A mosaic in Ravenna, made of millions of broken tessarae of glass and enamel
The principle runs through all life from top to bottom. Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favourite wishes every day: submit with every fibre of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity).
“Christianity can only be caught, not taught,” they say. I caught a lot while I was discipled from 1997 to 2002 by a deep, sincere Christian writer and leader. He said that as he found himself becoming intense–a sign that self was on the throne, not Christ–he’d say, “Take that too. I surrender that to you, Jesus,” and so on, until it became a habit to surrender everything precious to him, everything he worried about, to Jesus.
We swapped my editing of his first book for spiritual guidance. He didn’t seem a naturally gifted writer, and I think I helped him find his natural speaking voice and rhythms in writing.
Interestingly, he said that he did not own his writing. He had given it to God. And whereas I wasted a lot of time on false starts, he wrote to just three publishers, one of whom took his first book. Several reviewers have said his next book was one of the best books on prayer of all time, and that’s because it sprung from the heart, spirit and experience, not from study, reading or the head.
What impressed me was that someone who did not seem naturally gifted as a writer could so rapidly write two good books. Was not “owning” his writing a factor? He said he wrote as God provided time, whereas I was always trying to grab, steal, wrangle time, which caused me a lot of stress.
He said once that he owned the Christian charity he founded far more than his writing. And that, 13 years on, has never really taken off, perhaps for this reason.
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If we are managing something–a career, a business, our parenting, a blog, then if we are competent and talented, we may well do well.
However, when we surrender it to God, he takes it, blesses it, and frequently breaks it–breaking our heart in the process. And uses those broken fragments to feed the 5000. Miracles happen!
It so makes me want to make sure that everything I have is owned by God. But there are no shortcuts to this surrender. It comes when the mind, spirit and emotions, together say the Fiat, Let it be done to me according to thy will.
Nothing can be sole or whole that has not been rent, Yeats writes.
I wanted to surrender my writing to God, but it was so much a part of my identity. The only thing I have wanted to do since I was 21 was to write, and I felt that if I didn’t have a published book, I would be a failure. Having a husband who was very successful as a mathematician didn’t help either.
I tried and tried to surrender my writing to God. To say, “Lord, if I never get a book published, that’s fine. If I’m never well-known as a writer, that’s fine. If all my writing projects fail, are never finished, remain drafts on my computer, that’s fine. All I want is you.”
But I would get tearful as I said that—and had not yet reached the point where it was OK if I never published a book, was never read, never known. My whole identity and desire-life was bound up with success as a writer that I felt if that failed, I’d have failed. I would be no one. Nothing.
And well, I needed a period of being no one and nothing for that dream to die. I discovered there is freedom in it. You just relax and enjoy people, and don’t have to bother about snicking into the conversation that you had won a $20,000 National Endowment for the Arts award, or a $6000 State Arts Board Award, or were published in the Washington Post, London Magazine, Commonweal, The Best Spiritual Writing anthologies etc. (See, I am showing-off here, and it’s making me feel tired!!:-)
Surrendering your dreams is no easy matter. The mouth may say: “I surrender all,” but the heart may shrink. I fancy people go through the same struggle with singleness, childlessness, with a terminally ill child or spouse, with cancer or terminal illness.
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I definitely don’t own my blog. I started blogging because I felt God telling me too, and it is in his hands. I have relatively firm time limits for how long I spend on it—an hour a day writing, and another 15 minutes or so responding to comments. When I want to promote it, I pray as a first recourse, partly because I am too low-energy to do much else. And, the fact that the blog is God’s is my salvation, because there is so much potential for promoting a blog, the most egalitarian art-form, that I would otherwise exhaust myself.
My other writing? Well, of course, it now belongs to God. I do it as he provides time, energy and organization.
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It did take that long period in which I could not write at all because I was establishing our family’s publishing business for the ambition of writing to die–for me to write because it is my vocation and calling, rather than my ambition.
The funny thing about giving your dreams to God, about not owning them is that it happens in its own time. You cannot make the surrender happen, no more than you can make yourself fall in love. It’s a funny mixture of the heart and will. I remember saying in a women’s breakfast speech at Williamsburg Community Chapel, how my struggle with writing was “Give it to Him, take it back; give it to Him, take it back.”
Well, that’s done with. It’s totally surrendered. I wouldn’t dream of taking it back (I think!).
“I truly can’t manage it, Lord; you manage it,” I say.
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My other struggle, sadly, is with weight. And, to be honest, I don’t have a shadow of a chance of winning that on my own, either. I can only do it by putting it in God’s hands, and making it his problem.
Here’s a joke I heard Max Lucado tell in his audiobook, Travelling Light.
Tom walks down the street and meets Dick, who is grinning from ear to ear.
Tom, “What are you so happy about?”
Dick, “Well, I’ve met a man who promised to do all my worrying for me for $67,000 a year.”
Tom, “$67,000 a year. How are you going to get that?”
Dick, grinning, “That’s HIS worry!”
Yes, Lord, take my physical health and my writing. Please manageoth. The Lord is my personal trainer. I shall be fit. The Lord is my Literary Agent. I shall write well.