The concept of surrendering yourself to Christ can be frightening. Certainly, it sounds scary on the surface. What, exactly, does this mean?
I think failure to understand this basic concept is why you see so many “phony” Christians. It’s why you run across so many people that say “Bless You!” and then stab you in the back. It’s why you see hard-sell evangelism knocking on your door, pressuring you to fit into the mold of the “perfect Christian” and saying you aren’t “right” unless you fit the criteria. It’s why there’s so much false piety and so many false prophets watering down the faith and giving Christianity a bad name. And it really pisses me off.
I once read that the account of Daniel in The Bible was toned down drastically from the man’s true personality. It turns out that Daniel was actually a rather bold man that wasn’t afraid to resort to drastic measures to get to his point, but the writer’s of this book toned it down, because they feared that Daniel’s boldness wouldn’t appear pious enough for believers to take seriously. That’s a shame, and if it’s true then Jewish and Christians have been terribly cheated out of knowing the truth about a great figure of our faith. Is it true? I don’t know, but in a way, it makes sense. A person that walked out of a burning furnace and a lions den unharmed and then saw end time prophesey is no meek whimp, and that’s certainly not stuff for the faint of heart. Maybe we wouldn’t have a problem with the lions in God’s kingdom if the accounts of past heroes hasn’t been diluted to death for the sake of piety.
Be that as it may, it is what it is, and we’re left with the question of what surrendering your will really means. Does it mean that we, like these historical accounts, must tone ourselves down and force ourselves into a mold? Absolutely not. If God wanted everybody to be the same, He would have made us clones. Rather, I believe surrender means accepting that you are a unique creation, and finding ways to use what you’ve got for good.
As human beings, we’re far too scared of ourselves. We’re scared of not fitting in and being accepted. Yes, sociology tells us that in order to survive then we must find ways to adapt to groups and live in communities. This is as God intended, but I believe we’ve taken “accepted” way too far. Living in community doesn’t mean fitting into cliques or blindly following a crowd. It means lending your unique knowledge, skills, and abilities to the greater good of all. You do no favors to yourself or anybody else if you sacrifice your authencity to the point of diluting your gifts just for the sake of being liked. That’s ridiculous, and it’s stupid. Yes, I’m getting in your face about this. Different isn’t bad. You just need to learn how you are different (because we all are in some way, whether we like it or not) and how that’s supposed to fit into the big picture.
Surrendering your will means you lay yourself at the Lord’s feet and ask to be molded into His image. And you might be surprised to find that most of the work is already done. He did, after all, make you. Laying down simply means taking stock of what you’ve got, and letting Him show you how to best use it. How do you do this?
Know Your Strengths
One thing I like to tell people is that we’re all some kind of smart and some kind of stupid. Nobody’s good at everything, but everybody’s good at something. What are some of the things you do best, things that people seem to be impressed by? This isn’t the place to play shy. Think about 3-5 things you’re a natural at, things that you do with ease. For example, I’m extremely organized. I mean, organized to the point that if something the opposite of extreme hording were classified as an illness, I’d have it. People usually go between commending me for how neat and organized I am to wailing about how they can’t find anything because they don’t understand how I file and store things. The reason for this, I discovered through meditation and prayer, is because I’m good at seeing patterns. I can find a pattern in anything, even human behavior (I imagine the psychology degree helps). I think the reason I like Game of Thrones so much is because it’s the only thing on television that really surprises me because the author really has a talent for the hidden. I can see how things work and often figure out where they’re going. Sure, I get surprised by the unexpected occasionally. But that’s rare because patterns are patterns, and it’s human nature to stay in them.
We all have one or two things that we’re great at, and it’s a no-brainer to find them. Where the work usually comes in is at the mid-level tasks, the things we’re ok at and could probably get better if we try. This is where most things fall, and this is where some prayer and meditation come into play to figure out which of these we need to build to better talents and which is alright to let go of. This is where it can get confusing, because there’s so much in the world that we can literally become overwhelmed with all the possibilities in front of us.
