As a child in church I sang, “I surrender all … all to Jesus, I surrender.” A current Hillsong chorus intones, “I surrender…”, giving God all of who we are and ever hope to be. It’s such familiar Christian-ese that it must be biblical. Right?
I’ve been doing a lot of self-reflection lately, always informed by my faith. As such, I had been leaning into an awareness that surrendering my life to God doesn’t mean giving up who I am. God made me. God loves me, has plans for me, is delighted to be with me right here, right now. I am not broken in need of fixing, but a beloved human being. Learning, growing, following the lead of the Spirit in this moment, this season. Becoming.
If I’m convinced that God is God and I am absolutely not God, it makes spiritual sense that I should give up my pride. I should throw over my belief that I am in control, a lesson this pandemic year has made abundantly clear. I should confess and repent of my sins. But I had a gut reaction to any suggestion that I surrender myself. It stopped me short.
Curious, I looked up surrendering to God in the Bible and … it’s not there (I checked several respectable translations though clearly not every translation). Where the Bible includes the word surrender, it consistently appears in a military context and never in reference to God. Nowhere in scripture does it demand that we surrender ourselves to God. I was stunned.
From the Bible I turned to the dictionary. Surrender came into English in the mid-15th century from Old French, meaning “to give up, deliver over,” though by 1580, it was primarily used as a reflexive verb: “to give oneself up,” specifically as a prisoner. As a noun, surrender means “a giving up,” as in property or land grant. And the Oxford Languages definition of the verb “to surrender” is to cease resistance to an enemy or opponent and submit to their authority.
Read that last sentence again. I’ll wait.
The idea that we surrender our lives to God, all of who we are and hope to be, pictures God as an enemy or opponent. It makes God the bad guy. It imagines God in a military uniform, wielding a bloody sword, righteously intent on wiping out his foes. Maybe this time Goliath beats David?
We must be careful about the words we use.
God is love (1Jn 4:8). That three-word sentence is God’s self-definition. Love. That’s it, astounding good news.
I am not property, land to be annexed to God’s Kingdom; I am God’s beloved daughter. Further, casting God in the role of either prison warden or military enemy couldn’t be further from what we see in Jesus. The Son of God, God Incarnate, humbled himself to serve us in ways we could never serve ourselves. He sacrificed himself to make peace.
Paul talks in several places (Rom 6, Gal 2 and 5) about “dying to self,” a whole different matter. Dying to self in order to take up the life of Jesus is self-sacrifice, a choice made for love rather than a battlefield demand. Also, dying to self is not about cutting off pieces of my personality and the identifying traits that make me me; it has nothing to do with how we understand self through the lens of modern psychology. Instead it’s about giving up my strong-headed insistence to choose sinful patterns rather than living freely in God’s grace.
In her book of Lenten meditations, Where the Eye Alights, Marilyn McEntyre reminds me that “…God’s way is to invite, not compel.” Think of a time when someone tried to compel you to action. How did that go? I had a recent encounter with someone who entered the room with an agenda so loud he couldn’t listen, nor could I hear myself think. A posture of humility, a hand extended with grace, a gentle invitation, that I might have chosen to receive. A crowbar of weighted words moves me, sadly, in the opposite direction. I guess he hasn’t learned that one catches more flies with honey than vinegar, although I’d like to imagine myself more butterfly than fly.
God does not compel. He graciously invites. God does not wait to arrest us and slam shut the iron bars. He longs to free us from the prisons we’ve built for ourselves. God does not force our surrender. Instead, Jesus modeled humility. God does not want me to give up myself. It bears repeating: God made me, loves me, and delights in me.
God wants us to give up sin. God wants to redeem the bad and bring forth beauty. God wants me to live this one precious life he’s given me with purpose. With joy and creative imaginings. With love, in love, for love.
It’s raining. I’m not feeling like myself. And I wondered: are these facts related?
I heard myself say: I’m feeling under the weather. Not ill, just unwell. Grey, like the sky.
