My mentor, Dr. Payne, suggested that I start meditating. He mentioned it one day as he calmly observed me work myself into a lather over the usual career frustrations and corporate political struggles. He made it sound so easy and fun. And I said, “Well, yes, that might help calm me down.” But I was also secretly thinking to myself how meditating would make me sound extremely hard-core spiritual. You know, the way everyone thinks that Buddhists are so much more spiritual than Christians, just because they meditate? I imagined telling my friends and associates how I have started practicing meditation. “Sorry, John – can we make the breakfast meeting at 8:30 instead of 7:00? You see, I have a very strict discipline of meditating between 7 and 7:45.”
“Oh…uh, sure,” John replies, suddenly feeling spiritually inferior, grasping in his pocket for his rosary beads as he begins to doubt the validity of his meager prayer life.
“Here’s how you do it,” Dr. Payne said. “You find a quiet place, sit in a chair, like this, close your eyes and think of a ‘God-word’, like Peace, Surrender, Glory, or something that stands out from your bible reading. Repeat that word over and over, and here’s the hard part: you can not let your mind stray to any other thoughts. Every time you have a thought other than the word you are thinking of, you must (in your mind) pick it up and place it in an imaginary river flowing away from your God-Word. Do this for about 25-30 minutes at a time, as many days as you can.”
“Ok,” said I. “I’ll give it a shot.”
I’ve never meditated like that before, although I do try to find a quiet place from time to time, first thing in the morning, to read a passage from the bible and possibly even to spend a few minutes praying. I like those quiet times. But praying is difficult because my mind tends to go all over the place, just like he said.
Dear Jesus, Lord in heaven, thank you for this new day. I pray for my daughter today, that you would give her safe travels today as she leaves for that school ski trip, and that you would help her to be open to you and that you would help her to become a strong, fine, young Christian woman who remains chaste and doesn’t have sex until she gets married or at least for a very, very long time, and I hope she doesn’t make any mistakes- even though I of course have made mistakes, but doesn’t everyone? So why should I be so controlling over her? She’ll be OK. Oh my Gosh! Today is the meeting with the attorneys about the joint-venture! Oh Lord, I pray that it goes well! Please let it go well. Hmmm, I wonder if Jeff has printed out all those documents. Did I review everything? I hope Barker isn’t there. He’s such an idiot. Oops, sorry Lord! Um…what was I praying about? Oh yeah, the ski trip. I pray that she doesn’t get hurt and that you would protect her. I wonder what time it is? Geez, I better get going if I want to get Starbucks before work…”
Well, I don’t know about you, but that’s usually how it goes for me. There are just too many stray thoughts bumping around in my little head.
It seemed like meditation could be an important spiritual discipline to help me grow. But, let’s face it, it also sounds weird. I associate meditation with Buddhists and George Harrison and New Age Eastern religions that are so taboo as I was taught from my right-wing fundamentalist Evangelical upbringing, because they are the Cults Of The World. Well, OK, that was when I was 14. The way Dr. Payne described it to me just now, it actually sounded kind of cool, and probably relaxing. And if I’m thinking of a God-Word, how could it be displeasing to God to use one of His favorite words? It’s not like I’m replacing Jesus with Buddha just because I stop and think quiet thoughts. And Dr. Payne told me to do it in his very commanding British accent, so I have to do it.
Meditating is definitely harder than you would think it is. To prove that point, right now I want you to try and think of one word, just one single word, and repeat it for two or three minutes without letting another thought enter your mind. Let’s use the word “BLANK”. Go ahead, just close your eyes for a minute and try it. Say BLANK fifty times without allowing another thought to enter your mind.
I know, right?
Most of us western Christians think of prayer in terms of a more active thing, like we want to get something accomplished with God. We want to show God that we are keeping busy. Meditation, on the other hand, we think of as passive, on the receiving end of things. It’s more like going blank and just listening to God rather than telling him what you want Him to do or what you think of Him. We’re just not used to that. It seems like a complete waste of time. Passive is for wimps. But the truth is that meditation, it turns out, is anything but passive. It’s more like heavy lifting for your brain.
The first time I tried to meditate was very awkward. It was like learning to use a new software program. I found a quiet place and sat in the chair, positioned myself just as Dr. Payne instructed: feet flat on the ground, arms and hands on the armrest, back straight. I got settled in, and then began to choose the One Word to concentrate on. I immediately became all flustered because I couldn’t decide which word to use.
