I’ve stumbled through the first week of the new year, making 18 months of niece giggle with a laugh so contagious I couldn’t keep from joining her. Tucking in a nephew. Playing the last few carols of the season, talking over decisions to come, and eating too much chocolate. Then making my way back across the country and readjusting to a clock set four hours earlier. And somewhere in the midst of it all, thinking back over the past year. What have been the most significant insights gained, lessons learned? I have not reread my journal to glean again things forgotten. These are the things that have “stuck,” things that have impacted me sufficiently to return often to mind in the beauty and mess of daily life. They are not things I have “learned” but things I’m “learning,” things I expect to keep learning for years to come. But the echo of these truths through my days keeps before me the confidence that there is more. “. . . not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. . .” (Phil 3:12) Others have gone before and testify that the joy is worth the cross. Press on.
1. God really is in control
“You must utterly believe that the circumstance of your life, that is, every minute of your life, as well as the whole course of your life – anything, yes, everything that happens – have all come to you by His will and by His permission. You must utterly believe that everything that has happened to you is from God and is exactly what you need.” (Mme Guyon) Her words challenge me. Perhaps it's overstated: where's the room for the role of evil and the natural consequences of sin in causing suffering? But still she is right that everything comes to us by God’s permission, and that He is in every detail, actively working to bring us closer to himself. (Rom 8:28-29) Her words make me look again at the details of daily life, and delight to find God in places I never expected.
2. God really is love.
And He’s far more gentle with me than I am with myself. I’m always loved – not just the me I think I should be, but the me who doesn't ever seem to quite have it all together.
3. Everything in life contains a call to come closer.
Day dreams and night dreams. Relationships - both the lovely and the painful bits. Beauty, making us long to be part of it. Physical, emotional, even moral and spiritual weakness, bearing the call from the One who loves us, “Come closer. Let Me be your strength and sufficiency.” The cry comes, too, through our bodies: the joy of getting hands in the dirt to plant tulip bulbs, listening to a Mozart sonata, sitting on the grass with a kite tugging the other end of the string. All of our senses are given for this: to know God. To see him in the sky and hear him in the voices of friends, to touch and taste and see that the Lord is good.
All this, the whole year of growing, boils down finally to three words: “surrendering to love.” It’s the love that keeps the surrender from being fatalistic and crushing and hopeless, and makes it possible and beautiful and, yes, worth it many times over.
And at the start of this new year my heart sings my surrender with these young people, them singing theirs in a most unlikely place. “You can have all the rest, but give me Jesus.”
And my heart offers words borrowed from John Wesley, lines that I can sometimes pray honestly, and the rest of the time can only ask to be made able to pray them.
"I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt; rank me with whom thou wilt;
Put me to doing, put me to suffering;
Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee;
Let me be full, let me be empty;
Let me have all things, let me have nothing;
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
Thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
Let it be ratified in heaven. Amen."
It’s that startling line near the end that makes my heart fill with joy and enables me to pray the rest. “O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, thou art mine, and I am thine!” In the end, isn’t this, really, all that matters?
This, this is what we’re made for. Being His. This alone is where we come alive, begin to become who we already are. And this alone, surrendering to his love, a grand and beautiful love that can be not merely believed in but experienced, is what enables us to enter another year on tiptoes, confident that the love which has carried us safely through the past year is carrying us on into the future.