A quick google search revealed that “under the weather” is a nautical term. A sailor who felt ill was sent below deck to get out of – quite literally “under” – the weather.
When my sons were babies, they tended to extra fussiness on days when the barometric pressure dropped before a storm. A doctor recently told my son that he develops migraine headaches before a storm hits. It doesn’t always happen, but the knee on which I had meniscus surgery pulses with a dull ache before a storm; the discomfort woke me this morning.
It’s not just an old wives’ tale.
Intrigued, I kept digging and discovered that our bodies may be more attuned to weather than we recognize. Beyond migraines and joint pain, cold weather can cause changes to blood pressure and even blood sugar. Apparently, many diabetics report having trouble regulating their blood sugar when it’s cold. The reason: blood thickens in cold weather.
I don’t live on a ship, and our house is comfortably heated. Again, quite literally, most of us have insulated ourselves against the elements. I don’t have to go outside in the rain unless I choose to. Even still, our bodies react to the weather. Nature calls to nature, and nature responds.
Connections like these fascinate me.
I love the rain. Living in drought-prone California I recognize how much we need the rain. The dreadful fires over the last few years have made tragically obvious the messy realities of climate change. “Fire season” shouldn’t be a thing, but it is. The ways we have used and abused the earth have terrifying consequences. Nature abused nature, and nature shouts her pain.
Maybe I should go out in the rain. Maybe I should find ways to honor and celebrate my body’s connectedness to the elements. Maybe some time spent puddle jumping will improve my mood. Maybe being in the weather will help me feel less under the weather. I think I’ll give it a try.
Christ be with me Christ before me Christ behind me
Christ with me when I sleep and when I rise Christ with me when I work and when I play Christ surround me with love, grace, and goodness Christ hold me close
Christ with those who can’t sleep and with those who suffer Christ with the unemployed and with those who work two jobs Christ with those who feel unloved, judged harshly, and unworthy Christ, hold them closer still
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me
Christ in everyone I know Christ, lead them to loving thoughts Christ, lead them to peaceful words Christ, may I remind them of you
Christ in everyone Christ in those I’ve thoughtlessly injured Christ in those who speak from their pain Christ, make peace
Christ in every eye that sees me Christ in every ear that hears me.
Christ in everyone I encounter Christ, may I look like you Christ, may I sound like you Christ, may I introduce you?
Christ in every human face Christ, may I see you Christ, may I hear you Christ, may I love like you.
I’m setting a timer and participating with the Five Minute Friday crowd. This week’s theme is POSSIBLE. In the story below, you’ll see that achieving your wildest dreams just might be possible…
You want to shout: “Title and Picture do not match!” Bear with me…
My son snapped this shot of an albino baby Rosy Boa taking a giant nibble of his finger on his first day of full-time employment at one of his all-time favorite places: The East Bay Vivarium.
We discovered the Vivarium, the nation’s oldest and largest reptile store, just months after we moved to the San Francisco Bay Area. At only seven years old, our son was already a reptile enthusiast. For the 1st grade talent show, he delivered an oral report with a handout to teach his peers about the lizards they were likely to meet in their backyards.
Other kids told jokes like: “What’s a banana?” “Yellow.”
For his eighth and ninth birthdays, he invited a friend for pizza and a visit to the Vivarium to check out their incredible inventory of cool critters. When he was twelve years old, I caved and let him choose his own snake, a Red Tail Boa, now measuring a whopping eight feet. Over several years, he has added seven Ball Pythons to his collection. He’s begun breeding them as well.
This year has been a long and winding road. Like so many of us, my son struggled in various ways and had to put a lot of his life on hold. But ultimately the road led him to this job. While this might be the stuff of my nightmares, he is living his dream. STOP
If you’re up for a feel-good teen movie that packs humor, heartache, and insight, go watch Amy Poehler’s new Netflix movie, Moxie.
An early scene takes place in the high school principal’s office. Lucy, a transfer student new to the school in her junior year, has a complaint: the captain of the football team, Mitchell, has been harassing her.
