What do you need to do, and what do you need to let God do?

This afternoon a handful of friends and I gathered together at a local church as we do each Sunday afternoon. Who shows up varies week to week, yet the place always feels like home and the group feels like family. Sometimes I don’t want to go, but once I get there, I’m always glad.

Today we discussed those people and issues in our lives that are beyond our control…that threaten to overwhelm us…that we just can’t handle on our own power. We meditated on the simple phrase “I can’t, God can, I think I’ll let him,” exploring what personal issues are currently bringing us to our knees. And then we considered our individual problem areas where we are resistant to take positive action, contemplating the question, “What can I be doing that I should not expect God to do for me?”

imagesAs I thought on that last question, I was tempted to rattle off all the steps I think I “should” be taking, all the tools I’ve been taught over the years that I “should” be using, and all the spiritual principles I “should” be applying to my thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. In this faulty, self-defeating mindset, I can come up with an endless agenda of how to be better—better at loving, praying, serving, including, helping, praising, hugging, encouraging, supporting, giving, volunteering, ad infinitum. Whenever this perspective pops up, it tempts me into perfectionism, striving to be the very best me in such a way that I become rigid and exhausted. No need for God’s help. I’m fully capable and I’ve got this whole “self-improvement” project under tight control…

An entirely different way to approach the same question is to focus on surrender as the true solution. “What can I be doing that I should not expect God to do for me?” I, and only I, can pause to lay down my small self-made plans and my compulsive worker-bee drive. Only I can wake up each morning and ask God what he has for me to do for Him that day. Only I can let go of my self-centered will and yield to his Spirit. Only I can admit my weaknesses and rely on His strength. He doesn’t force me to surrender—only I can seek to sacrifice self that I may live in God’s freeing flow and the sunlight of the Spirit.

HeavyLoad1While a part of me wants to do everything I can do to stay steady on God’s path, I sense that today I need to shift my focus to the two short words “let Him.” Though it may be difficult to let someone else lead me, only I can stop trying to pave my own path, drop the burden, ask for help, and follow God’s trustworthy way. Only I can listen to His voice and let Him guide me where He wills. Only I can make the choice to surrender.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

What do you need to do, and what do you need to let God do?

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Who in your life has angel eyes?

I recently had to say a pretty painful goodbye. After counseling a little seven-year-old fellow (let’s call him Carl) for about two months and just beginning to build a solid therapy bond, I had to look into his pair of precious eyes and tell him I was moving towns. I imagine that Carl’s resilient young soul bounced back from the news and our subsequent separation without much trouble, but it sure hurt my heart. Goodbyes are hard.

It didn’t help that this particular kiddo is a half-white/half-black absolute cutie with that smooth honey-colored skin, a superb head of bouncy curls, and huge hazel eyes that can manipulate like nobody’s business. His humor is priceless and while some sessions included tears, a good dose of laughter was always a guarantee. And how closely I related to his dear emotional sensitivity, which is a delicate gift that he is now beginning to learn to handle with care. Needless to say, when Carl showed up on my caseload, I received an unexpected blessing.

Saying goodbye was especially difficult for me to do because Carl’s current family is flat-out chaos. Stability is something he craves, and I couldn’t stand the idea of being a person who stepped into his world, shared a short stint of love, and then stepped back out. Much of my heart wanted to stay, to walk with him, to try my best to be present and supportive and dependable. But life was leading me a different direction—to another location a couple hours away—and thus our farewell was fated.

So I sought help from a supervisor: What do I say to a child who clearly needs consistency as I prepare to walk out of the door and never see him again? How do I communicate that trusting other people is possible when I’ve asked for his trust and am now turning my back? How do I let go when I’m secretly wanting to embrace this sweet little guy and help him feel at least somewhat secure?

My supervisor passed along a few wise words that I received gratefully not only for my client, but for myself as well. Basically, he advised me to close with a discussion about the simple idea that God sends us safe people—angels, if you will—who come into our lives at just the right time. Sometimes these people stay a long while, perhaps accompanying us along our entire life journey. At other times they enter for just a bit, and so our “hi’s” and “bye’s” have to happen fairly quickly. Though it’s never easy to part ways with these special people, we can always trust that when one leaves, God will bring another. I told Carl that we always need to be on the lookout, as if we’re on a treasure hunt, because God never leaves us alone. If our eyes are open, we’ll be able to see angels all around.