No, glory, yes glory. God’s glory. That’s nice.
No, mercy. I really want to appreciate God’s mercy. Yes. That’s good.
No, glory will be more productive. It’s got more bang.
I went on like this for several minutes. Then I felt like an idiot because I couldn’t even get past the first part of the spiritual discipline, which is simply choosing a word. Eventually I committed to “glory” since I had just read it in a Psalm and I had some context with which to think about it. I started repeating the word in my mind over and over. As the other random thoughts entered my mind, I followed Dr. Payne’s instructions of picking them up (in my mind’s eye) and placing them in a gently flowing river that washed those stray thoughts away. It took a lot of discipline. Almost like my flabby brain was being whipped into shape, conditioned like a muscle that hadn’t been used for a long time, and I’m panting hard. This strange new exercise is the act of focusing on one thing, nothing else. That’s all, just concentrate. My concentration muscle was out of shape.
Soon, my breathing began to slow. After ten minutes or so I was in a deeply relaxed state. It felt good. After twenty minutes I didn’t want to stop and open my eyes. I wasn’t sleepy, but I felt content and peaceful. And it’s not like God spoke to me that morning or anything. I just liked the way it felt, concentrating on one thing about God. God got one hundred percent of my attention. Afterwards I explained to someone that it was like flushing a toilet in my brain and letting all the toxins wash away. It was like a spiritual brain-purging.
For the past couple of months I have attempted to meditate like this for 20 or 30 minutes in the mornings before work, whenever I get a chance and get up early enough and don’t have a thousand little chores to do before I leave. I’ve been steady at it, three or four times each week, and I’m enjoying it. By the way, I became much less anxious about choosing a word to use, so that was a big obstacle out of the way. And overall, it’s been a pleasant opportunity to calm myself, focus on God or a characteristic or quality of God, and suck up some peace of mind for a little while. But no major messages from God, per se.
Until yesterday. I had an epiphany yesterday while I was meditating.
The word I chose to meditate on yesterday was “Surrender.” This word had been on my mind lately, because I had been seeing it every day on my desk at work. A few days ago a friend had given me a little laminated 3×5 prayer card that was now propped up on my computer, and it starts by saying “God: I surrender my will and my life to you.”
Every day I read the prayer and think to myself, “Well, this sounds nice, but what exactly does that mean? Surrender my life and my will to you? In the middle of work?”
I must admit that I have always been a bit suspicious of the concept of surrendering to God. Let’s be honest: it’s not like I’m on Christian-zombie autopilot with God pulling all the switches for me. I am in the game, sleeves rolled up, tapping my instincts and experience as I make decisions all day long. I don’t look for signs of God’s approval jumping out behind every corner. I just try to use good judgment, common sense, and a decent moral compass. When it comes to the granular minutia of my daily routines, it’s not like I’m thinking about whether or not God wants me to do this or that. I’m just living. I’m just being, and getting on with my day.
Or maybe I’m tainted and cynical, because over the years I have seen more than my share of kooky Christians who lean a little too heavily on their “surrendering to God” to explain away their lack of common sense or responsibility or ability to think in more than one dimension. You know these people. They’re so giddy and hysterical about Jesus, but they can’t even hold a job down. Or they insulate themselves through the Christian subculture of churches, schools, books, radio, seminars, and music in such a way that they become so protected and sheltered from the real world that you can’t even have a normal conversation with them about life’s challenges and struggles without getting a one-line bible answer that they are really only repeating from some pastor they heard on the radio.
I have a friend, for example, who is a missionary with a large, well-known organization. Right now he is working in more of a back-office capacity at one of their satellite offices here in the states. My wife and I support him and his family financially, which is what you do for missionaries. He sends out these email updates to all of his supporters once in a while, which is not such a bad thing, to keep up with what is going on in his life. Except sometimes he sends out an extra email or two about the most ridiculous, mundane things. His latest email alert was an earnest request for prayer to help him figure out how a printer works in his office. According to his letter, he had spent two days ”wrestling with a new office printer.” And I’m like: Wrestling with a new office printer? You want prayer for that? For God’s sake, man, just suck it up and get your work done! I feel like God would kick my ass if I didn’t take some intiiative and responsibility to use my brain to solve problems at work, at home, wherever. It’s not like I’m going to rally hundreds of supporters every time I encounter something difficult at work. I expect that things will be challenging at times. But that happens, I don’t know, maybe every day? You just use your resources to push through, right? I love my friend very much, but this annoyed me.
