Before Surrender

We stood there on the tallest point overlooking a historic town, an historic river. Clouds puffed in the sky and I snapped pictures of the scene before me. Rolling hills, a picturesque river, quaint buildings, and boats on the water. All was at peace that warm summer day.

That tallest point? A fortress more than 500 years old. That town? Passed back and forth between warring kingdoms for most of its existence.

The people who faced each other across the river were not always part of the same kingdom either. The vacation boats on the river now used to be vessels of war, of conquering. Hence, the need for a fortress to fight off invaders.

Surrender is a word that comes up frequently in my spiritual life as a Christian. Surrender. Surrender anything that stands between me and the Lord. Surrender my way for His.

Recently, I’ve sensed that my romantic view of the word (picture hands raised and a white bird flying up to the blue sky while sunlight shines down ready to accept the glowing bird), fails to grasp the brutal reality that surrender is more a battle front term.

Back track a little and before surrender comes division and a battle of two or more opposing forces. Similarly in my own life, a battle usually rages until I face that I’m losing, big time. My way, my army, my kingdom is weaker than the one I ultimately fight. God.

Then, there’s an honest reckoning, a realization that I will not win. I cannot win. I will be defeated. At this point, I face a choice. I can continue fighting a losing battle out of pride or I can make some tough calls.

I can be…

A Captive: I lose the battle but think I should have won it. I nurse the idea that I could have won it if I’d just done a little something here differently or fought a little harder there. My allegiance has not changed. I’m still fighting. Life is full of strife as I live in rebellion to the King, constantly seeking a way of escape.

A Deserter: I turn and run from the battle. I live to fight another day thinking I can still win. I live on the run not knowing when I will need to turn and fight again. Life is about escape and hiding from the more powerful and ever pursuing King.

A Defector: I change sides because I reckon that the other side is better, more worthy of allegiance. Now I use my weapons for another King and His kingdom. I live at peace in the protection of the King’s fortress, guarded by Him and sent to do His work. My former identity as an enemy combatant is known, yet I am not sidelined out of suspicion or fear. I’m fully accepted.

The choice to surrender now starts sounding more like a laying down of arms than a moment with a dove.

Sometimes I figure out things fast and lay down my weapons before serious blood is shed. But there are times when I don’t and I come in wounded to my own surrender, a little beat up in the battle. A bit chagrined that I misjudged my allegiances so poorly.

This week it was about a kid’s homework, surrendering a better grade to preserve our relationship. A few weeks ago it was about choosing to happily do a task I didn’t fully want to do.

Every day it is choosing to step out and follow Jesus, rather than stay on my own path, fighting for my own way.

Spiral v. Mastery

I read an article on how Shanghai schools teach math differently from western schools. They mentioned that Shanghai teachers taught mastery before moving on to the next concept. I remember this well. My daughter spent her 1st grade year in an Asian school. They spent a couple of months on number bonds. It seemed so basic but they drove it home over and over again. She became a master at number bonds and it laid the foundation for mental math. She still loves math.

Then, I homeschooled for a while and our math curriculum used the spiral method. Teaching a concept, then another, and another, and then coming back around and going a little deeper. Revisiting each concept a little deeper each time. My daughter is now in the spiral method in her current school. She’s not a fan yet. “We’ve already done this!” she tells me often.

My heart resists relearning things I thought I knew, too. It can be a book of the Bible I’ve read quite a few times and know. Or a concept like forgiveness…yeah, I know those verses. I hear it in time with others and in my own journey of spiritual growth. I’ve already been here! Are we really talking about this again? I know this!

Yet, the Spirit speaks again in a small, soft, ever deeper way and I discover there’s another thing or two or a million I need to learn about forgiveness, grace, or obedience. The spiral concept of learning. I see it play out.

I am beginning to realize the freedom it brings. The desire for spiritual mastery is strong. To know a truth inside out and always know it, like your math multiplication facts or the ABC’s feels good. Who doesn’t want mastery? It feels so good to know something.

But, from the stories shared in the accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry, Acts, and Paul’s letters, I see a different method at play. Disciples felt they mastered concepts and then were shown how far they were from mastery. Learning, relearning, re-relearning. The spiral method.

I find freedom as I accept the spiral method over the mastery method in growing in my walk with Jesus. It also brings freedom as I endeavor to shepherd others too. Releasing mastery gives us all a breath of fresh air as we abandon the expectation that we can be done learning at some point because we somehow mastered the Christian life.

Letting go of the disappointment of failed mastery allows me to embrace the wonder that I can always, always learn new things about an old thing from God. My lessons are never over, He always keep coming back to make sure I’m getting it. It can be pretty painful and definitely humbling.

The spiral method. May I not act like a brat when presented with a lesson I thought I mastered!

In what ways do you see the spiral method at work in your relationship with Jesus? 

 

Green the Grass

We watered our lawn too much. My husband told me this after consulting other lawn experts, otherwise known as neighbors. He talks about lawns like I talk about cooking.

If we water our lawn too much the roots don’t learn to grow deep and seek out water on their own. Who knew? Well, other people is the short answer.  Seeking roots are important when it gets hot and dry. It’s Texas. It gets hot and dry.

So, we backed down on our watering, but not before we felt the pain of our utility bill. Yikes! The first year of home ownership is a year for learning. What that really means is a year of doing lots of weird things because you don’t really know what you’re doing.

Now its summer again and I find I like my lawn to be green and its starting to get a tad light green in patches. I really want to ramp up the watering so it gets dark green again. I’m scared the grass won’t find the water.

What if it dies?

My own life, my kids lives, the lives of students I work with on campus. I see the same truth play out. Surface green looks so good and there’s really nothing wrong with seeing outward growth and health.

The big question is what kind of roots are being trained? Are they seeking roots trained to strain towards sustenance? Am I? Or weak shallow roots that don’t know what to do when drought comes?

When dry threatens, I want to ramp up the watering schedule. It looks good and works fast. And its appropriate at times, too. The lawn gets green pretty quick when I water it more. More attention pays off in the present tense.

But hot and dry always come at some point and not just in Texas.

How have I trained the lawn? How am I training my spiritual life? My children? Am I trying to help so much that I train shallow and weak people who don’t know what to do when hot and dry come in life? Am I afraid that answers won’t be supplied from the depths so I feel I need to supply from the surface?

Watching my kids struggle to stretch roots down to the foundation of things is difficult. Feeling the pain of it myself is confusing.

Searching for depth is just that…a search.

It is a lack of knowing exactly where the sustenance is but sending out feelers, shoots to investigate. It looks like absorbing long passages of God’s word, the Bible, gleaning and sifting for who God is in new ways. Sometimes searching is finding nothing that feels helpful but absorbing more truth. Later it makes more sense. Or, seeking is trying new things to discover where I fit in the body of Christ.  Learning new skills necessary for a new circumstance in life is a form of stretching to new depths.

The assurance I have is that I will find sustenance, and others will too, if we search for that which truly sustains. It may not always seem enough or produce a green enough lawn to look pretty to everyone, but God will keep me growing spiritually when I am connected to Him, the Giver of life.

My lawn may not look as green as everyone else’s. That’s a challenging reality at times. I am learning again to trust that the exterior appearance of life doesn’t always correlate directly to spiritual health.

Next time I will write about the tree that looked dead for months. Spoiler alert. It’s not dead!

Deep roots, searching roots, trained to send out feelers into the depths during the hot and dry times is health more than shallow and green during ideal conditions.

Not all brown things are dead.