Reflecting on how closely my supervisor’s perspective applied to my personal experiences, I offered Carl comfort by assuring him that though I was having to step back, another “safe person” was sure to step right in. We then launched into a conversation about how to identify these so-called safe people and Carl softly spoke, “you can see it in their eyes.” I fully agree.

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Who in your life has angel eyes?

Do you resist letting go?

I sit in the living room of my aunt’s Houston home, bright early morning rays streaming through clearstory windows, streaking my clothes with warm strips of light. I listen to my mom on the phone in the next room, speaking with the funeral director in a business-like tone heavy words that I don’t often hear: cremation, urn, obituary, imminent. Death.

The elusive concept and occurrence we English-speakers term death can wear such an assortment of faces – tragic, sweet, soft, unexpected, traumatizing, relieving, gradual, horrific, welcome, sudden, peaceful. How strange it seems that we classify all of these variations under one and the same name. Death.

For several hours yesterday I sat in the assisted living residence of my seventy-year-old Uncle Alex, who has been visually impaired for his entire life and fully blind for the last thirty years. He decided to terminate his thrice weekly kidney dialysis this past week, and now awaits the end of his earth experience. Though Alex was always a talker, his words are now few, disjointed, and strained. One thing he still is able to communicate, however, is his fear.

He senses that a vast unknown territory lies ahead, and while he has developed a tender relationship with a loving God over the past few years, anxiety still seems to gnaw at the back of his hunched neck. His frail body feels tense, apparently reluctant to rest, not fully assured that all will be well.

I look upon my Uncle Alex, and I see myself. Trying my best to keep up a managerial role, suspicious whether I can truly give God all my worries about what I think are my responsibilities that I should be able to handle without his help. I resist admitting full dependency on God because maybe, if I were to dare to let go entirely, God won’t be there. What if I’m left alone and abandoned, like a fool, like a heap on the floor, helpless.

A part of me contends that it’s much safer to stay self-reliant with some sense of control then to let myself fall into God’s custody only to find that He’s only a hopelessly hollow hologram. Thankfully, however, a deeper part of me has experienced his presence, faithfulness, reliability, goodness, and capability time and again. I believe, but Lord help my unbelief.

As my physical eyes observe my precious Uncle, I see so clearly the folly of both of our very real doubts. Let go, Uncle Alex. He’s here. He’ll carry your burden, if you’ll just let him. He’ll be your gentle Father, if you’ll just allow yourself to be his little boy. He’s got open arms to hold you, if you’ll just receive that embrace and let your apprehension melt in the warmth of his Love. He’ll lead you hand-in-hand into the next phase of your eternal journey…he’ll even carry you if you ask.

Let go, dear Alex, let go.
Let go, dear me, let go.

Do you resist letting go?

How do you deal with disappointment?

I’m bummed. A piece of unanticipated news just dropped in my email inbox, and I want to send it right back where it came from with a polite reply:

I’m sorry, but you must be mistaken. The content of your email was not included in today’s script. I’ll graciously rewind about an hour or so, giving you plenty of time to realign your message with my wishes.
Thank you kindly.

Did I mention I’m bummed? I had expectations (which tend to be a set-up for potential disappointment and/or resentment), and now they aren’t going to be met. How dare God alter my path without asking my permission!

While I (halfway) joke about wanting to undo what’s just been done, a deeper part of me knows to very simply pray Thy will, not mine, be done. Like so many parts of life, I have no say over this situation. Experience has taught me that my lack of control over people, places and things is actually a blessed truth because a God of Love who created everything, sees everything, and understands everything has got this whole world in his very capable hands. Whether I choose to believe it or not, his realm even includes the incredibly-minor-in-the-whole-scheme-of-things news that Yahoo just delivered.

From where I stand at this moment, it doesn’t seem like the surprise change is favorable, but in truth I have not a clue how the story will play out. It’s quite likely that I could look back in a week, a month, a year, or even a decade and praise God for altering my path. So why not start praising him now?

And maybe, just maybe, this unforeseen twist isn’t about MY good – gasp! – but rather about the COMMON good, and what’s best for everyone who is involved.

God, I thank you for your care, which was just as deep prior to the email as it is in this present moment. I thank you that you have protected and provided for me so faithfully from before I was born. I hand you my disappointment, which is just masked fear (mixed with some negative thinking that now everything won’t work out well, as well as some pride that I think I know better than you how everything should roll). I choose to trust you and your plan. I love you, my father and friend, and I pray to have your perspective.

How do you deal with disappointment?