I have been asking God to teach me how to lay down trying-so-hard. How do I stop striving?
It is a heavy burden, this striving and trying-so-hard.
Yet trying hard makes me feel significant.
All my "doing" makes me feel I have value.
How do I journey in the unforced rhythms of grace? His word says that when we keep company with Him, we will learn to live freely and lightly. (Matthew 11:28-30 Msg).
I like the sound of that. I want to live freely and lightly.
In my striving to figure out how not to strive, I come across the word “surrender” a lot. How does one surrender a day to Jesus? How does one even surrender an hour or a minute to Him? In my searching, I discover John Ortberg’s book “the me I want to be”. He writes a whole chapter on this topic of "surrendering". I sit up straight and try hard to capture each word as I read. I’m searching for a “three simple steps to take to surrender” kind of guide.
I don’t find one. Instead he suggests starting the act of surrendering with this simple prayer:
“Today Jesus, you lead and I will follow.
Whatever I have to do in my relationships,
my body, my health, and my finances are in your hands.
I won’t try to solve everything today.
Just today. You lead. I’ll follow.”
Ok. I can pray this and mean it. I decide to give it a try. So the next morning I wake up before my alarm. It’s Monday morning. A public holiday. The book is still next to my bed, open on this prayer. I pray it. Then I wait. Almost instantly I feel nudged to get up and go for a run. (this is not unusual for me). Normally my fluffy dog excitedly bounces up to come with, but on this particular morning he looks at me wearily as if to say "no, you go on your own today." (very unusual!) I am glad for this because when I run on my own I know I listen to Jesus best. Maybe He has more to say about this surrendering thing. So, expectantly I roll out of bed and grab the closest running gear I can find. As I tie my laces I feel a shift. Usually I am the one asking Him to come with me. This morning He is asking me to go with Him. Off we go. Jesus and me.
“Ok, so how do I do this surrendering thing?” I ask Jesus. Clearly (in my head) hear Him say “come, I’ll show you”. We head off on our usual route towards the river. Usually we go as far as the bridge, then veer left into a loop to run back home. Usually I decide the route. Jesus is gracious and follows. This day is different. As we near the bridge I hear His voice. “Come further with me today. I’m taking you to the next bridge”. Now, this means that our run will be double the distance I more recently take us. My immediate response is “Ouch…this is going to be rough”. Jesus knows my thoughts, because just as I think this, I hear his voice: “Stop trying so hard, just relax into my rhythm and enjoy this time with me”….Ah, so this is surrendering…
About half a kilometre beyond the first bridge, we pass a man and his dog walking towards us from the opposite direction. He stops me and says “I wouldn’t carry on this way. There’s an angry magpie not too far along. It will attack you”. ...Now what?!? I stop to consider my options. In my mind I turn to Jesus. I thought you wanted us to go this way? You know how dangerous magpies are! He said nothing. It’s as though he was waiting for me to decide. Jesus is like this. He doesn’t push or force you. He is a gentleman. Then this thought came to my mind: “Should I trust Him and keep on going? After all He is God and will surely keep me safe? Or should I follow the mans sensible advice and turn back?” Was fear of the magpie going to keep me from surrendering to Jesus? He was clear about going to the next bridge. In that moment it became clear to me. Surrendering to Him meant trusting in Him and keeping going. So, I decided to keep going.
Around the next bend the path was empty. There would be no one else besides me (and an invisible Jesus) as the target for this pesky bird. This was bad. Magpies are vicious. They swoop and dive straight for your head to peck at you with their sharp beak. I have seen a few nasty injuries from these birds. So I slow to a walk and then I spot him. He is perched on a branch not far from the path. I make a wide birth off the path on the opposite side hoping to show it that I am not a threat. My heart starts racing and I pray like mad. “Jesus, you want us to come this way. Please protect me!” It comes. It swoops from behind me, straight for my head. Thankfully I have my running cap on. I cover my face with my hands and keep walking briskly forward. I feel the flapping as it tries to peck at me before swooping off again. I keep going. I keep urgently praying. It comes again, and again. Five times it swoops and pecks at me and finally, when I've covered enough distance from it’s tree, it decides to leave me alone.
I continue running. “What on earth was all that about?” I ask Jesus. “Why didn’t you make it stop!” I feel rather flustered and slightly indignant. Then, in a whisper, I hear this. “Walking with me towards the plans I have for you does not mean avoiding all danger. It means taking my hand and walking through even when there is danger ahead. It means knowing I am with you. It means trusting in me.” Then he said, “Come, I have something I want to show you.” On we run a few kilometres further to the next foot bridge, all the while I’m churning over the magpie experience in my mind. Finally we are on the bridge and slow down to walk. The view in both directions over the river from this bridge is beautiful. We walk over to the middle and stop.
Then it happens. In a single moment I realise that we are alone on the bridge! (This hardly ever happens! This is usually a busy bridge.) I take in the scene and notice the sky darken with clouds. Just then the morning sun breaks through behind me to illuminate the trees and sparkle over the water. This highlights the dark grey in the clouds. I hold my breath. This is my absolute favourite colouring of the sky. He knows me. The moment is glorious. It’s as though time stands still. I drink it all in. I am in awe. Then as if there is not enough glory all around, out of the stillness a large lonely pelican floats effortlessly downstream towards us, wings stretched wide, and ski’s over the water to stop only meters away. I am breathless at the magic in this moment. Then I hear Jesus whisper “I’m glad you came all the way to this bridge with me today. I wanted to show you this. I'm really glad you trusted me and didn't let the fear of that pesky magpie cause you to miss out”.
In a heartbeat the clouds cover the sun once more. The sparkle disappears form the water. A couple and their dog join us on the bridge. The stillness is over. The moment has passed. It's as though someone has pressed the play button and life as usual continues. We start to run again. I know I will hold this moment in my heart for a long, long time. It's a long way home. Jesus chats the whole way to distract me, keeping me in his steady rhythm. I realise that this is how it feels to not strive. This is what it feels like to surrender! Before I know I am back at my gate. I am tired, but I have peace and joy beyond what any words can describe.
As I sit now to write about this run with Jesus I search for a few nuggets of wisdom that I can hold on to.
# It’s far better to go along with Him and let Him take the lead, than to ask Him to join me and I try to lead.
# When He leads, there may still be dangers along the way, but because He is leading, there is no need to fear the danger. This doesn’t mean I wont feel afraid or that I won’t face danger. It means that I know I will get through. I will be okay. I will be more than okay!
# He leads me towards big dreams, way beyond what my mind has even conceived. His ways are so much bigger than my ways. Surrendering to Him will take me on a journey beyond my wildest dreams.
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