New Hope, Pennsylvania ~October 13, 2013
Last year, the word was renew. It turned out to be the right word for the year. Earnestly trying to hear its message, I learned all sorts of things about what brings renewal to both body and soul. Then, in the autumn, the wheels fell off. Like a switch thrown in desperation, I shifted into an overdrive survival mode. I broke the nutrition rules. I broke the sleep rules. I spun into a heretofore unknown spiritual downward spiral. 2013 ended and I wondered what happened to my chance to intentionally, wholeheartedly pursue renew.
Truth be told, I thought about a do-over. Just pick the same word again and try harder this time. And then I remembered that one of the lessons of renew was to cease striving. It wouldn’t do to choose it again only to try harder.
So incredibly tired, I considered the word rest. Basic, unpretentious, very specific. I need rest. I need to learn how to recognize my own cues for fatigue and I need to honor them instead of railroading right over them, oblivious to their demands. And goodness knows, I need to learn to rest in God.
Why don’t I rest? Usually, I fail to rest because I’m serving. That sounds noble, but it’s actually stupid when it becomes a way of life. Continuing to serve when even common sense dictates otherwise is really just plain stupid. And foolhardy, no doubt. But I do it. I do it because I want to have some control, particularly when it seems as if the world is spinning out of control. I want to fix things, make them right, heal them. That’s not genuine service. It’s trying to play God, not doing the will of God.
It has been gently pointed out that I want to control because I fear.
I don’t trust God enough to let Him order life. I take on that task for myself. My word—the one that will bring renewal and rest and so much more—has to address the root: I am afraid.
I need to surrender, to yield to God in so many ways. I want this to be the year of genuine, wholehearted surrender. I want to live my life as if God is the omni, not me.
I not omnipresent. He is. When our children are little, we really are in their lives 24/7. We become quite good at simultaneously nursing and kissing a boo-boo and finding the band-aids. In many ways, we can and should control the environments of the people in our care. When we become quite adept at that, we fall prey to the false sense that we really can be there all the time. We can make it better. We can soothe all the hurts, if we fail to stop them from happening in the first place. I think I push myself past what is reasonable sometimes in an effort to be there because I think that only I can meet the need well. The reality is that often someone else would be even better. Mama is not supposed to be omnipresent. Not when they’re little; certainly not when they’re grown. I surrender to Jesus the 24/7 care of my children. I lean into Him and trust that He loves them more than I do.
I’m not omniscient. I don’t know everything. The older I get, the more recognize that I life is one steep learning curve. Many of the ideas I thought I understood, I didn’t really understand at all. It’s important to keep a teachable spirit. Always. To surrender means to listen well and to let go of the preconceptions held tightly in my fists so that I might be open to understanding better the people around me, even those people I might not have expected to offer something of worth to me.
Only God knows everything, so I can stop trying to read everything on the Internet right now. St. Thomas Aquinas called it curiositas. It is a vice to be addicted to readily available information, scattered and distracted and none the wiser for the websearch. The virtue opposite curiositas is studiousness. Curiositas is the easy clicking, the bored, restless pursuit of knowing, but not necessarily of knowledge. "’Because of his bodily nature, man avoids the labor involved in seeking knowledge,’ says Aquinas. Studiousness is the virtue that strengthens our perseverance in pursuing the higher but harder-to-reach pleasures of worthy knowledge.” God knows everything. I don’t need to know everything. Indeed, it would be far wiser to surrender to knowing just a few things and knowing them well.
Furthermore, not everyone (maybe not anyone?) needs to know what I know, or think I know. I must surrender to God the success or failure of my writing. Just let Him have it. Believe me, if I can do that, I’ll be much less tired. There is a place where the attempt to get the word out threatens peace at home and the cheerful work of my primary vocation. I’m not going to that place. I’m just going to write and surrender the rest to Him.
Finally, I’m not omnipotent. Not at all. I can do nothing under my own power. Everything good that I do or say or accomplish I do under His strength and with His grace. There is no other way. Here’s where I meet fear and stare it down. I seek perfection because I fail to trust that God’s got this. It’s that simple. I want to be all-powerful, to conquer, to perfect. Perfectionism is striving to be without fault in my own eyes and in the eyes of other people because I need to feel secure. Perfectionism is trying to control my children’s lives so that only good and nothing bad will happen. Perfectionism is trying to maintain perfect order because I fear what will be if I allow for human weakness.
Perfectionism is the enemy of surrender.
Perfect fear and the fear of being imperfect drive out Love.
Perfect fear exhausts, depletes, frustrates, depresses, and suffocates a life of grace. It is grace I want to live, not perfection. It is surrender I need, not power.
Grace is in the surrender. I am called only to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. How cool is that? I don’t have to be Supermom. Furthermore, I’m not supposed to be Supermom. I’m supposed to be little, and tender, and childlike in my faith. Surrender is to relinquish worrying that I’m not enough or I didn’t do it sufficiently.
He wants my weakness! His power is made perfect in my weakness.
Surrender is knowing that when I go to bed at night and feel like my house and my heart are too bruised and broken to be beautiful in anyone’s sight, He’s there, ready to fill me with ample grace and strength to do what He would have me do.
On the morning of October 13, I dropped Nick off at a soccer park in Pennsylvania. It was a beautiful autumn Sunday. I had an hour to spend before his game. I knew no one since the team was new to us and we were far from home. So I just started driving. It was random, really. I picked a direction and went that way. There was a coffee shop on a corner next to a bank that had an empty parking lot. Coffee sounded good, so I pulled in. The view was extraordinary. I walked to the water’s edge, camera in hand and just watched. And wondered. The sky looked like I’d never seen it look.
I wanted to snap an iPhone picture and send it home to Mike. But something stilled me. Something kept me there, alone, in the moment. Just watching. For nearly the entire hour. I talked with God for that hour. And I left that place feeling like He listened. The name of that town? New Hope.
Jesus listened. But I didn’t. If I had, the days that followed would have been lived very differently.
It turns out that in that same hour, Mike was awakened by his sister’s phone call and hurried to the side of his mother. His father had just died.
I really believe that in my hour in New Hope, Jesus offered me the opportunity to surrender, to bring renew to its fruition. Instead, I drove hard into the wind and rain that came with the afternoon, all the way home, sensing that something was very, very wrong with my world. And I continued to drive hard right into Christmas.
Christmas brought me a Savior, humble, lowly, in an imperfect dwelling, surrounded by imperfect people, utterly dependent, and so very weak in His tender littleness.
By some gift of pure grace, in the days after Christmas, light shone on the peace that comes with surrender.
It’s my new hope.
this is a raw, first-person singular account of my own struggle and my surrender. it's not meant to be advice or even an observation of anyone else. it's just me.
please know, though, that if you read these words and see in them something you can take away for yourself, you are most definitely in my prayers as i pray surrender in my own life this year.