I once read a suggestion that a good way to take stock is to rate the things you do on a scale of 1-10: 1 means you suck at it, and 10 means you’re awesome. Things on this scale can usually be improved an average of 2 points with dedication and practice, so that gives you a range of reference. If you’re a 5 or above, you can get pretty good at something if you want to dedicate the time and effort to it. Below a 5, and it’s probably not worth your time to worry about. Here are a few examples for me:
Writing is something I’ve always enjoyed. I was drawing in my picture books to expand on the stories before I knew how to read and write. However, love a talent does not make, and throughout school I figure I was a 6 on writing – better than average, but not knocking it out of the park. I never got anything published in my high school literary magazine, and my writing was always received politely but not with overwhelming praise in English classes. When my husband and I got a computer in 2001, I realized that I still had a love for writing, and I wanted to improve on it. I started writing, studying up on writing, and refreshing myself on grammar, spelling, and vocabulary. I did get my first book published in 2004, but still had a way to go before I was at a point where I got published regularly. In 2011, after years of still studying, still working, and advice from people in the industry, I finally got not one but 2 publication offers from epublishers, and it’s been going ever since. I still work on my writing regularly to keep my skill up, but hopefully I’m up to an 8 by now.
Cooking, on the other hand, is another issue. I was probably a 3 on this scale when I first got married, and this is kind because there were some things that even the feral cats refused to eat. In my humble first years of marriage, I tried so hard to become a better cook. I read cookbooks, looked things up on the Internet, and tried recipes on the weekends when I had time to “experiment.” All I got for my efforts was more food the ferals wouldn’t touch and frustration. The problem was that I didn’t really enjoy cooking, and was really caving in to social pressure to become a better cook. See, in the south being a bad cook is akin to losing a limb. Everything is still centered in the kitchen. After a while, I realized that if I cooked well enough to feed myself and my husband, then it was alright. Not everybody is destined to win the prizes at potlucks and publish recipes. I was better off spending my time keeping the house clean and organized (which I’m definitely a 10 at) and working on my writing (8 and building) than worrying about cooking. I have probably gotten up to a 4 on the cooking scale by now. Nobody asks me to contribute to the sick, bereaved, or potlucks, but at least the feral animals do eat it now.
Nobody is supposed to everything, but everybody can do something. Take some time to take stock at what you’re good at and what you’d like to get better at. This is the first step of surrendering will. It’s not so much giving up as it is deciding what to take up, and what to lay aside.
Know Your Weaknesses
By weaknesses, I don’t necessarily mean what you’re bad it (like cooking). This is more about seeing the flip side of your strengths, and where they leave you vulnerable to attack by the devil. The problem with talent is that it can be made a liability, and surrendering your will means knowing where the chinks in your armor are.
I mentioned above that I’m an extremely organized person, because I tend to see patterns in everything. This is good in many practical terms, but it also gives rise to some not-so-pleasant things. Being organized and seeing patterns means I’m a logical person, which isn’t a trait you see often in women. I usually find myself at odds with emotional people, and I get frustrated with people that don’t seem to understand things as quickly as I see them. Simply stated, I have a pride problem. Seeing things in my head as I do, I like to work independently and don’t like for people to question, correct, or boss me around. I’m leery of authority and am quite often on the offensive. It makes me prone to anger, which I know isn’t something I’m supposed to give way to.
We all have issues that we struggle with, and usually they can be tied back to the seven deadly sins: pride, envy, gluttony, lust, anger, greed, and sloth. I identified pride and anger as issues I deal with. Once you know what you’re up against, it’s easier to figure out how to fend off the devil in these areas.
I said above that our strengths can be turned to weakness, and this certainly explains my pride problem. But what about the anger? Well, another way our weaknesses can arise is through seeming “contradictions” in personality. We all have something about ourself that doesn’t seen to quite fit in right, and it can be confusing to deal with. If unresolved, it can cause internal conflict that leads to a weakness.
I’m a borderline introvert/extrovert. Of all the personality traits to be in the middle ground of, this is probably the worst because a person’s inclination in this area is a major determinant of personality. What this means for me is that social situations are unpredictable, because I don’t know which side of the spectrum I’ll be on in any given situation. It also means I have difficulty forming relationships, because people don’t quite know how to take me. I may be extremely talkative when we meet, and then clam up the next time we meet. I’m usually fine once I get out of my shell and get comfortable with people, but unfortunately impressions form fast and most people don’t have time for that – they make a quick judgment and move on. I believe this is a major contributor to my anger issues because I get frustrated with people often over the lack of patience and understanding of this see-saw trait. Sometimes I don’t get myself, and that leads to more frustration! As I recently told Rick, it seems to be a vicious cycle: I come out of my shell and talk to people, they get too comfortable and act like jerks, I wish I never wasted my time, and back into the shell I go. You can see how this becomes a vicious cycle of frustration that can lead to anger issues that arise over and over again.