But then again, I start thinking to myself, “Wait a minute… Where is that relationship with God thing? Aren’t I supposed to be consulting with God on every decision for guidance?” I don’t always see the connection between my daily activities at work or at home, and divine guidance. What’s missing? Maybe I just need to start using more spiritual language, so that I sound more spiritual, and then I would end up convincing myself that I was closer to God. What would that be like? I can picture it at work:
“Yes, Johnson, the Lord guided me to that decision yesterday about setting up a condominium declaration. Sign here.”
“God has already told me who to offer the job to, Barker, so don’t question me!”
“Dave, let’s hold off on that meeting until I’ve had a chance to bring it to the Lord in prayer.”
I would definitely sound more spiritual.
But, seriously, that is what I want….to integrate my real life with my spiritual life. I want to understand what it is to surrender to God. To say that I really know Jesus. To actually feel a commitment to Christ that overpowers all my decisions, all my life, my person.
But also without sounding like a freak.
So then, how do I surrender to God?
All these disturbing amd heretical thoughts were rattling around in my stubby brain that morning as I started meditating. I tried to reign in those stray voices in my head and began focusing on that one word: Surrender. Surrender. Surrender.
So. I’m about five minutes into my morning meditation, not very long at all, and I’m focusing on the word “Surrender.” And probably to be honest with you, in the back of my mind at some subterranean subconscious level I was still asking God ”What is the deal with surrendering? What does that even mean? What do you want from me?How is this supposed to work? ” Etc. etc. etc.
And then, very quietly, out of nowhere, this thought just passed over me like a warm blanket on a freezing cold night:
Surrender doesn’t mean giving up. It means engaging completely and fully in your life.
That was it. That concept, not exactly in words, but that idea, emerged unassumingly and then proceeded to fully establish itself in my thoughts. It stepped in to the room, took a quick look around and dropped all it’s bags, saying “I ain’t goin’ nowhere!” And then I knew. It was like an epic shift was taking place in the tectonic plates of my spiritual topography. All of the interior wheels and gears that make up the apparatus of my consciousness clicked over a couple of notches, and in an instant changed my entire outlook on life.
A flood of insights started surging through my mind, connecting a life’s worth of events, circumstances, decisions, attitudes, aspirations, and consequences. Surrender is the opposite of giving up. It’s giving in – to who you are. It isn’t passive, it’s active. It’s a paradox. But I have to trust in God for the outcome. That’s the hitch. And that’s the mystery. The one part that I can’t control is the outcome – the results, the future, the end-game of all my doings here on earth – and that’s the part where the true meaning of surrender comes in to play. The part that I can’t control anyways. God’s the One in control.
So why would I want to hold on to something I never had to begin with?
I don’t know why I hadn’t “gotten” this before. The act of surrendering my life means that I am fully collaborating with God in the life he has given me – my gifts, my passions, my ambitions, my ideas, my creativity, my love, even my doubts and struggles. Without holding back! Because He loves me, He created me! Just invite God in to my life, and be more of me. I can then trust God to lead, open doors, make a way, to whatever outcome is meant to be for His purpose and His will. And yes, I can look to Him in prayer, meditation and scriptures for general guidance and insights, but it’s not like He’s going to take over my current life and make every decision for me. He just wants to be involved. It’s not like a battle of wills — me vs. Him. Rather, it’s Him in me, somehow living and creating and loving through my crazy life.
That may sound very basic to you, but for me this solved a major problem in how I perceived the role of God in my daily life. It helped me see how I can integrate my very strong free will with an invisible God who is somehow pulling the strings from some other mysterious invisible dimension, and who is really the One in control. It also was a big step towards integrating my real life with my spiritual life. They are one in the same.
So, dear Blog readers, the great learning to share with you all from my meditation is this: Surrendering to God is a life-long process in which I am actively engaged, simply by the pursuit of my daily life — in making decisions, calculating business risks, driving the kids to school – both the milestones and the monotonous. But at the same time, I am acknowledging that God somehow, mysteriously is in the midst of it. He is doing His thing through me, accomplishing His purpose for my life.
My part is to show up.
My purpose is just to live.
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