Look Ma! No Hands!
Many years ago I was driving through the mountains in the winter as the temperature was dropping. It wasn't below freezing when I left home, but within 10 miles the road was icy. My car started to spin and I remembered my training from Drivers Ed that you steer into the spin, which I did. It didn't help. I kept on spinning. There was a point when I realized I had no control of the car and I just took my hands off the wheel. I remember saying in my head, "Jesus take the wheel" just like in the song. The car spun a couple of times and then hit the side of the mountain. We were fine, although the car was pretty banged up.
Sometimes we have to take our hands off the wheel and let God take control in our lives. For many of us, that is really difficult to do.
I once took a personal inventory that assessed three areas, one being control. How much did I desire to control the world around me and how much was I willing to allow the world to control me. My score on control was as high as it could be – a perfect score, I thought. When I shared my score with pride, someone said, "I don't think that's a good thing." They were right.
Letting go of control is important for our spiritual growth. It's my pride and fear that leads to a need for control. My pride in wanting to do everything right, and fear of the unknown when I'm not in control.
So how do we let go of control? How do we surrender our will to the will of God?
There are two aspects of surrender: in our prayer and in our everyday life.
Surrender in Prayer. What is prayer? It is the lifting of our heart and mind to God. I am controlling my prayer life when I try to make something happen. I want to feel some kind of positive emotion. If something doesn't happen – if I don't feel a positive emotion, I might consider my prayer time a failure. If I am distracted or my prayer is dry or I fall asleep while praying, I have done it wrong, or so I think. And I keep trying to find the right way to pray, as if there is one right way.
The truth is that any time I lift my heart and mind to God, I am praying. Even when I don't feel any positive emotion, I am praying. Even when I don't “get anything out of it,” I am praying. Even when God seems to be silent, I am praying. I surrender my prayer to God when I let go of my expectations. I am lifting my heart and mind to God because that is what He deserves. I pray out of love for Him, not for some personal gain (although I certainly gain personally). I can say to God, "Whatever you want for me in my prayer today is what I want."
Surrender in Everyday Life. There are so many things in life that we can surrender to God, ways that we can allow God to move in our lives.
- I can surrender my plan for God's plan. Isaiah 55:8 says, "My ways are not your ways." So when my plan is not working out, I can let go of my plan and roll with the punches. I can adapt to what's happening without getting bent out of shape.
- I can surrender big life decisions like marriage, career, family moves and so on. Which choice will bring the greatest glory to God? What might God want for me? I admit that I never considered that question when I was young. I was very practical but not very spiritual. I am much more likely to seek God's will today.
- I can surrender my work or my apostolate to God. Our apostolate is the work we do to further the kingdom of God. My apostolate is writing and retreats like the Sisters in Faith group that I started 12 years ago. In the beginning I tried to control every aspect of the meeting. I have learned over the years to surrender that to God. I prepare but I don't worry about how it will go or how many will be there because I know the Holy Spirit is in charge. In fact, He has always been in charge, even when I didn't realize it.
- I can surrender my family members and those I love to God. We all have people we love who don't have faith and that's hard. We might try everything to get them to church, but nothing works. When we realize that God loves them more than we do, we can surrender them to God. We continue to pray for them and realize that it's the Holy Spirit that will work in them, not us or our nagging.
- We can surrender our crosses and suffering. Jesus said in Matthew 11:28-30, "All you who are burdened and heavy laden, come to me and I will give you rest." We still have a cross, but we are not alone. God is with us.
- We can surrender our sins of the past to God. Sometimes we hold on to the sins of our past when we have already repented and been forgiven. Psalm 103:12 says that our sins are “as far away as the east is from the west.” The enemy wants to remind us of those sins, but God has already forgiven them.
- We can surrender our daily inconveniences. The traffic, a bad meal, a power outage, even when we stub our toe. These are all things we can surrender to God. It happened. It can't be undone like in the movie Groundhog Day. We have to move forward. When I surrender those things, I don't get thrown off by them. I am able to adjust.
Surrender can be scary, especially for people like me who want to be in control. There are some great surrender prayers, like "Jesus I trust in you." from St. Faustina and "They will be done." the perfect submission of Jesus to His Father.
When we surrender, we let go of control. It is actually very freeing. The stress and worry goes down. You might even find it thrilling. I've never jumped out of a plane, but I imagine it's exhilarating because it's scary but you know you are safe. When we trust God, we can take our hands off the wheel and be confident that God is in control.
Questions for prayer:
- Is there something you need to surrender in your prayer life? What is it and what's keeping you from letting that go?
- Is there something in your everyday life you want to surrender? Why do you resist giving up control? How can you make progress in allowing God to lead the way?