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Saturday, 11 October 2014


In the past week, I have spoken to two wise Christian sisters about what it really means to surrender. I have been struggling with feeling angry at God for a very long time. Living in a season of unanswered prayer is hard. Living in the meantime and trying to remain confident, trying to keep trusting, is a daily battle, and in recent weeks I have felt my heart grow hard and cold towards Jesus.

I've had some kind of Irritable Bowel Syndrome for several years. Last year I spent a lot of time in and out of doctors and hospital appointments searching for some kind of medical cure, some kind of cause, some kind of explanation or time scale, some kind of comfort and reassurance that my body is going to get better. I didn't find any.

At times, what I affectionately call my bowels of doom are bearable, but for much of the time it feels like something that I cannot carry. IBS is an embarrassing and misunderstood complaint. It leaves me feeling emotionally and physically drained, weak, unattractive, useless.

And angry. Don't forget the anger. Angry at God for not healing, angry at others for not understanding, angry at myself and my inability to do what I want to do with the energy that I want to do it. Anger is a hard stone carried around in place of a heart, fingers clenched tight into fists, head tipped slightly back lest something soften the hurt and rage and weaken it into tears. And somewhere along the lines, I have learned to like being angry. I have needed to feel angry and I have vented it at every opportunity. I have clung to my anger as a drowning man clings to the remnants of his ship. Anger is safe. It is invulnerable. A callous defence mechanism that barricades the self against any other weaker emotion that might cause loss of face.

It is ok to be angry. I believe in a God who permits our anger, who understands it and listens to it. I believe in a God who allowed people to write psalms to him that accuse him of indifference, of absence, of unwillingness to act. That, in short, accuse him of not being who he says he is, and demand that he start acting like the God he claims to be. Walter Bruggemann suggests that lament is not only a permissible act, but a necessary one. In pouring out our pain to God, “everything is said, and God is known to be strong enough and willing enough to hear” (The Psalms and the Life of Faith, p58). We must tell God how we feel, lest God becomes a dead cipher who cannot be addressed at all, and anger is a significant part of this telling.

But anger is also incredibly painful. The writer of proverbs says that envy rots the bones (Proverbs 14:30), and I think that anger does something similar: a slow, bitter poison that contaminates every other thought and emotion. A hardening of the heart that resists comfort, and refuses to be calmed. In Isaiah God laments that his people will not accept his gentleness: "In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it." (Isaiah 30:15) God is exasperated by Israel's stubbornness, saddened by their refusal to trust him. Israel chooses anger over comfort.

I see that same character trait in me. I don't want to be gentle. I don't want to give in and trust. I want to be angry. Anger is safe. Gentleness is vulnerable. As I prayed with a friend this week, God gave me a picture of a barren land, a wilderness parched by lack of rain. And yet, as the rain started to fall, the ground refused it. The ground would not allow the rain to soak in, almost like some kind of invisible water-repellent, a hidden tarpaulin refusing to let the water find the soil that so desperately needed it.

My friend asked me what surrender would look like. What would it look like to stop being angry? What would it look like to deliberately quieten my soul (Psalm 131:2) instead of giving full vent to its rage? The writer of Proverbs says "A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back." (29:11) It is permissible to rant. It is not always wise to do so. And yet, in my head at least, gentleness is weakness. To not be angry is to somehow give in, to give up and stop caring, to be a doormat that just accepts, that naively, stupidly, continues to love and trust even as it is stamped on.

But gentleness is Jesus' way. He is gentle and humble and we are to learn from him. (Matthew 11:28-30) Gentleness is a deliberate holding back of what could be released, a practised quietening, a disciplined calming down: "You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God." (1 Peter 3:4). I don't like that verse. I'm loud and decidedly ungentle. I've always assumed that verse isn't meant for me and been confused and envious by those I know who are able to master gentleness.

And yet and yet and yet...I am tired of being angry. I am tired of shouting myself hoarse in God's direction. I am tired of hot, angry tears that don't really mean anything. I am tired of asking why me why me why me. Tired of bitterness and rage and pent up aggression. What does surrender look like? What does it mean to embrace gentleness? What does it mean to let go?

I think it looks like dancing. I think it looks like face upturned to the sky with the sun on my face, like running fast and free, like foolishness, like making snow angels and catching snowflakes on my tongue. It looks like singing before the stars, like laughing from the pit of my belly, like a baby gurgling in delight as she is tickled in her father's arms. It looks like smiling for no reason whatsoever. Arms outstretched, hands opened, fists uncurled. It looks like weeping. It looks like free flowing tears of acceptance, of trust, or not understanding but deciding to keep trusting anyway. It look like a barren land that has forgotten what it feels like to not be in drought, drinking in the first drops of rain. It looks like a young man terrified in a garden, fearful, anxious, agonised by what might come and yet knowing that his father can be trusted. It looks like not my will but yours be done. 


I abandon myself into your hands;
do with me what you will.

Whatever you may do, I thank you:
I am ready for all, I accept all.
Let only your will be done in me,
and in all your creatures -
I wish no more than this, O Lord.

Into your hands I commend my soul:
I offer it to you with all the love of my heart,
for I love you, Lord, and so need to give myself,
to surrender myself into your hands without reserve,
and with boundless confidence,
for you are my Father.

Charles de Foucauld

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing Nic. I find urged to comment, but scared to do so because I have not suffered in the way you have. Surrender is usually a dreadful thing, with its connotations of giving up the fight to an enemy whose purposes we abhor. Thank you for reminding us of Gods gentleness and the wonderful blessings that come from surrendering to him - dancing, singing ... this sounds good. Yet of course which of us wants to continue to suffer. In Acts 9 we hear of Paul being God's chosen instrument, selected to suffer. Joni Eareckson, paralysed in a diving accident as a teenager) was able to praise God three decades later for being chosen to suffer (Acts 9, 15-16), noting that 'God gives special promises to those who have been specially chosen'. She urges those who suffer to become communicators of Gods grace to others through the suffering. This is just what you have done, Nic. Thank you.