“God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things that I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.”
Image credit: Dawn Ellner
During these past few months, I have been learning the art of surrendering. What does that mean? How does a person surrender to God?
In Christian circles, I so often hear how “we need to surrender to God” that the phrase has lost its meaning. I have even almost cringed when I’ve heard those words from my Christian friends. One of my good friends from college became cynical about God because he felt like he had to surrender—which, to him, meant negating or crushing his own desires. I really needed God to reteach me what it means to surrender and have a posture of serenity.
Understanding serenity has been one of my biggest struggles ever since I graduated from college. I had (and still have) a lot of ideas about how my life “should” be at this stage in life. My idealism and painful awareness of how things are not the way they should be have caused me to disengage or, at the very worst, despair.
In addition, learning to face my own personal sinful habits and brokenness brought another level of discomfort. As I began to really look at what’s going on inside of me, I sometimes felt overwhelmed and hopeless about ever seeing change in my circumstances or myself.
I had a chance to experience this when the church began the thirty-day media challenge. When I first started, I was pretty excited about what God might do during that time. In the first few days, I started off pretty well. I was able to unplug at around 8:00 p.m. and, to fill up the gap, I began reading Divine Conspiracy, by Dallas Willard. I didn’t think the thirty-day challenge was much of a challenge at all.
But as I began to get into the middle of the month, I ran into some difficulties. My anxieties began to come in as I sat in silence at night. Usually, I use media to tune out and drown out deceptive thoughts that say I am chained to sin or that point out all my problems. It can sometimes be overwhelming. But the challenge forced me to overcome my temptation to numb out with media and to face what I am anxious about.
In that space, I began to pray. I began to pray more heartfelt prayers that engaged my feelings about my circumstances. And rather than letting my prayers become angry rants, I supplemented them with the serenity prayer. For me, that prayer speaks truth into what the Christian life is. The truth is that I do not get everything I want in life. As an idealist, that really hurts. But what has given me consolation in the midst of suffering is remembering that life is a day-by-day walk with God, and I don’t need life to be perfect in the moment. I don’t have to have life all figured out, nor do I need to have all my desires met. I can be reasonably happy because the presence of God is enough to sustain me through anything. The serenity prayer also reminds me that I have limitations and I am not the center of the universe (which is actually a good thing).
I also learned the redemptive truth that serenity is not a passive act. It’s active because real serenity requires that I submit to the will of God. It means I must press hard into his Spirit and draw strength to face trials that can be profound or mundane. For me, the mundane aspects of life have always been the hardest to deal with: daily tasks, studying, and work—which can sometimes be the most mundane of all.
I keep a twelve-step chip with me as a constant reminder of my need to practice surrendering. For those who are not familiar with twelve-step programs, the first step in recovery from any addiction is to admit powerlessness. While I may not be completely powerless in every circumstance, there are many things I don’t have control over. Sometimes all I can do is focus on my actions.
Learning to surrender my idealized version of what life should be to God has actually given me some sense of joy. It’s a hard practice, yet it allows me to accept living in a world where things are not ideal or perfect.
Learning to surrender also freed me to pursue real-life expectations and goals. Living in the fake world of idealism can sometimes paralyze my ability to do meaningful work or pursue real relationships. But in surrendering those ideals of what the world should be, I can say to myself that what I have is okay and good. In fact, learning to accept reality has brought me much closer to God and the people around me because I am no longer trying to hide in my dream-like, idealistic world. When I engage with the pain and boredom that accompany reality, I am able to encounter the presence of God.
It is God that is truly satisfying. When I trust in him, God is able to lead me to a life better than anything my idealistic imagination could come up with.
What does "surrendering to God" mean to you? Is there something that you need to let go of in order to fully engage with God and the reality of the world around you?
Alex Ly began attending The River in the summer of 2012. Prior to this, he studied at UC Davis, where he received degrees in History and Political Science. He was also heavily involved in the InterVarsity chapter. He currently is a bass player on the worship team and a volunteer leader for the youth ministry. Some of the things he enjoys about The River are its emphasis on missions, diversity, and a holistic approach to faith. Two of his most impactful experiences at the church have been participating in the young adult group led by Mark Phifer-Houseman, and receiving inner healing through The Healing Path.