Students who have known Mitchell since second grade recognize that he’s a jerk. His female peers have learned to keep their heads down until he tires of picking on them and moves on to someone else. Lucy, however, possesses an internal strength others have squashed. Abdicated. Not one to keep her head down, Lucy speaks up in class when the book list for junior English prioritizes the classics over diversity. Lucy speaks back when Mitchell talks over her, physically shoves her, and spits in her soda. Lucy speaks out when she’s already taken too much.
Principal Shelly, played by Marcia Gay Harden, dismisses Lucy’s complaint without actually hearing her. She retorts, “He’s not harassing you. It sounds to me like he’s bothering you.” If Mitchell actually had been harassing Lucy, then she would be required to do “all sorts of stuff,” circling her hands over her paperwork-covered desk. Unlike Lucy, Principal Shelly can’t be bothered. Instead she nonsensically recommends that Lucy join the marching band, an effort to distract Lucy and perhaps get her out of Mitchell’s way.
Obviously that’s not how the story ends, but no spoilers.
Let’s take a closer look at the words. In this scene, bother has two meanings. Principal Shelly asserts that Mitchell has been bothering Lucy – worrying, disturbing, upsetting her. Also, Shelly cannot be bothered to take steps to address and prevent such behavior – she won’t take the trouble to do something. Given these two nuanced definitions of the word bother, her own admission that Mitchell has been acting in such a way that Lucy, another student under her supervision, has been upset should motivate her to do something about it. Instead, she pushes Lucy away and turns a blind eye to her own bias.
The audience, however, has watched this bothersome behavior take place. We know Lucy isn’t exaggerating the facts when she uses the more technically correct word harass: aggressive pressure or intimidation. As is tragically common in such situations, the injured party has been silenced, causing further injury.
Of course, there wouldn’t have been much of a movie if Principal Shelly had immediately jumped into action on Lucy’s behalf. In real life, that’s what a good principal should do. But the movie needed to establish a hurdle over which the characters would trip, skin their knees, train, and try, try again in order to eventually sail over it.
Sadly, this movie works because it tells the story so many women have lived – and are currently living. Society rewards good girls who do what we’re told, no questions asked. We’ve learned to put our heads down or to walk far out of our own way in order to avoid the bullies. We’ve been silenced, and we’ve silenced ourselves. We don’t need to be told that the captain of the football team will win in every situation, every competition, time and again, even if he is a total scum ball.
It’s no accident that a woman was cast in the principal’s role. If Lucy had complained to a male principal and he hadn’t listened, well, that’s no surprise, that’s just another Tuesday at the office. Yet to watch a woman dismiss another woman… That’s insight. Patriarchy has been so well established for so long that even women have internalized a bias toward men’s privilege to their own detriment. We’re too often blind to our own place as another cog in the wheel running over women who dare to stand up for themselves.
Take-aways: Women, find your voice. Speak up, speak back, speak out. Tap deep into your inner well of strength. Don’t put your head down and wait for the bullies to move on. Ask hard questions. Ask them again. Use the proper words for the situation and repeat them ad nauseam until others hear what you mean. Don’t take no for an answer when it’s clearly the wrong answer, even if it comes from another woman. Surround yourself with like-minded women.
Men, many of you have already become allies and advocates – thank you. We have more work yet ahead of us, so keep listening. We’re not making this stuff up, rather, we’re speaking our truth. It’s important to us, and it should be to you as well. The questions women ask may make you uncomfortable; learn to sit silently in your discomfort. Be willing to be led instead of insisting on your own leadership, and let women lead you to new approaches to old situations. Find ways to encourage, support, and promote women. Women are working hard to shine our moxie; you may need to step aside and cheer us on.
On my daily dog walks, I’ve been keeping an eye on a budding and blooming bush in a neighbor’s front yard. It first caught my attention when I stepped past it to get a closer look at a small garden angel. Perched on a low rock wall on a grey winter day, this lonely sentinel appeared to watch for small eruptions of God’s beauty. Its blank statue-stare aimed directly at the bush.
