No Need for Surrender

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.

For God so loves the world.

Image by Kusal Darshana from Pixabay

How to Be Great

What does it look like for you to be at the top of your game?

Maybe you’ve won a championship, or an award, or you hold the top position, or you make the most money. Or maybe you just truly enjoy what you do.

We all like to be the best. Still, I think the bigger question we have to ask ourselves is how we live out being our best selves. Do we become proud, power-hungry, demeaning others beneath our status? Or do we remain humble and serve everyone, not assigning status at all?

We’ve all seen examples of both attitudes at play. Frankly, I don’t ever want to be The Best if it makes me into a worse version of myself. I don’t respect and refuse to become someone who condescends.

When the disciples argued over who among them was the best, Jesus put a child in the center of their circle. A child, who has no status (at least in Jesus’ time, before the Glorification of the Child), who hasn’t done anything to deserve anything. The child just is, and that child is welcomed and loved just for being.

Even at the top of our game—because Jesus is not at all against us using the gifts He’s given us—our job is to serve and welcome and support those who can’t do so for themselves. Which requires humility, not pride.

Obviously the disciples didn’t get it, because a few verses later we see them sending away parents seeking Jesus’ blessing for their kids. So again, Jesus stresses His priorities: the Kingdom of God belongs to children and to everyone who will receive it as a child.

Not earn it, because we can’t. Key word: Receive. God gives grace, grace, and more grace.

Whatever game we play, whatever position in that game, however hard we’ve worked to make it to that place, we must remain humble. To recognize God’s gifts for what they are: gifts. To serve others freely and generously with those gifts. To receive with open hands the grace God desires to pour out on us so that we can share it with the world.

Dig Deeper

Connect
In your opinion, what makes someone “great”?

Study
Read aloud Mark 9:33-37, 42.
How does the little child serve as an illustration to Jesus’ lesson (vv35-37)? Who or what else could illustrate Jesus’ point?
How would someone cause a little one to stumble (v42)? Why is that so bad?
From this passage, summarize what Jesus wants His followers to know about power and service.
Read aloud Mark 10:13-16.
What do you think motivated parents to bring their children to Jesus (v13)?
Why would the disciples rebuke parents who desired Jesus’ blessing for their children?
Put Jesus’ response in your own words (vv14-15). What did Jesus want His followers to learn about life in the kingdom?
What does it look like to “receive the kingdom of God like a little child” (v15)?

Live
We all want to be at the top of our game, great at what we do. How is that like/unlike what Jesus teaches His disciples in this passage?
Share an example of someone who excels at being first and last, servant of all.
What’s your favorite type of service? Which kinds of service do you practice most?
What would it look like today to welcome “a little child” in Jesus’ name?
How do Jesus’ followers today get caught up in competition with one another? What could it look like to serve each other instead?
How do God’s people continue to get mixed up regarding God’s priorities? With humility, share examples.
How might someone hinder a child’s approach to Jesus?
How can we encourage children—everyone, including ourselves!—to come to Jesus?
What does it look like for Jesus to bless children (and adults) today? How have you experienced His blessing?
How can you cultivate childlikeness in your life?
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Pray for the children in your church and community and then pray for childlike receptivity to God’s kingdom among adults.

Family Share Questions
Use these questions to reflect on Mark 9:33-37 & Mark 10:13-16 individually and with your family.
What makes someone “great”?
What do you think Jesus likes about you?
Thank God for Jesus’ blessing on your life.

Humble. Yoga. Go!

Friends opened a yoga studio and invited me to try it.

I’d never tried yoga and, other than mandatory (despised, humiliating) PE classes all the way through college and some neon jazzercise in the late-80’s/early-90’s, group exercise—team or class—hasn’t been my thing.

To be honest, exercise hasn’t been my thing. I’m branching out in middle age! (Literally: tree pose, growing branches)

I would have chickened out, but I bumped into my friend. She looked at me, pointed dramatically, and declared: “YOU! It’s time!”

I went. I loved it.

Because my son took a year of yoga in high school, I had heard that final savasana (lying flat on your back as in sleep) is supposedly the hardest yoga pose. Seriously, what’s so hard about lying still?

Proud of myself for making it through an hour of yoga, I was surprised when my yogi-friend grabbed my foot, then lifted, wiggled and pulled on one leg and then the other. I realized: I didn’t even know how to properly lie still. My body had been holding in stress and my legs weren’t fully stretched out. Talk about humbling…

At the end of class, I gulped one big sob: I had found a form of exercise that could unite body, mind, and spirit. Through this practice, hard and humbling as it might be, I could physically practice the greatest commandment: to love the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, strength, and mind.

Though my body ached, I had to go back. This time, I couldn’t keep still during final savasana as sobs shook my shoulders. Yoga tapped so deeply into my inner being that I felt like I should go home and journal. I knew I needed more yoga in my life.

One of my favorite things about this studio: humility is built into its name. Humble Yoga. As a total newbie, I have no choice but to enter in with humility. And when I wiggle or shake or fall flat on my rear, I laugh at myself. No judgment, always options to modify, and at least I’m trying! (One of our yogis said, “Oh, you just laugh all the time!” With humility I agreed, and laughter is good for the soul).

Another favorite thing about yoga: what I learn on the mat applies to life off the mat. Listen to these phrases I hear in most classes:

What is your intention?
Where is your foundation?
Ground down.
Inhale your intention. Exhale, commit a little deeper.
Engage your core.
Notice your body. Release any feelings of tension.
Grow tall through your crown.
Drop your shoulders.
Find your edge. Breathe through your edge.
Relax your face.
Shake it out.
Find your active pose.
Find something new in each familiar pose.
Gaze up.
Find a focal point.
Are you still breathing?
Option to modify.
Come back to your breath. Come back to your intention.
Give yourself a gentle squeeze.
This is your practice.

I’m sure you can imagine countless scenarios where those phrases would be helpful advice… In a tense work meeting, or conversation with a neighbor, spouse, or grumpy teenager. Any time life feels challenging. Any time you feel stumped or stifled. Any time you feel run down or discouraged. Any time you need a gentle nudge towards growth. How many times off the mat have I reminded myself to notice my body, to remember my intention, to relax my face and drop my shoulders, and just breathe?

Yoga reminds me to be present to this moment. This breath. This stretch. To breathe into the pain or pleasure of this moment without anticipating what will come next. Whatever’s next will surely come, and I will breathe into that moment as it comes, but this is Now. We can do hard things if we are present to what each moment requires and remember to keep breathing.

We do together what we would not do alone. I still walk or run most days in between yoga work outs, but yoga pushes me in ways I wouldn’t push myself. And in the studio I make new friends and connect in new ways with people I’ve known for years. In the studio we build community within our community, and it will strengthen the community beyond its doors.

Currently, my goal is to go 2-4 days a week; eventually that will become 3-5 days a week as I get stronger and ache less between. Still, even the aches remind me to breathe; that I have done and will do hard things; to be intentional.

I may not have a “yoga body,” but this body does yoga.
I am not strong. I am growing stronger.
I am stronger than I was. I will grow stronger still.

With practice.

[Yoga with me! gohumbleyoga.com]

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