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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How do you feel about dying to self?

A few days ago I had an email exchange with a wise, inspiringly spiritual, and much more life-experienced friend about a struggle I am facing. When I asked for feedback, she shared some thoughts that I’ve since been chewing on. The gist of her response was that a life following Jesus (which is the life I aspire to live) is about continually dying — sacrificing our self-will, and “moving out of the way” that the Spirit might inhabit us each more fully and flow increasingly more freely through our beings. Paradoxically, it is in these daily little deaths, these sometimes quite painful “thy will not my will be done” moments, that truly substantive and satisfying life springs forth.

Her words about death reminded me of a song that struck me from the first time I heard it: Learning How To Die, by Jon Foreman. (Your Love is Strong and House of God Forever are his others that tug at my heart.)

I searched for the meaning of Jon’s lyrics, curious what type of death he was thinking about when writing his words. In a 2009 interview about the songs on his then-recent albums, he shared his perspective:

Mike: The songs on ‘Fall’ and ‘Winter’ in particular are quite depressing, aren’t they?
Jon: Well, it depends on what you mean by depressing. They are definitely sobering, that’s for sure. ‘Fall’ is about the act of dying and ‘Winter’ would be the act of death or hibernation, however you want to put it. I think “Learning How To Die” is a good song. It talks about all of this. I used to think that life was kind of accumulating, that you were continually learning more, growing more, understanding more. Then I had a few events in my life that made me realise that life is actually about surrender and losing, in fact maybe giving yourself away. So maybe ‘Winter’ is the most honest season. So I don’t think it’s a depressing thought but it certainly is a sobering thought to think that this life that we’ve been given actually has a purpose of surrender rather than conquest.

As one who typically feels safest so long as I feel in control, I personally find that my ego repeatedly resists opportunities to surrender, even when history has proven over and over that “letting go and letting God” is best. The way I see it, surrender requires serious humility in that it involves an awareness, admission, and acceptance that I can’t see clearly, that I’m not in charge, that I don’t know the answers, that I need help. Surrender takes a courageous willingness to let go of what I want, and to trust just enough to listen to God’s still, small voice in my heart and then obediently follow his good lead. Getting to that bottomed-out point of surrender often sucks (think Jesus sweating blood in Gethsemane), but so many testimonies prove that what follows is unquestionably worth the self-sacrifice.

And perhaps as we each develop a more intimate relationship with the one we are surrendering to—an infinite, all-loving God who somehow can give us a deep sense of peace in even the most troublesome circumstances—it becomes easier to let go. As we cultivate a spiritual connection in our daily lives, we come to know and trust that though it may still feel like jumping off a cliff, a position of surrender is actually the most secure spot to be.

How do you feel about dying to self?

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?