As days and weeks have passed, I wondered if a white capsule enclosed the flower buds before they exploded red. Now in full bloom, this bush has branches of red flowers and more branches of white. The red flowers opened first. The white flowers face the street. Captivating.
This bush makes me think of my two sons. Born of the same root stalk, if you will, they displayed different colors from birth. One exudes vibrant energy while the other whispers witticisms. One moves incessantly; the other sits still. One makes his presence known in every space; the other quietly observes. One follows his fascination into the natural world while the other explores the world within.
This bush reminds me that each son embodies different characteristics inherited, or learned, from his mama. One has my drama and my wonder in the presence of beauty. The other has my cozy-comfortable content-at-home-ness and my compassionate desire to serve others well. Of course they are each uniquely their own person, created in God’s good image, shining forth facets of God’s beauty flashing off their directional mirrors.
This bush causes me to consider that we all contain colors we bloom naturally, colors that explain and express who we are, colors we most easily manifest to the world. We likely also hold other colors, hues that for one reason or another we stifle. I am drawn to shades of blue and green, a calming ocean palette, and occasionally I want to sashay forth in wildly hot pink – not just in my wardrobe but in my laughter. In the things I do that cause me to bubble with laughter.
We are not all one thing or another. We grow. We graft in new experiences, people, thoughts and feelings. We change, in time, with love. As humans, we have freedom – in love, God gives us freedom – to bloom in a full spectrum of colors. Honor the color palette with which you began, but don’t let it define you – or confine you – for all time. If you feel like waving a branch of flowers in a different color, wave wildly. I can’t wait to see. I promise to wave back.
Do you always finish reading the books you start? I read three chapters of Kristin Hannah’s Firefly Lane – almost word-for-word the one episode of the Netflix series I watched – and returned it to the library. Maybe if I hadn’t seen the show I’d have stuck with the book, but I didn’t want to invest hours into reading about three decades of an unhealthy friendship. Then again, I finished reading two novels this month, both of which were okay, not great.
Good thing I had two fantastic books of prayer to balance it out. Brian Doyle’s A Book of Uncommon Prayer wins my favorite for this month, just by the width of the wild hair that tickled me, causing me to laugh out loud at his respectful sense of humor in prayer. Couldn’t we all use some humor in prayer?
Book titles link to Amazon for more info + easy purchasing. Please note: As an Amazon Associate, I may earn from qualifying purchases.
My big takeaways: everyone and everything is far more connected than we take time to recognize, and antiracist policy will be the key to making a better world. I wanted to give this a higher rating, except – sometimes Kendi runs away with his words in a way that sounds overly clever, and sometimes the weaving of his personal story with his research feels forced.
“Incorrect conceptions of race as a social construct (as opposed to a power of construct), of racial history as a singular march of racial progress (as opposed to a duel of antiracist and racist progress), of the race problem as rooted in ignorance and hate (as opposed to powerful self-interest)–all come together to produce solutions bound to fail.”
“The history of racist ideas is the history of powerful policymakers erecting racist policies out of self-interest, then producing racist ideas to defend and rationalize the inequitable effects of their policies, while everyday people consume those racist ideas, which in turn sparks ignorance and hate. Treating ignorance and hate and expecting racism to shrink suddenly seemed like treating a cancer patient’s symptoms and expecting the tumors to shrink.”
A friend recommended this book, and I used it as my Sunday meditation readings over the last month. I appreciate that Doyle turns his lens every which way as an appropriate occasion for prayer – to people he knows, or sees, or admires, or doesn’t even like; to hot showers and little brown birds, newts and cell phones; to the Church, and nuns, and Osama bin Laden; to writers, editors, and proofreaders; to sunny and rainy days. I also really appreciated his metaphors for God: Generosity, Designer, Coherence, Breath, Light, Bus Driver, Boss, Publisher, Band Manager, Imagination.
“Influenza delle stelle [means] the influence of the stars. Medieval Italians thought the illness proved that the heavens were governing their fates, that people were quite literally star-crossed. … I’d never believed the future was inscribed for each of us the day we were born. If anything was written in the stars, it was we who joined those dots, and our lives were the writing.”
