At our Advent retreat on Saturday… First, these retreats never fail to affect me deeply. I leave a changed man every time. Anyway, at our Advent retreat on Saturday, we held hands with the concept of surrender. This is fascinating, because it’s sort of a continuation of a conversation I’ve been having in my soul for months. This must be my season to finally make some new steps in understanding what it means.
It usually turns out that I don’t really want to surrender. I want to grip the wheel of whatever, white-knuckled and breathless, and control what happens, carefully place where it goes. I just want some input in the outcome. But the truth is that I don’t really have any. I can only offer what I have to offer, I don’t get to decide where it lands, if the soil is soft and rich or hard and full of clay.
I know this (but I don’t have to like it, right?), so I sat in silent contemplation with this truth, wrestling with it.
Yesterday, during the message, I made what I thought was a hilarious joke about 2 VERY similar Hebrew words (one meant ‘holy’ and the other was ‘prostitute.’) The words were similar because they meant ‘set apart for a particular purpose,’ and could describe both. Well, it wasn’t as funny as I thought it was, it fell flat and I moved on quickly. In my life, I have a long and embarrassing history of telling mis-placed jokes and saying the wrong thing, so it wasn’t too out of character.
But let me tell you, the time between when I say the wrong thing and when I know it is the wrong thing is getting shorter and shorter all the time. Now, it’s almost immediate that the words are out that I wish I could catch them and shove them back into my mouth.
I think it may be the same thing with most areas of spiritual growth. Surrender, release, forgiveness, saying the perfect thing, or any number of others are not natural to me. Maybe they’re not natural to any of us. Maybe control or resentment or vengeance are so common and so powerful, they have become our default settings. That when we choose to forgive someone, it is in such conflict with our instincts that it is a complete re-programming that must be done. And that takes time. The more we do it, the more comfortable we are with the uncomfortability of it all, and the time between when we grasp and when we let go shrinks.
I don’t know if I’ll ever feel a stressor and say, “hmm, I’ll just let that go,” and actually let that go before it rearranges the furniture in my head. When people say ‘Let Go and Let God,’ that’s probably why it’s not helpful at all. A. We know we should, and B. It sounds like it’s just easy to do, like we hang on because we want to, like we somehow enjoy the pain of anxiety or worry. We don’t want to, it just takes time to re-learn an entire cultural system that’s been fed to us since birth. It’s a process and it takes a lot of attention.
But we’re getting there. I think it’s probably a lot like food or fitness. Today, if we have a bad day and eat a bunch of bad food or skip a workout, we feel like we are worthless and that the progress wasn’t really progress at all. Like, the numbers on the scale are up or we still tell bad jokes or go to bed angry or struggle to surrender and it’s so maddeningly frustrating and depressing. But, if we look back, with a wide lens, we’ve come so far and have changed so much, it’s cause for celebration (that we’ve sadly never acknowledged.)
In that retreat, I realized that I was wrong; I do want to surrender – the guy I used to be didn’t. I’m not that guy anymore. The truth is, I often don’t release the weight of control very quickly, if at all, but I want to, now, and that ‘want to’ makes all the difference.