I like thinking about grace and conditions. One of the things I love most about the gospel is that it doesn’t have any. You will search the Scriptures in vain for hoops that you have to jump through in order to be worthy of grace. Except for one hoop. That one hoop is “surrender”. I have to give up.
I don’t want to get into a discussion about what comes first, the surrender or the grace to surrender. I just want to focus for a moment on the idea of giving up itself. I think, as with most things that God thought up, I tend to want to add a lot of unnecessary mess to the equation.
There’s a hysterical Bob Newhart sketch where he plays a therapist dealing with a woman who can’t stop thinking about being buried alive in a box. (If you haven’t seen it, go watch it before I ruin the punchline.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ow0lr63y4Mw)
Everyone back? Newhart’s delivery is always brilliant, but this bit is both hysterical and poignant for me. I don’t for a moment believe that all people who need therapy should employ his methods, but I did think of this sketch yesterday when I was talking to a friend over tea.
I think I add a lot of requirements to surrender. In doing so, I add a lot of steps to the gospel.
I know that I’m broken and hurting, so I add time for healing. “No, no,” I say. “I’m going to surrender, but it’s not realistic for me to just do this cold-turkey. I need to take some time to get ‘okay’, then I’ll dig into this surrender business.”
I know that I’ve got a lot of history not surrendering, so I give myself time for negative momentum. “I’m full-on going to surrender, I really am. But this bad habit/unhealthy pattern/self-medication/etc. has been going on for a decade or more. It’s gonna take this ship a while to turn around and point the other direction!”
I know that I’m weak and that I’ve failed in the past, so I put myself on probation – or I try to gradually roll out the surrender. “This is definitely what I need to do,” I tell myself. “Surrender is the only option, but I need to prove myself. I’ll implement full surrender in three months if I can perform well enough to convince me that this time it’s gonna stick.” Or I say “Full surrender right now, given my proclivities, isn’t realistic. Let’s shoot for 37% surrender, and if that works well for a couple of weeks, I’ll dial it up.”
I was reading Pascal’s famous quote the other day about how all men seek happiness above all else. He ends his thought by saying “The will never takes the least step but to this object [happiness]. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.” I know that I do the things I do because, ultimately, I want to. I know that my avoidance of surrender is no different. I run from it for all kinds of reasons. I’m afraid of what living without the comfort of sin will feel like. I’m offended that I have nothing to bring to the table, that the gospel does all the work for me and treats me like a beggar. I like carrying bitterness, picking at the scars of old wounds until they bleed fresh, and know that giving up means letting go.
There is no preparation required for surrender. There is only surrender. There is no getting ready, there is no setting your affairs in order, there is no “one more time”, there is no management of it. The great theologian Yoda hit the nail on the head (inadvertently) when he says “Try not! Do … or do not. There is no ‘try’!”
Just stop. Stop moving in the direction you’re moving. Stop behaving the way that you’re behaving and give up. Quit. Just stop it!
I was thinking of it yesterday specifically in the light of relationships, which is where it comes home to roost so often for me. It was almost like I heard the Holy Spirit speaking to me in the words of Newhart’s Dr. Switzer.
“God, you don’t understand how much he/she/they hurt me … “
“I’ve got so much history/baggage/pain/etc. I don’t know how to …”
“If they/she/he would only …”
“I’ve failed so many times before.”
And then I hear him slowly and gently smile. “I know,” He says. “We’re one time closer to the last time. Stop. Quit. Don’t take one more step in that direction. This is the first day. This is where you start. You don’t have to prove anything to Me. You don’t have to do penance. There’s no amount of grovelling or guilt or hoop-jumping or even successful running from sin that’s going to impress Me. I’m only pleased by your complete and utter dependence on Me. I’m only pleased when you recognize that total surrender to Me is all that will satisfy. Surrender to me. I love you.
Originally posted to my Facebook page, July 31, 2012.