Timely, for certain, given that a novel about a global pandemic came out during another pandemic (& astonishing that Donoghue submitted final edits in March 2020 and publishers rushed the publication process, often as long as 2yrs, to just 4mos). And we’re still wrestling with bias issues related to gender and class. And politics and war.
The book is well written, but I didn’t like it. I kept turning pages much like I hit “next episode” on Netflix hospital shows, reading because it’s entertaining enough and I’m in it now. The last chapter contained a sensational twist that felt unnecessary, like it was added either for shock value or for contemporary relevance – neither justification made it necessary.
“Maybe all relationship journeys are messy and complicated in one way or another, products of two flawed people coming together to form a flawed but, one hopes, stronger union.”
I chose this book because I hoped for a light before-bed read. Sadly, my favorite part was the pop culture references early on – TV shows and fashion trends that set the scene. The relationship issues were long and winding, frustrating and eventually predictable. Note: many reviews I read felt that Giffin made light of the 9/11 tragedy and profited from the suffering of others. While it didn’t bother me as I read, their perspective clearly has merit.
A brave, bold, beautiful book containing prayers – leading and worshipful, gentle and prophetic – and meditations on prayer. This book won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but it will quench the spiritual thirst of anyone who wonders if prayer is still for them. Yes, prayer is for you – because God is for you, always. In the introduction Sarah prays for this book: “May it be hope for the grieving, tenderness for the hurting, challenge for the comfortable, a kick in the ass for the lethargic, a permission slip allowing rest for the overwhelmed, an anointing for the work ahead, and a sanctuary.” I finished reading the last prayer Sunday and started again from the beginning Monday…
As much as I love books, I don’t often post cover pictures. Partly because I’ve been reading on my Kindle, and it’s difficult to take a picture of a digital bookstack. And partly because I don’t post until I’m done reading and know what I want to say about the book(s).
However, I have no hesitation recommending these books, my spiritual reading during Lent. They’ll be my Lenten companions at least until I finish them and have to find new book friends for the journey – the three in the middle aren’t dated, so I’m plowing my way through them.
Book titles link to Amazon for more info + easy purchasing. Please note: As an Amazon Associate, I may earn from qualifying purchases.
Bottom to top: Common Prayer by Shane Claiborne – This will be an all-year book for me. I started reading it last year when the pandemic shuttered in-person church and it’s been a welcome addition to my morning routine.
Native by Kaitlin Curtice – I heard her interviewed online and before it was over I’d ordered the book, the story of a young woman raised between Christian and Indigenous faith and culture and how she is coming to terms with all aspects of her identity.
Dakotaby Kathleen Norris – I picked this book from the suggested reading list for a writing class I’m taking since I already had it in my bookcase, unread. Some chapters have been more compelling than others (I may drive through, but this book has convinced me that I have no intention of ever living in the Dakotas), but the unintentional conversation between Native and Dakota, both spiritual autobiographies tied to the land in middle America, has been interesting.
A Rhythm of Prayer, edited by Sarah Bessey – As with my choice of Common Prayer, I’m finding myself drawn to praying written prayers, sharing in “the prayers of the people” during a time when gathering with people has become fraught.
Where the Eye Alights by Marilyn McEntyre – That writing class I’m taking? Taught by this author! This lovely book offers a meditation for each day of Lent that I am savoring like one melty square of dark chocolate oozing goodness into my whole being.
Three of the stack are my morning reading, Native and Dakota are my afternoon reading, and I sip on a cup of tea and a novel before bed.
Do you have different books for different times of day? For different seasons?
“…Lent is a speed bump in the church year, inviting us into reflection, confession, and prayer as we approach Holy Week and Easter, a time when we remember the profound costliness of God’s abundant love for us.” –Susan Phillips, PhD, Executive Director of New College Berkeley
I love the image of Lent, the 40 days before Easter (Sundays not included), as a speed bump. Even in this strange pandemic time when I go nowhere to do nothing and see no one, apparently I’ve still managed to speed my life along and oh wow here comes Lent and – wham – I’ve hit it too fast. I need to slow down. Lent will help.
