An Act of Surrender

Surrender

Seeing that I had forgotten my choir music at rehearsal one evening, my friend held her music between us so I could look on with her. I was puzzled by a note she had written in the margins of her sheet music: “Listen to Sheri.” I asked her what it meant, and she explained that at a previous rehearsal she had struggled to find a note in a particularly challenging chord. Hearing that I had it, she wrote that message to herself as a reminder to listen to me. I chuckled at her answer, saying, “Listen to Sheri…that’s pretty good advice for all things in life, isn’t it?”

As we turn our focus this month towards the theme of LISTENING…we begin with an act of surrender.

So often the voice that guides us in our lives is our own. The inner voice that dictates our plans and goals. That maps out our path to success or victory. Putting it simply…most of the time we think we know best. Like the former President who once said, “I am the decider!”—we’re convinced that our way is the best way. We even become frustrated when those in our lives (hint, hint…our children!) don’t listen to us. Controlling everything around us becomes a defense. Our control is the only thing we feel is keeping us together…when perhaps it’s the very thing holding us back from truly growing in our faith.

If we are committed to listening to God’s call in our lives, we need to surrender. To give up our need to control, to manage, to decide, to be in charge.

Thy will be done.

When Jesus approached Simon and Andrew, casting their nets on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he offered them an invitation. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people” (Matthew 4:19).  The two brothers immediately dropped their nets and followed him…and their lives were changed forever.

It takes practice—listening to God. Letting God lead us and guide us might not come naturally at first. But we must remember that God has chosen us and comes to us with an invitation. How will we respond? Are we open to the mystery of God’s plans for our lives? Complete surrender is not an easy thing. In battle, surrender signals defeat. It implies a loss of control and a giving up or giving in. To surrender to an enemy is a failing act of last resort.

But to surrender to God’s loving plans is something else altogether. Our ego-driven belief that we know best falls away as we begin to trust God. For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. They are plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11).

To surrender to God means…

  1. to love God with your whole heart, mind, and soul,
  2. to trust that God is working in your life, and
  3. to believe that God will meet all of your needs.

This LOVING and TRUSTING and BELIEVING can be done through prayer and examination. Ask God what it is in your life that is most in need of your surrender. To what are you gripping too tightly? What nets do you need to let go of so you can follow Jesus?

Thy kingdom come; thy will be done.

It’s during these moments of surrender that the deepest listening takes place. If we open ourselves to the invitation with unclenched fists and open hearts, we will be ready to discover God’s plans for us.

And ready to follow wherever God may lead.

 

Background photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Filtering out the Background Noise of Life

yoga

Last year I signed up for a weekly yoga class during my lunch hour. The class was called “Sweat and Surrender” and I thought it would be the perfect break to de-stress from my day and return to work relaxed and rejuvenated. The class was great, and the instructor was gentle and encouraging. There was only one thing preventing me from enjoying it…the very loud Zuumba class held in the room next door.

Yoga takes concentration. You need to focus and listen—both to the instructor and to your own body as you move through the different postures. The Zuumba music was so distracting, I could never reach this level of focus. I tried my best to ignore it. To tune it out. But I just couldn’t.

We all move through life with varying degrees of “background noise.” We try our best to tune it out, but it can become a significant challenge to hear—and really listen—to the voice of God. The noise is always there to distract us, pulling us away from the calm, the stillness, and the focus we need to listen to our Creator.

Can you identify the background noise in your life? For most of us, it begins with the general hectic pace of today’s world. We get used to it until we don’t realize how truly “noisy” our lives have become. It’s so important to retreat once in a while. To escape from the noise and be still. I’ve written about silence and breathing in the past. Both are excellent ways to minimize the background noise of a busy life.

Maybe the background noise you struggle with is negativity. Fear is always there, waiting to drown out any truths we might hear from God about trust, about God’s faithfulness, about God’s promises, and the knowledge that God is carrying us and caring for us always. Negativity can build up inside us like an automatic response, until it becomes a thick wall that blocks out God’s messages in our lives. It can take practice, but you can intentionally turn your thoughts towards God when you feel negativity creeping in.

And finally, our own Inner Critic can be a damaging source of background noise. Telling us were never going to be good enough, the voice of the Inner Critic is loud and constant and very hard to turn off. But if we’re aware of it, we can recognize it and name it and begin to strip this voice of its power. And once you do you’ll be better able to listen for the Voice of Truth—the Voice of your loving God. The Voice that says you are loved and accepted exactly the way you are!

During the month of February, I’ll be writing about the importance of LISTENING in our faith lives. When we pray, we do a lot of talking (Please! Thank you! Help me! Do this!) If you can be still and quiet long enough, you’ll begin to hear God speaking to you. Messages of love that are unique and meant for your ears alone.

