Even for those who have taken the outstretched hand of God and found freedom in Christ, we hold back a total surrender of the self. Pieces of our hearts, minds, souls and physical bodies are left under our control; we don't want to face whatever fear or work giving them up might entail. But, we know, because of the conviction of the Spirit at home within us, that we are called to a total surrender. God wants our love in heart, mind, soul and strength, no holding back.
'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind' Luke 10:27
If you look at the above verse, named by the Master as the Greatest Commandment, it can seem a little one-sided. But, from personal experience, I can tell you truly: with each bit of yourself you succeed in handing over, a flood of love comes back from the other side. A person fully surrendered to God is a person full of the love of God, who cannot help but spill that love onto all that he/she meets. A life lived abundantly is a life of surrender. Surrender is not only a positive word, but a word that can change your life in the most profound way possible.
In this four-part series, we will study how to surrender in love every part of the self. As Jesus said, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments" (Jn 14:15) and the Greatest Commandment should be foremost on the list. Our surrender of will to his perfect will is not always straightforward. When considering this topic, we usually dwell on the decisions we make. But it can be more subtle. It can be in the attitude of the heart, the thoughts inundating our minds, the disposition of the soul, and the way we treat our bodies.
The Heart: Deal with What You Feel
Unfortunately, emotions get little respect in this society that has long been driven by logic and the left brain. They are considered almost as if they were a pest; like something to eradicate. The impression can be left that they have no use except to disrupt what would otherwise be a smooth-sailing life.
My daughter recently came to me with overwhelming emotions and an inability to deal with them. In trying to help her process them, I gave her this analogy:
Consider emotions to be like a classroom full of middle-schoolers--the most emotional creatures imaginable--and you are their teacher. One by one they start to raise their hands, wanting to be heard. But there's not much time left and you want to get finished with your lesson. You are trying to ignore them.
- Fear wants to tell you she's not sure she can remember all this for the test.
- Anger needs you to know that the test is unfair.
- Urgency wants to go to the bathroom.
- Impatience wants to know what time they can all go home.
- Frustration feels like he will never understand what you're saying.
- Boredom wishes you'd talk about something interesting.
- Bitterness is still upset about the grade you gave her last time.
- And Hatred can't stand school to begin with.
Attempting to ignore all the upraised hands is futile. The more emotions are ignored, the harder it is to deal with everyday life. They get piled up and backlogged, and eventually cause some kind of breakdown--whether it is mental or physical. If the heart cannot be heard, its influence will leak over into a part of you which you cannot ignore. In the end, we have to deal with our emotions.
Society gives us self-help books, meditative techniques, psychologists, drugs, etc, to help us feel better about our emotions. And it encourages ignoring the emotions by giving us an endless array of distractions on the television, computer, phones, tablets, etc. Often people will fall into addictions to try and assuage their ailing hearts: drugs, alcohol, sex, video games… the list goes on and on. But like Paul said of love in 2 Corinthians 12:31, "And now I will show you the most excellent way."
Stop what you are doing for a minute and let each have their say, one by one. And then, as you are hearing them out, make an offering of them to God.
I taught my daughter this meditation to help her deal with her overwhelming emotions:
- Find a quiet place and turn your awareness inward.
- Breathe deeply and sink below your thoughts, pretending that you are lying in a grassy field and your thoughts are clouds floating overhead. You observe the thoughts, but you are not participating in them.
- Get in touch with your heart as a separate entity from your mind, so that you can feel your emotions without exploring their origins.
- As they come, feel them with all of your might, without placing on them any restraint. Let them out, let them go, let them have their say until they are done. If that means crying, screaming, stomping your feet, hugging a pillow, or just sitting and feeling, then do that.
- Imagine that they are emanating from you, going out in every direction, and being absorbed by God.
- You will find that as an emotion is heard, it dissipates. Ask God to place a blessing in the space it leaves behind. You will begin to experience, "the peace of God, which transcends all understanding," that, "will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." Phil 4:7
Some emotions are strong and deeply rooted. They may be from traumatic past experiences or long-held resentments and sadness. It may take more than one session like this for them to pass. But doing this for even a couple of minutes a day will eventually get you through them.
God wants us to willingly share with him how we feel. He knows all things, but he still desires us to share with him because we are his children. If one of your own children was never willing to share with you their feelings, would you not consider that relationship to be fundamentally broken? But we have a God who is not only a willing listener, but a healer of hearts.
So lay bare your heart before the Lord. As Proverbs 38:8-9 puts it:
8 I am feeble and utterly crushed;
I groan in anguish of heart.
9 All my longings lie open before you, Lord;
my sighing is not hidden from you.
26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.
"Those who trust God's action in them find that God's Spirit is in them—living and breathing God! Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life." Rm 8:6