Often Lent involves giving something up (chocolate) or taking something on (acts of service) as a way of identifying with Jesus as he journeyed toward his crucifixion in Jerusalem. Yet I’m already daily working my habit tracker, and let’s be honest, this has been an unusual year to say the least. Which calls for an unusual response.
Last week when I encountered a list of words related to purpose in writing, three leaped off the page: Explore. Play. Practice. They get along well together, and I believe I will enjoy watching them frolic in the long green grass of this Lenten season.
I want to Explore. To strike out on an expedition. To take twisty-turning side roads and unexpected paths in the deep forest. At one time I might have felt afraid, but I’m leaving timidity behind. I have confidence that my soul will guide me with yes or no responses along the way. I welcome everything, everyone, every occasion I encounter today, because I trust it will be for my healing.
I’d like to say I’m packing light, but that’s not true. Even if my backpack contains little more than snacks, a sweatshirt, and a flashlight, my head and heart are overstuffed. That’s part of the point, of course: I need to get lost to be found. To empty myself and create space for what may come.
Exploration will tuck new tools into my backpack I didn’t know I’d need. It will fill my eyes with breathtaking sights I could only extrapolate from travel books, imagination, and dreams. It will fill my heart with experiences that amplify my joy. I will encounter prophets and teachers, leaders and fellow pilgrims who swell my love to overflow. I may come home weary and changed. I expect to come home grateful.
I want to Play, and I’ve traveled enough to know that exploration can be hard work and playful, too. In my tendency toward contemplation, I naturally find myself alone, deep in thought, immersed in words – mine or others as I move between writing and reading. It can get a little heavy, and my mental muscles grow weary as my physical muscles grow itchy from sitting too long in our overstuffed recliner.
I need playful movement. I want to skip along new trails, and also to crouch low and watch the fascinating tiny creatures I’d miss otherwise. Maybe I’ll pull out the crayons and draw as I observe them. Maybe I’ll journal with colored pencils. Maybe we’ll find a deck of cards and play together, right there in the woods.
After all, I am walking toward Good Friday, not racing. There’s no rush. I need to move slow enough to remember Jesus, my companion. To walk hand-in-hand, noticing what he points out about this lovely world he made, about my life in this time, about his love for me. What’s coming will be devastating, though not paralyzing: Sunday always comes after Friday; Easter always follows Good Friday. Joy in the morning means I can play joyfully now.
I want to Practice. When I first read Richard Foster’s book Celebration of Discipline in the early 1990s, it was life-changing. Foster advocates for ordinary followers of Jesus, not just spiritual giants, to engage everyday disciplines that help them connect with Jesus and add joy to life in the midst of laundry and lawn-mowing. Disciplines such as meditation and study, simplicity and solitude, confession and celebration. I became something of a spiritual discipline junky, and as I type those words I’m not sure how to feel about being addicted to paths that connect me to God… Is that healthy addiction, or inappropriate metaphor?
Yet these days I find myself substituting “practice” for “discipline.” Discipline feels exacting, harsh, rigid. When I practice yoga, I listen to what my body needs. Some days parts of me feel strong or wobbly, and tomorrow will be different. Some days, certain poses require modification because I can’t bend that way; it hurts, I need props, gentleness, maybe a slight wiggle to ease into place. It’s a practice, not a perfection. And it’s my practice, not up for comparison with others. It’s communal and personal, imperfect and improving. As with physical practice, so goes spiritual practice. Even the wobbles find acceptance so long as I keep at it. The practice itself imparts grace.
I can’t tell you today, on this Ash Wednesday as Lent begins, what this season will hold. I will read and write for sure. I will engage solitude and time with others. It may look a lot like life in any other season. I can tell you, however, that I will listen for whispers of invitation to Explore Playful Practice and follow where they lead.