I’ve joined a new yoga class this winter. It meets in the evenings in the library of an elementary school. The room is quiet and peaceful with dim lights and an inspiring, gentle-voiced instructor. It’s just what I was looking for…but never would have found if I didn’t make the decision to leave the noisy environment of my old class.

Take some time this week to examine the background noise of your life. What’s the “Zuumba music” that might be preventing you from hearing God’s whisper? How might you minimize that noise and focus on what really matters?

Share your ideas in the comments section below!

 

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Come As You Are

god is faithful week 2

Background photo by Frank Mckenna on Unsplash

A few years ago my husband and I spent an amazing week on a tropical island in the Caribbean. The weeks leading up to the vacation were stressful for me. I was tired from work, pale and washed out from the long winter. I was fighting a cold, and my lower back had a consistent ache from sitting for long hours at work. And I had not reached my ideal weight for wearing a bathing suit. I was putting so much pressure on myself to “fix” all of these things before we left. This was a trip of a lifetime and I wanted everything to be perfect.

Seeing how anxious I was, my husband said: “Isn’t the point of the vacation to rest and heal and relax?” The thought hadn’t occurred to me, and his words calmed me down right away. I didn’t need to be perfect before I arrived. I could come to our vacation exactly how I was. Let the sun, the ocean, and the tropical air work its magic on me.

Come as you are.

This is God’s invitation to us—to know us and be in relationship with us just as we are. Wounds, regrets, scars, bruises, and doubts…God wants all of it. We don’t have to do any frantic preparation in order to make ourselves “ready” for God. We just need to show up. All I needed to do to enjoy the healing benefits of that tropical vacation was to get on the plane. In the words of C.S. Lewis, “God doesn’t want something from us, He simply wants us.”

You don’t have to be perfect before you come to God. You are made perfect in God’s love. You don’t need to fix yourself so that God will accept you. Bring your deepest wounds to God and let the healing begin. You don’t need to rest up so you’ll have the energy to be what God wants you to be. You can find rest—and profound peace—in God.

In words attributed to Abigail Van Buren, “The church is not a museum of saints, but a hospital for sinners.” Whatever your experience of faith or worship is, think of the doors to a church as a metaphor for your relationship with God at this moment. Where do you find yourself? Outside the closed door…afraid to open it and come in? Or maybe standing in the open doorway…peering inside, wondering if there’s a place for you?  

You don’t have to be a “saint” or saintly to live a life of faith. Very few people are! In my experience, so many of us hold ourselves back from a truly authentic relationship with God because we feel inadequate or “not enough.” In her book Days of Deepening Friendship (2009) Vinita Hampton Wright writes: “No matter what state you’re in when you enter the Room, it has no impact whatsoever on God’s love for you. God’s invitation is sweet and clear: Come in! There is so much to know and to experience. And you will be astounded by the divine moment called love.”

Our faithful God provides all the love, healing, and rest we could ever need.  All we need to do is show up.

After a week of lying on the beach, sleeping late, and feeling the warmth of the sun—I was transformed. My cold faded away, my skin lost its winter pallor, my aching back was healed from long soaks in the hot tub and a massage. (I confess I didn’t make any progress on reaching my ideal weight…all-inclusive buffets are really, really tempting!) The healing and restoration my husband promised me would happen, happened that week. I simply needed to trust that it would.

For the next week I ask you to trust in the faithfulness of our loving God. Trust that God will welcome you with open arms. Come as you are and accept God’s invitation. Open the door and come inside. Just simply show up…and let God take care of the rest.

Leave your prayers or thoughts on this reflection in the comments section below!

A Prayer for Everyday Grace

ocean boulders

Lord, I bring to you all that is on my plate. The noise, the clutter, the chaos, and the distractions. Help me to empty myself so that I may see you, hear you, and feel your presence. Empty the interior space of my soul that I may receive you and discover who I truly am.

Lord, I bring to you my fears and worries…all the things that are so heavy and hard to carry. I place them into your hands. Loving God, may your Spirit come to move my life. I place my trust and faith in you.

Lord, I bring to you my burdens. Things that I cannot control weigh me down like a heavy stone. On the days that I am tired, stressed, and weary, I know that you walk with me. I know that you are my rock—my cornerstone—and I can find rest in you.

Lord, I bring to you a heart that longs for healing. I know that when I choose to sin, I separate myself from you. Help me to remember that because of the sacrifice of your Son, Jesus Christ, there are no longer any walls between us. Grant me wisdom to make good choices and the courage to seek to be reconciled with you when I do not. Help me to forgive myself and others as you have forgiven me.

Open my heart, O Lord, to receive your gift of amazing grace!