I only recently came to realize that this could actually be a gift, because I can relate to both introverts and extroverts, and every situation is a new adventure for me. It also makes me a better writer, because I can write from both viewpoints, and the promotional aspect of publication is good for drawing me out at times when I retreated into myself too much, and I need to venture back out into the world. Realizing this is helping me to better understand what leads to my frustrations in getting along with others, and hopefully I’ll continue to make progress in this area. Who knows, I may learn to play well with others all the time yet. Or at least most of the time.
Vice and virtue are often flip sides of the same coin, so it’s important to be mindful of where you’re at and what you’re manifesting to the world. Is it light, or the less swell parts of yourself? Balance is a constant and ongoing issue that we must be attentive to at all times when dealing with our strongest and weakest points.
Another part of surrendering yourself is to take stock of your interests and life goals. God puts things into our hearts as ways to manifest our gifts and talents to the world. We’re naturally inclined to people and things that are in alignment with who we are and the purpose we can serve in the world. Unfortunately, the world also has it’s own ideas of how we can serve it best, and this usually isn’t in our best interests – in fact, it can be to our detriment, because it serves others 100% and us none. People talk a lot, and they’re usually better at telling us what’s best for us and what we should be doing than they are at figuring out their own purpose! The problem is that they have no way of knowing what’s in our heart, and they usually don’t care as long as they get what they want. One thing is for certain: the world isn’t going to look out for you, but God will. That’s why it’s important to guard our heart and our will against outside interference.
I remember that I suffered from discouragement shortly after I turned 30, because I felt stuck in a rut and didn’t know how to get out. It felt like my life had stalled out, and I wasn’t making any progress. After prayer and meditation, I came to the shocking realization that I had been perfectly happy with my life until people started yakking at me about “well, you’re 30 now, so isn’t it time to make things happen? Are you really staying in that same old house/car/job?” I was shocked, because I’m not the type that’s usually influenced by others (in fact, if everybody else is doing it, then that’s usually reason enough for me to stop and think about whether it’s really a good idea, or just being stupid and following the crowd). Furthermore, I was appalled by the fact that people thought I should presume to take God’s place and demand that things happen just because I hit a “certain age.” A look around confirmed that many of these people with their big talk actually wound out in bad situations and circumstances from forcing things in their lives instead of patiently waiting for the right timing, and were scrambling to hold on to them or work things out. To me, it wasn’t worth it. I’m glad I refused to lose my patience and waited too, because sure enough, things started moving in time, and it lasted. I certainly suffered less failure than others who charged ahead because the turning of a calendar page told them to do it. I’m interested to see if this big talk starts again when I turn 40. Keep an eye on my blog. I’ll let you know if it does, and we’ll have some fun with it.
You have to be so careful of what you take into your mind. The only way to know what the Lord has put on your heart is to withdraw into quiet time with Him and discern it through the Holy Spirit speaking through your intuition. As I once heard someone say, just because you can do something doesn’t mean you’re supposed to do it. That’s to true. I remember many years ago when I agreed to do some low-level accounting work because I’m good with math and numbers. I actually did it under the “encouragement” of others who said it would be good at me, but in reality needed one more body in that office counting beans and crunching numbers. I hated it, and unfortunately it was a mistake I spent six years paying for. I still thank God for ending that season of my life, and beseech him to keep that door securely closed, locked, and bolted. Writing and administrative work definitely suit my talents and interests better, and I’m happy doing these things because they’re in my heart.
Surrendering your will is really a sifting process for separating what God put in your heart from worldly expectations. He doesn’t want you to give up anything but what doesn’t fit, and that usually leads to a great deal of relief and joy. In the end, you have everything to gain and nothing to lose.
Surrendering yourself to the Lord really is a process of getting to know yourself and appreciate what makes you unique. It’s about finding your authentic self and exploring ways to bless the world as only you can. The common threads of strength, weakness, interests, and goals make your soul unique, and the process of surrender unlocks your gifts.
Don’t see surrender as a sacrifice, but rather as a process of self-discovery. In doing it, you aren’t just being a disciple of Christ; you’re also being the best “you” possible, and radiating light into the world. And who doesn’t want to shine?