When I was a kid, the world came in two shades: black and white. Something was or it wasn’t. An idea was right or wrong. You avoided wrong and bad things while participating in right and good things. That’s just how it was, and anyone who didn’t understand the world like I did and then behave accordingly confused me to no end.
One of the things I grew up believing was that words matter. If you say you’re going to do a thing, you’re going to do the thing. There’s grace for forgetfulness and unforeseen circumstances, but you do the thing you said you were going to do, and if you’re not really interested in doing the thing then you don’t ever commit to it out loud.
I grew up as a Vineyard kid—that is, one of the many non-denominational Christian churches under the umbrella of Vineyard, USA—and among the many worship songs we sang, there was a particular one called Surrender that never sat right with me. The first verse and chorus goes:
I’m giving you my heart, and all that is within
I lay it all down for the sake of you my King
I’m giving you my dreams, I’m laying down my rightsx
I’m giving up my pride for the promise of new life
And I surrender all to You, all to You
And I surrender all to You, all to You
Click on picture to listen to Mark James sing Surrender
Words matter to me, and “all” is an awfully broad, unspecified category.
At any given time in my life I could list at least five things that I’m unwilling to surrender to God and stop enjoying or participating in. Part of that struggle is being unsure if God is even calling me to give up these things, or if I’ve just assumed that based on a fleeting hunch. Yet, in my memory, it always seemed like everyone else in the congregation sang this song with no qualms. Wherever I looked there were arms upraised and faces tilted back in rapturous worship while I stood there, jaw locked, hands down at my sides, waiting out the song that I could not sing with any degree of honesty. The song that all good and virtuous Christians should be able to sing with no trouble at all.
This, I have come to realize, is one of those areas of my life where I could not see the forest for the trees. Because I had not marked every single tree in the forest, I could not possibly turn the forest over for treatment. And because I would never be done with such a task, it would never happen.
That’s what I thought for a long time, but recently I turned a corner in my thinking. I have striven for a long time, shredding my brain with anxiety over whether a specific behavior, activity, or way of thinking is something that needs to be surrendered, how one goes about doing that, and if I’m ready for the long, drawn out battle of changing things. But because I have difficulty hearing God through all my “genre-aware Christian thinking” and anxiety, I’ve begun offering Him some variation of this prayer from time to time:
“Hi, God. I just want You to know, You have my full permission to mold my heart. Change my desires. Adjust my thinking. Bring people and events into my life that will turn me into the person You intend me to be. Please do that. I put all of me in your hands to shape however You see fit.”
This is an act of trust, that I do not have to tear myself to pieces tweaking every last nook and cranny of my soul into correct behavior. This is an act of surrender, taking my hands off of forcing changes that I’m not even sure were asked of me to begin with. This is worship.
And I realize that I can sign over the forest without having catalogued every tree, because He knows exactly what needs to be planted, what can stay, what needs to go, and what needs trimming back. And in good time, He will either show me what I need to do, or quietly change things around in the background.
Currently, I can find no other way of accounting for my sudden driving need to absorb the type and quantity of non-fiction books I’m reading. I’m plowing through the works of Thomas Sowell. I’m grappling with C.S. Lewis’ books. And I’m being challenged by Jordan Peterson’s work, among many others. My desire to learn has vastly outstripped my need to check out from reality, which has been a life-long coping mechanism. I have to believe there has been some background planting going on, and far from being burdened and put upon, I am delighted. I see myself changing in many ways I could not have imagined even two years ago. Once again I am grateful to God, who treats my weaknesses and foibles with such tenderness, clearing the way for new growth as I surrender it all to Him.