 

*Adapted from the closing prayer for Creating Space for Grace: A Retreat For Busy Women © Sheri Dursin, 2016

Finding Beauty in Bleakness

january-sunrise

Today is Valentine’s Day… 45 days into 2017 and I’ve already broken almost all of my New Year’s resolutions.  This is a more impressive feat than you may realize, because every year I make dozens and dozens of them.  It’s one of my favorite thing to do; like an opportunity to create a whole new me: spend more time outside, eat more vegetables, take up yoga, learn to knit, spend more time in silence, improve my posture, try new recipes.

Something about the unlimited potential of New Year’s resolutions gives me a lift every year. And I like to believe that somewhere out there is an alternate universe where I’m doing all these things and feeling fantastic.

But there’s one resolution that I’m determined to stick to in THIS universe:

To discover—and rediscover—the beauty of God’s creation.

I’m sure you’ll agree this is not so easy to do in the winter.  Record setting rainy days in January gave us a bleak, dreary month of cloudy skies, dead grass, and bare branches.  February seems to be replacing all of that with snow, ice, and wind.  Not exactly the best conditions for taking in the splendor of God’s creation.

Unless you’re willing to look a little harder and a lot closer. A lone bluebird perched on a dead branch. Rays of sun peeking out behind the clouds. The glittering silence of a midnight snowfall. A winter sunrise, like the photo at the top of this post, taken by a dear friend on a cold January morning

After searching God’s landscape in this new way, we can turn our eyes to our brothers and sisters.  There is great beauty to be found in human actions and interactions.  The core message of Jesus was PEACE and LOVE.  Where do you see this in your daily experiences?  For me, it was recently, as I saw hundreds of faith communities across the country embody these teachings in the compassion and concern they showed for our refugee sisters and brothers.  Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13:1-2)

We are all created in God’s image.  What’s more beautiful than one human treating another with compassion, dignity and love?

I invite you to join me in being on the lookout for glimpses of God’s beautiful creation in the midst of these winter months, as we move into the most holy season of Lent.

Live Like You Were Living

skydive-woman-1437056

I have a confession to make. I am not a fan of the songs, inspirational quotes, and Facebook posts that tell us to “live like you were dying.” I get the point. Time is short. You have to make the most of every moment. You never know when your number may be called. My reaction to this: It’s a terribly nerve-wracking way to live your life. This pressure to do everything we think we might ever want to do for every moment of the day. To tell everyone exactly how much they mean to us every single time we interact with them. I think if I tried to live this way I would fall asleep each night convinced I had fallen woefully short of the demands of this “live like you were dying” philosophy. For example, here are some things I did today: I cleaned my bathroom. I wrote a few emails. I made a grocery list. I stared into space for a few minutes while trying to focus on work. I spent a few minutes trading dumb jokes and harmless gossip with my sister. I watched TV.

Not exactly skydiving and poetry.

The fact is, most of us live a life marked by the ordinary. It’s how we choose to frame that ordinary, that matters. And we don’t need a death knell to achieve it. We just need a simple reminder that God loves us. That God is good. And that God chooses us and blesses us. The process of becoming who we’re meant to be is often gradual. We are each a work in progress. We look back on the ordinary moments and realize that our life is about something or it is not yet. But there’s still time. For the vast majority of us, there’s still time to make changes.

I’m not rejecting bold action in living out our faith. There will be those times when God calls us to take risks. To abruptly change course. To follow Him in a direction we never dreamed we could go. But most days we’re just chugging along the tracks of life. Doing our best. Imagine if every time you did something, a voice shouted at you: “But you could DIE tomorrow! Is that really what you want to be doing on your last day on earth?!?” My goodness. Who could hold up under that pressure? Imagine instead, that you heard a voice whispering to you:

“You are loved. You are called to love.”

This gentle reminder would reshape the way we see the world. The way we interact with others. The way we live.

There are many ways to live life to the fullest. And it’s true that some of our loved ones have been taken from this earth far too soon, while still others face very serious medical struggles. Our heart breaks with the unfairness of it all. We may never understand the reasons for it, and we wish we could take their place. But we must remember that God has given us our time here on earth for living. It’s ok to have regrets… as long as we share those regrets with God, release them, and keep moving forward, through each ordinary moment, listening for God’s voice teaching us and reminding us that love matters most of all.

It just might be a feeling even better than skydiving.

A Prayer for this Day

bars sunset

There will come a day…

When words are not used like knives,
to cut down and decrease.

When the meek and lowly are raised up
and valued as God’s treasure.

When all weapons are cleared from the land,
melted down in a mighty fire of peace.

When the poor dine
on milk and honey and dignity.

When freedom is not reserved
for a privileged few, but ALL.

There will come a day…
But it is not yet this day.

This day
We can only turn to our God for guidance
To shine Holy light on human weakness and injustice;

To raise up prophets and soldiers
of peace and love

To forge us with the fire of equality and grandeur,
until we are strong like steel.

Raise up
Shine down
Speak truth
Dig deep
All in all

Loving God,
Show us the way
On this day.

AMEN.