Do not be anxious about anything,
but in everything, by prayer and petition,
with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
And the peace of God,
which transcends all understanding,
will guard your hearts
and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4: 6, 7
A few weeks after I was diagnosed with cancer, a music CD arrived in the mail from a friend. Several years earlier this friend had been told she had ovarian cancer and needed surgery. It turned out to be a false alarm, but she’d had a deeply significant spiritual experience through her ordeal. This music had been a great help to her and she wanted to share it with me.
One particular track on the CD caught my attention. A single female voice, without accompaniment, sings with quiet strength. The music and words are simple. “Into thy hands, I commit myself. Into thy hands, I entrust all I am and all that holds my heart. Into thy hands, I commit.”* These words are repeated over and over by a growing chorus of voices.
The lyrics speak about surrender. Not about giving up. Not about resignation. But about a surrender to love.
Like many of us, I mostly want to believe that I am in charge of things. I want to believe that I have the power to manage just about everything—including my health and my life. I want to control what I cannot control. The truth is that I did not give myself life. I do not sustain my life. My life—every moment of it—is a gift. It is given to me by a creating, giving God.
When I try to control things that are out of my control, I create needless stress and anxiety for myself. But when I acknowledge that my life—each day, each breath—is a gift, I can begin to entrust “myself…all I am and all that holds my heart” into God’s loving care.
Trust, it turns out, is not an easy thing to do.
It is not easy to trust a God we have not seen. It is not easy to trust that God is loving enough or powerful enough to take good care of us. It is not easy to open our clenched fists and let go of all we want to control.
Many years earlier I struggled with other difficult issues including trying to find ways to heal our strained marriage. As I prayed for help and guidance, a simple image came to me. In this image I saw life as a large, quickly flowing river. I was in a small boat, floating on this river. There was no way to steer the small boat. My instinct was to try to reach up and grab onto the branches of trees that hung over the water. I wanted to stop what was happening. I wanted to be able to take charge of what was going on. But it wasn’t possible. The branches were out of my reach no matter how hard I stretched. The situation was pretty clear: I could either keep trying to find a way to take control of things that I could not control, or I could recline in the boat, allow myself to rest and experience the ride.
As I stayed with this image and stopped trying to grab onto the passing branches—as I allowed myself to sit back in the boat and relax—I had a growing sense that the boat was actually God’s hand carrying me. It was God’s hand carrying me through life. All of life. Both the smooth places and the white-water rapids.
The same God who made me, the God who sent Jesus to reveal God’s amazing love, the God who gives me breath, this One is carrying me. I am in God’s hands. I am safe. I am held. So I can stop all my controlling and striving and thrashing about. I can entrust myself and all that holds my heart to God’s loving care.
We are not meant to live in reliance on our own strength, brain power and willpower. The entire adventure of life is meant to be lived in reliance on our Creator. Life is meant to be an experience of communion, even union with God, in which we open ourselves to God—to the One who is Wisdom, Love, Grace, Guidance, Peace, Life, Light and Joy. Life is meant to be an experience, not of going it alone, but of going with God.
This image of resting in the palm of God’s hand—the “letting go and letting God” experience—could imply a kind of passivity. But there is nothing passive about surrendering to God’s love. Surrender does not mean we do nothing. It means that we do everything in reliance on God.
The practice of “letting God be God” is a kind of surrender to love that requires an ongoing, daily practice. My experience is that when I am anxious or afraid, I always want to take back control. The times I most need to entrust myself to God’s care are the very times I instinctively try to control what I cannot control. I have found that anytime I am anxious or angry, I need to stop and open my hands and heart in prayer. Anxiety and anger have become signals to me that I need to be honest with God about all that I am feeling and to entrust myself, my fears, my needs, my resentments, my concerns, my requests to God’s care.
What I observed after being diagnosed with breast cancer was that I would frequently tense up. If I would pause to pay attention to this, I would usually find that I was anxious about the next event—the next test, the next surgery, or the next set of results that were coming. I was bracing myself. I was resisting the ride. But when I was able to reconnect with my dependence on God, it was as if I was able to lean back and rest again in God’s loving hand.
Anytime we are afraid or in distress, we can allow ourselves to stop and hear God saying, like a loving parent: “You don’t have to be afraid. I am right here with you. Tell me what you need. I will help you.” Then, as trusting children, we can surrender. We can say “Okay” and let go and entrust ourselves to God’s good care.
When you don’t know what to do…practice surrender.
Questions for reflection and discussion
1. What thoughts and feelings do you have about the image of surrender or of resting in God’s hand?
2. What things do you find most difficult to entrust to God’s care?
3. What helps you to rest in God’s love and care for you?
* Monica Brown, “Into Your Hands,” from Holy Ground: Mantras and Chants for Reflection and Prayer, ©2000 Emmaus Productions, www.emmausproductions.com.