‘learning to sail’ or ‘going dancing more often’, to ‘spending more time with God’… But I always found that the year would fly by without another look at this list, let alone any lasting implementation of my lofty goals (or even the simple ones).

A few years ago, I decided to stick to three words that summed up the change I wanted to see in my life, and because they were quite deep and broad, these three words became something of a mantra for me for many years in a row. They also had the (intentional) advantage of alliteration, so they were easy to remember: Simplify, Steward, Serve

Sometime later I added another word to my annual resolutions or reminders: Soak – in God’s love, grace, presence, healing and wisdom… This is just another version of my ongoing resolution to ‘spend more time with God’ - setting aside time to pray, worship or just bask in His presence (God, an eternal being, is of course not a ‘he’ but our language is too limited to come up with a better pronoun, and ‘it’ denies the fullness of personhood). 

Of course God's presence is everywhere, all the time, but we are not always attuned to it, and there are also times when God makes his presence more manifest...these are the times when we can be said to have an 'encounter' with God, and they are precious, amazing times...

Setting out daily from this place of intimacy, there is no longer any need to strive to be a better person, or do better – instead, your heart and life is changed simply because you know you are loved beyond measure, unconditionally, and always. The glimpses you catch of God’s heart inspire and enable you to love others, to flow with the currents of His will (not against them), and to live an exceptional life.

These four words are all still important and relevant to me, and form the basis of my life’s orientation and priorities… I will continue to remind myself of these, probably for many years to come – especially since they all require ongoing commitment and are a journey rather than a destination. I have yet to really achieve any of these to a satisfactory degree… but as Joyce Meyer often says, “although I may not be where I want to be yet, thank goodness I am no longer where I was!”

[a fuller discussion of these words and resolutions can be found in the post with the same name under my other blog, 'freedom beauty truth']

However, my word for 2012, which could happily stand alone and keep me ‘busy’ trying to live it fully for years to come, is:

Surrender let go of ego, fear, anger, unforgiveness, control, anxiety, my own agenda, my strong opinions of how things or people should be…

This is actually a word that came to me frequently during the month of June last year, whenever I was spending time in God’s presence… June also happened to be the month we conceived our first child – although I didn’t know that yet! What an amazing word to receive (not for the first time, but with renewed focus), and begin to work on, just before finding out about what was soon to come!

Then in August, the day before I took a pregnancy test and found out, I was in a very intimate time of worship, singing the song ‘You’re the giver of life’, and felt strongly that this was a confirmation that I was pregnant, or that I would be soon. This was planned and wanted - but I thought it might take some time, because of my age, and all the struggles I have seen friends and family go through to conceive.

That day I said ‘thank-you’ and ‘yes’ to the idea of pregnancy, labour (shudder) and motherhood… I felt God’s grace and love would sustain me through all the scary aspects of this for me, especially with my particular background, personality and childhood baggage… If God is the giver of life, then I can accept the gift without fear, knowing it will be good and beautiful, trusting that He feels I am ready to bear the responsibility well, and that His grace will carry me through the times I can’t do it on my own…

The next day, the pregnancy test confirmed that I was pregnant now, not ‘soon’, like in the next year or so…and of course, being me, I went straight into panic and dismay at the reality of it (quite different from the warm, fuzzy idea of it when husband and I chose this path in May)… the responsibility, the ‘no turning back now’ feeling… I railed at myself, at husband, at God:

“What on earth have we done? What if it isn’t the right time for this? What if husband doesn’t really want this, and hadn’t realised it would happen so easily and quickly (as I hadn’t)? What if he runs away? What if I want to run away (and don’t have that option of course)? What sort of mother will I make? What on earth was I thinking, I can’t do this - I am terrified of labour, always have been! What if it’s a disabled child, due to my age – and I am not one of those saintly people who would cope? Whatever happened to adopting instead? Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear….”

How amazing that God had spoken to me in the months leading up to this, and especially the day before – preparing me for just this moment of panic and doubt! Gently, lovingly, almost imperceptibly, I was nudged back to contemplating this word, ‘surrender’… In the coming weeks and months, I slowly made peace with it all, and found my place of trust in God’s loving arms again…

Not to say I don’t still have moments of fear and panic, but now I see them as unruly, crying, overtired children that simply need to be hugged and put to bed, saying “there, there, it will be okay…everything will feel better in the morning”. Discipline, chiding or judgement at such times is unhelpful, pointless, even harmful. Logic and rational reasoning would be equally wasted. Only love drives away fear.

As Bill Johnson, another Spiritual role model, says: “you only have power over the storm you have peace in” (referring of course to the story of Jesus sleeping in the boat, before calming the storm with just words, when his panicky disciples woke him). This is a profound challenge – holding onto your peace, when surrounded by a storm? I struggle with this one – I easily get ‘sucked in’ and react to what I feel and sense around me, including people’s negative attitudes… instead of responding from a deeper place of peace.

I especially need to apply this when the time comes to give birth (which can be likened to an uncontrollable storm at sea with relentless surges that threaten to engulf you) – I don’t want to give in to terror and panic, but labour from a place of rest…

All the alternative therapies and tools for natural birth advocated in the antenatal workshop we attended this weekend basically amount to one piece of advice: “don’t resist it, or it will be much, much worse… let go, relax, give in to your body and the ‘surges’ - learn to surf them like waves in the ocean… Find your calm place, your place of trust in the midst of it all, and you will find your power – the innate ability of your body to give birth”.

Of course to this, I add my trust in Holy Spirit waves of power, grace and love to be with me, empower me, hold me, keep me from sinking, and carry me through… Without this trust I would not have embarked on this journey in the first place. I know I can’t do this on my own. Yes, my body has been designed with amazing abilities, and I can trust in these natural processes to take their course, if unhindered by my resistance, or by medical intervention… BUT I am still only human. “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:26).

So for 2012, I need to surrender. I need to learn to surrender more, and deeper, more fully, and again and again. And when it feels like I can’t anymore, I need to surrender still more. This sounds like an arduous and draining battle, but I am actually trying to describe something that is completely the opposite. This week I found some flashcards which capture the idea perfectly. They are written, one word to a card, in oil pastels and decorated in glitter, and I had made them years ago while I served in the ‘kids ministry’ team at my church in Sydney. This is what they say:

Live carefree before God – he is most careful with you…”

What a beautiful, magical thought! I feel this is the essence of ‘surrender’ – a childlike trust and freedom in our loving, amazing Father, which flows through our lives and looks like… peace, hope, freedom, joy, playfulness, creativity, humility, love…

Ultimately, this ‘abundant life’ that God wants for us is the result, not of striving for perfection, or for ‘more’ of anything, even good things, but of a surrendered heart.

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