As an oldest child, and then later the mother of a crew, being in charge is just my natural state of being. I have always looked with awe on Mary’s answer to the angel, how she jumped headlong into what God asked of her even though she had big plans. How did she just let go like that? I know, she was full of grace but still, like I said, Plans.
So many others in the scriptures and throughout our faith history have done similar things. Abram dragged his family across the desert to an unknown land, Moses went back to Egypt (with plenty of attempts to negotiate first!) to free his people, David . . . he had his struggles with surrendering to God, but he really tried, and succeeded is some very big ways. St. Francis walked away from his rich life and began to put together a broken church with his own hands. The examples of those who have lived a life of “Yes” to God are really to many to list. I knew from early on this was an important part of living my faith.
Then there are the parts in scripture about anxiety. Having an \”in charge” personality almost means that anxiety is part of the fabric of who I am. If I am not feeling anxiety about something, then I am probably ignoring or forgetting some major aspect that I should be worrying and scheming about, right? But over and over again, the scriptures remind us not to worry.
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? (Matthew 6:25)
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. (John 14:27)
Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. (Philipians 4:6)
Those are just a few of them.
Recently I noticed that my efforts to follow in Mary’s footsteps led me through a few somewhat predictable phases of surrender.
Phase One: “Whatever.”
This is when I tell God that whatever He wants is good with me. During this phase I am comfortable and not afraid. I know that whatever happens will be used for good, even if not until heaven, and I am so thankful to have a break from anxiety that I just kind of toss my hands in the air. It’s like going out to eat and when the waitress comes to take your order you tell her to just pick something for you. (I’ve never been daring enough to try something like that.) But I can take deep breath in that moment and tell God, “Whatever. Just do your thing.”
Phase Two: “Bring It On”
When I’ve been riding on the “Whatever” wave for a while and some Stuff has begun to happen, I find my ability to live in a state of surrender changes a bit. Some of this Stuff is great, some is surprising, but some of it I am not happy with. My plans are shifting, we hit some crises as a family. At this point in the journey, I am starting to maybe feel a little bit beat up on. I begin to count the cost of living in a state of surrender, and I wonder if it might be more than I can pay. And this is when God and I get in a little fight. (I’m generally the only one fighting.) I start complaining and yelling and say, “You want surrender? You got it. Bring it on. Do what your going to do even though I will probably hate it.”
I never said I didn’t have an attitude problem. This is obviously not the kind of “Yes” which God is looking for, it’s more of a spiritual temper tantrum. But I take comfort that God is my Father and as a perfect parent, He will patiently wait while I fall apart a little. In these moments I can clearly picture Him holding me like a small child while I beat my fists on His chest and cry. When I have calmed down, He is still there, loving me, cradling me.
Phase Three: The Volcano
In the movie “Joe vs. the Volcano” (Spoiler alert!) Tom Hanks is Joe, a poor working stiff who is dragging himself through life not feeling well. He is convinced by a sham doctor that he is going to die. Another man offers him the business opportunity to jump into a volcano on a remote Pacific island for some various reasons. On the way Joe falls in love with Patricia (Meg Ryan), the boat captain. When they arrive at the island Joe and Patricia get married and then he tells her that he is still going to jump into the volcano. Since they have been through some very unlikely challenges already, she decides to jump with him and says a great line, \”Nobody knows anything, Joe. We\’ll take this leap, and we\’ll see. We\’ll jump, and we\’ll see. That\’s life, right?
Then they jump. At that precise moment the volcano explodes and they land safely in the water, because of course they do.
Phase three is when I feel like God is asking some really big changes of me or my family. It feels like jumping into a volcano. I struggle with fear during this time, trusting that one way or another God will allow me to land in the water, but I worry about how burned I will be before I get there. Did you catch the primary words in that last sentence? Fear and worry. When I am in this phase of attempted fiat, I am abiding in fear and worry and not in God.
I was trying. Trying to live a life of surrender and love for God, trying to let Him lead me, but I wasn’t all that sure that He wouldn’t go all crazy and dole out the kind of life that Job had; Job, who had trusted Him so deeply.
This phase is a little like a spiritual post traumatic stress disorder. Our intentions can be good, but we can’t get past ourselves, our own fears and plans. When I realized that this scenario of jumping into a volcano was playing in my head with regards to trusting God, I knew I was in trouble, that my view of God and my relationship to Him had somehow become skewed. The amazing sacrament of confession and extra time in prayer were balm for my soul and helped me to move on to…
Phase Four: “Anything\”
There is a subtle difference between telling God “Whatever” and whispering “Anything.” I started with the intention of echoing Mary’s Fiat in my own life, but it was more like I had just kind of thrown it at Him and left Him to do the dirty work. Anything feels more like sharing these moments of my life with God in real time as they happen. Anything feels like walking hand in hand.
One of the primary things I realized as I pondered the problems and joys of surrender is that when Mary uttered her fiat, she was answering one question. She lived her life with the expectation that it was all for the glory of God, but in that moment, there was only one question asked. As I had stumbled through my journey towards surrendering my will and saying “Yes” to God, I kept trying to do it all at once, to make my “Yes” encompass my whole life when what I really needed to do was say “Yes” in the next moment.
I’m sure there are many more phases that a person can go through when it comes to surrender. I don’t think I have come to the end of my journey through the ones I have listed. I am sure I will circle back through them many more times in my life. Slowly I am learning what it means to set myself aside and trust Him, and to hold my expectations and plans with an open hand.