When it comes to the spiritual practice of surrender, I have more questions than answers.
I wonder if God does have a plan that we are supposed to live by? I wonder if we can just surrender to what happens in life or if it’s up to us as adults to make decisions that create our life? How do we know the difference between surrendering to God and giving in to a bad situation?
I have a good friend who desperately wants to have a baby. She is 37 years old, beautiful, educated, and has a good job. She is in a monogamous relationship with a man who loves her and claims to want the same things that she does. Although he once said that he wants to marry and have children, when faced with the reality, he now says he is not ready. What should she, my good friend, do? How does she surrender to God’s plan for her life?
I know a good man who is in his 50’s. He loves his wife and family very much and works at a job that provides good pay and health benefits. However, he is constantly worried that he will be laid off from his job and that he will not be able to find another one. He is trying to remain faithful, but what should he, my worried friend, do? How does he surrender to God’s plan for his life?
All of us have struggles. We struggle to be happy. To provide for ourselves and our families. To get what we want in life. To have meaning and purpose. But how do we know if we are on the right path? How do we know if we are living according to the will of God?
In the scripture, we hear the psalmist crying out for what he wants! “Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications!” (Psalm 130)
Listen to the words of Thomas Kelly, born in 1893 to a devout Quaker family living near Chillicothe, Ohio. Kelly went from his modest beginnings in the farm country of Ohio to pursue a Ph.D at Harvard under the world-renowned British mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead. However, he was torn about the contradictions within Quaker teachings, he suffered ill health and he was pained over and again by the repeated refusals of Harvard to allow him to complete his Ph.D. Out of this crucible of failure and pain, Thomas Kelly emerged as a new man, genuinely living by the grace of God and with a simple, childlike obedience.
From this place, he wrote a renowned spiritual work titled, A Testament of Devotion, Kelly writes this about the human drama and God’s place in it all:
Out in front of us is the drama of men and of nations, seething, struggling, laboring, dying. Upon this tragic drama in these days our eyes are all set in anxious watchfulness and in prayer. But within the silences of the souls of men an eternal drama is ever being enacted, in these days as well as in others….It is the drama of the lost sheep wandering in the wilderness, restless and lonely, feebly searching, while over the hills comes the wise Shepherd. For [God has] a shepherd’s heart, and [God] is restless until He holds His sheep in His arms…
[There is one scene in this inner drama,] where the Shepherd has found His sheep, that I would direct you. It is the life of absolute and complete and holy obedience to the voice of the Shepherd. [The whole time, it is] upon God, God the initiator, God the aggressor, God the seeker, God the stirrer into life, God the ground of our obedience, God the giver of the power to become children of God…”
What he is saying is that, yes, we all struggle, while at the same time, we try to be faithful. Our eyes are in anxious watchfulness and in prayer. But as life plays itself out, while we feel restless and lonely and searching, God comes to us in the drama that is life. God comes and initiates interactions and relationships. God comes to us to shake us out of our slumber and wake us up! It is Christ, the Good Shepherd, who seeks us out when we are down in the dumps and hiding away. It is Christ, the Living God, who stirs our souls and makes us passionate about some person or cause. God guides us to obedience as he seeks and calls us by name to become the person, the child of God, that we were born to be.
Sometimes, it can be hard to hear or see the Shepherd as he seeks us out. But the psalmist from today’s scripture has advice for us. His decision is to wait for the Lord with confident trust and hope. He says, “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning…Oh, Israel, [Oh, people of God,] hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem.”
So the answer to all the questions that we might pose regarding what is God’s will for our lives and what should we do is…wait. I know that’s not the answer that most of us want to hear, but oftentimes in life, we must wait for God to reveal himself and his will.
It’s more than to wait though. It’s to surrender your expectations, your timeline, your will and to really trust that God, that the Shepherd, is very present and active in your life. To be confident and assured, knowing that God’s hand is really moving in this world, in your world.
My good friend who is in a stuck relationship, and meanwhile, is ready to move forward in her life and start her family, must wait. And she must trust wholly in God’s goodness and will for her life.
My worried friend who is not sure if he will be employed by the same company until retirement must also wait and trust wholly in God’s goodness and will for his life.
Surrender can be one of the most challenging spiritual practices there is, but when we truly surrender to God, it provides us with a freedom and a hope that we can have no other way.
It is the freedom of trusting something greater than ourselves in this world. It is the hope of believing in the redeeming power of God to bless your life.
As we surrender to God and trust in him, we realize that God alone is the actor in our lives, and we are the ones wholly acted upon.
So what we are going to do is sing a song about being still. About waiting for the Shepherd. While you sing, believe this: we can trust in God. We can surrender fully to the divine will.