The Spiritual Discipline of Surrender
Today's UPI column
So there I was
… out in the back yard. I was twelve years old, it was springtime and I had just decided to become apostate.
One of the problems with this picture is that I was twelve, and knew what apostasy was: willing, full knowing revolution against God and God’s faith, a change of loyalty, defection. This was the choice of Lucifer, the fallen one.
Another problem was that it was precisely what I wanted.
At that age I looked a lot like Pippy Longstockings; skinny, straggly hair in two messy braids, tall for my age, pale and weak. But I had left that Sunday evening class that was supposed to be my preparation for baptism, and made a big decision.
No Thanks. I’ll work for any team but yours.
My rebellion was supported by three pillars, God’s people, God’s teaching and God.
Despite the fact that I had loving parents who walked their talk, they seemed to be an anomaly. The guy teaching my baptism class preached love, and beat his kids. The big deal youth preacher down at Moody Bible Institute thought that the most important thing we could do as young Christians was to smash all our rock music. There were people telling me that I should simultaneously worry about college and the end of the world, which was going to happen any minute. These people seemed bad or nuts – take your pick.
Doctrine-wise I had pick up this: “Hey little girl, the best person who ever lived was brutally murdered, and it was YOUR fault.” Nobody in our church ever debated whether to blame the Jews or the Romans, those nails were meant for your hands, the guy with the hammer is just part of the plan. This was a bit heavy for a child.
And then there was my personal observation of God. He apparently stood by while the world was in a severe mess. His supposed ‘cure’ on the cross did not seem to have had much affect. And I did not buy the notion that this was our fault for not accepting Jesus as our Lord and Savior, because many of the people who did profess this acceptance were doing a lot of the bad stuff. I was twelve, but I understood racism, and the Christians who supported it. I understood and even approved of free will, but didn’t like what God was doing with God’s will. I didn’t like how things were set up. I blamed God.
And so I stood there and looked at the sky and said this.
“I know you are there. I know you want me, but I refuse you. I want nothing to do with you, or your church. Go away and leave me alone. I will be just fine.”
And then I went in and put on my PJ’s, asked my mom for milk and cookies, read some Tolkein, and slept peacefully.
I may have been apostate, and courageous enough to tell God, but I wasn’t stupid enough to tell my mom. So I started my life of closet apostasy and hypocrisy. I did decline baptism.
I told my parents that I did not feel ready, and that surely they wouldn’t want me to be baptized until it felt right.
They looked worried, but they agreed.
I eventually taught Sunday School, because it was easier than sitting in Sunday School.
I was president of the Youth Group because somebody had to do it. I went to camp.
I sang because it pleased my mother.
I did precisely whatever pleased me the rest of the time.
And I counted the days until my escape.
I had some close scrapes running my own life, but I was making it.
Sure I was scared, hiding a lot, faking a lot, but it was only temporary.
At eighteen, by a narrow margin I achieved the velocity required to get out of the black hole suction of the near-by Christian College. I was accepted at a prestigious Liberal Arts School with no tests, texts, or lectures. It followed Mortimer Adler’s regimen of the Great Books. I read Sophocles in Greek. Did science with Archimedes and contemplated Plato and then worked my way through history. Nobody told you what to think, they just asked questions and put up with know-it-all eighteen year olds like me. All this in the lovely city of Santa Fe, New Mexico – 1500 miles from home – paid for, of course, by my mother.
I drank beer. I rode horses. I got myself a guy. It was great.
Until Sophomore year.
They only had three questions at the School. You applied them to every text; What is the author saying? Is it true? And if it is true, how does it change your life?
I should have smelled a trap.
Because sophomore year we read the Bible. Cover to Cover. And asking the questions were these two guys, our academic midwives and nursemaids. At one end of the Seminar Table was Michael Ossorgin, conceived in Russia born in Paris just after the revolution, graduate of the Sorbonne, Russian Orthodox Bishop – he chain-smoked and glowed with holiness – this worried me a bit. At the other end of the table was Robert Sacks, Jew, slight of frame and fettered by cerebral palsy, he occasionally shouted, and often laughed and was a planetary expert on the Book of Genesis. He scared me a bit. They were absolutely nothing like anything I had ever seen before, only they were like everything I knew was true.
The Old Testament wasn’t too bad. All those years of Sunday School helped me sound pretty smart – at least I thought so. Then we read the New Testament – in Greek - slowly. And there was that pesky Jesus, purported God. And those dirty questions. And the holy guys at the ends of the table.
In the beginning was the Word (reason, ratio, relationship, everything that ever made sense and everything that doesn’t.) And the Word was God. And this Word lights up everyone who ever came into the world. But so often they do not recognize it. But if they do recognize it they become completely alive. (paraphrase of John 1)
And I found that the truth wasn’t in the book, or in other people – glowing or not – and it wasn’t in the discussion or the dogma, or the reading, it was inside me, and I recognized it, and I began to live.
I walked out of the seminar hall into the foothills of the Sangre de Christo Mountains and I looked at the sky and I said:
“I know you are there/here. I know you want me/have me. I surrender.”
And nothing changed and everything changed. But a conversation started that night that has never really stopped. I accepted Life on Life’s terms. God is God. The deal is what it is. Huge pieces of the deal hurt. A lot of the people are unmitigated screw-ups, including me. But I am awake, alive, connected, real. I fake less. I am scared less.
And I have to surrender every day.
It is not a one-time conversion sort of thing.
I am asked to accept things as they are, not as I would have them be.
It is the hard path to peace.
It is the hardest of all the disciplines, and the most important.
This is what I know.
If that riptide tugging at your knees is God, dive for the undertow and drown.