We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God. – Step 3
Work for your salvation in fear and trembling. It is God, for his own loving purposes, who puts both the will and the action into you. – Paul, Letter to the Philippians 2:12-13
Ask and it will be given to you; search and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For the one who asks always receives; the one who searches always finds; the one who knocks will always have the door opened. – Jesus (Matthew 7:7-8)
Naked and Afraid. My wife gets into this weird, can’t-look-away show every so often called Naked and Afraid. Have you seen it? I assure you that my wife is not a pervert. The critical nudity is blurred out, which is actually a wonderful gift given the angles and settings viewers would be forced to endure! The gist of the show is simple: A man and a woman who do not know each other get dropped off in some extreme, remote location, take off all their clothes, and try to survive for three weeks. Each of them can bring a tool of their choosing. It is not uncommon for one or both of the contestants to “tap out” before they hike to the pickup location. How long before you would tap out? What would push you over the edge – mosquitos, snakes, cold, spiders, heat, fleas, hunger, wild animals, just being naked? Would you ever say yes to such an invitation?
There is an invitation that Jesus extended many times in his ministry: Follow me. As we continue moving into this series dovetailing the Twelve Steps and the Enneagram, this phrase came to mind as we recall Step Three: We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God. Step Three was common in Jesus’ ministry, and is still prerequisite if we hope to experience life abundant and free. Harkening back to last week, it may be helpful to remember that the invitation to follow wasn’t a once-and-done proposition, but an ongoing invitation to experience greater depths of life and faith. Following the disciple Peter’s experience of multiple invitations gives us something to consider for our own journey.
The first invitation came near the shores of the Sea of Galilee – a Tahoe sized lake where Peter made his living as a commercial fisherman (Mark 1:16-20). Jesus saw Peter and his brother and invited them to follow, promising that he would make them fishers of men and women. They dropped their nets at once and followed Jesus. Would you do that? What would have to have happened beforehand for you to make such a decision? For starters, the brothers had to have known something about Jesus already. Unless there was some incredible sign from God pointing to Jesus, why would anyone entrust their lives to a total stranger? Jesus grew up in a nearby community. His cousin, John the Baptist, was well known for his preaching, and undoubtedly Jesus was around for a lot of it. In other words, it is highly likely that many people were familiar with Jesus before his public ministry began, just as many people are familiar with political candidates long before they announce their bid for office.
Peter and his brother had to be at a place in life where the invitation was attractive, too. This is the case for most people when it comes to faith – we don’t really consider it until we sense a need. Sometimes it’s because our lives are in a particularly rough patch, and we sense that God offers hope and direction. Sometimes people are afraid of death and the hereafter, and the promise that God offers hope is alluring. Sometimes people are captivated by a vision of what could be if God was in charge and they can’t help but take the leap toward such hope. My initial “adult” surrender waa motivated from the last category. I grew up in church and knew a lot, but when I caught a glimpse of what could be, I wanted the potential future desperately. I imagine that was largely what Peter and his brother experienced, especially since the nod to reaching people was mentioned. Later in my life, after I tried my own way and failed, the rough patch brought me to my knees where I heard once again the same invitation. From hopelessness I leapt for hope, from brokenness I lunged for wholeness – I found both and more.
Much later in their journey, Peter would hear the invitation again, but the circumstances were much different (Matthew 16:13-28). Jesus gave the disciples a pop quiz with just one question: who do people say that I am? One after another disciple got the wrong answer, and then Peter got it: You are the Messiah (anointed one), Son of the Living God. Jesus then gave Peter a high five and let him know that his answer was more correct than he could have possibly known – that it would be the cornerstone of the entire Jesus movement. Peter was feeling pretty proud of himself for sure, and smart too, especially having aced the test. The cat now out of the bag, Jesus proceeded to let the boys in on what was ahead for them: they were going to head into enemy territory where Jesus would be arrested, severely beaten, falsely tried and found guilty, sentenced to death, die, but then come back to life on the third day. Peter, feeling quite smart now after the test scores came back, promptly took Jesus aside and told him he was wrong. Oops. Jesus retorted, “Get behind me Satan, for you have in mind the things of men and not of God.” I’m guessing Peter wasn’t feeling quite as wise at this point? Jesus went on to say some powerful words about losing your life if you try to hold it tight and saving your life if you lose it for God’s sake, putting the question to listeners forevermore: what does it profit a person to gain the whole world yet lose your very soul/life? Then the invitation once again: follow me!
There is a lot here. Peter was on the wagon, feeling great about everything, but then lost himself in overconfidence, forgetting his new identity as a follower of Jesus. Lack of perspective and humility led to poor choices that resulted in a come-to-Jesus moment. I think this is actually pretty common. We feel like we’ve got everything under control and we let our guard down. With our guard down, we become increasingly vulnerable and find ourselves one step away from disaster. This is why there is great value in recovery group meeting folks declaring themselves alcoholics – it keeps them respectful of the disease they are struggling with. I have found it helpful to remind myself of my “happiness program” that is doomed to perpetual failure. My obsession with equating my worth and wellbeing with my always escalating, always out-of-reach understanding of success has been a disease I’ve been fighting my entire life.
We also get a glimpse on another facet of what follow me entails: following even when to do so seems and feels counterintuitive. The initial response by any sane person hearing what Jesus was saying would be Peter’s response. Let’s not rip on him too quickly. Jesus was saying he was going to drag the boys with him on his death march. They could easily become collateral damage. To not feel challenged by Jesus would be weird, honestly. And that is the point. The Way of Jesus is different than that of the culture. They will rub. The question at that point is, will we trust and follow or not?
The final follow me (in the Gospels, anyway – there are more invitations later for Peter throughout the remainder of his life) comes at the end of John’s Gospel (John 21:18-22). Context: Peter denied knowing Jesus three times the night of Jesus’ arrest, which Jesus predicted would happen. Peter felt terrible about it, no doubt. After the resurrection, Jesus met the boys up at the lake where he reinstated Peter in a powerful scene where Jesus asked Peter three times whether or not he loved him, recalling the three denials. After that beautiful scene, Jesus shared with Peter that his story is not going to end well. In fact, he will likely be crucified just like Jesus. Peter heard and understood. Very sobering. But then he wondered if everyone else would suffer, too, or would it be just him? Will our levels of suffering be fairly distributed? Jesus scolded him, telling him that the call on his life has nothing to do with the call on another’s life except that both were called to follow. Humbled again.
We are fully capable of being like Peter here, hinting that our faithfulness in working the program may be contingent on whether or not it seems fair in comparison with others. “I’ll suffer so long as I know everybody has to suffer.” Like before, Peter’s allegiance came into question. I think it does for us, too, and I think it is related to our sense of entitlement. We live in an American Dream culture where we tell ourselves that everybody is equal, and everyone has the capacity to realize their dreams and achieve their goals. Of course, data suggests otherwise, but let’s not be burdened with facts. The point is we are just like Peter – we each come up with things we consider deal-breakers – I’ll follow you, Jesus, unless you ask me to…
Surrender is sweet. Jesus’ yoke is easy and his burden is light. But not if we don’t actually surrender. If we fail to declare our powerlessness and look to a Higher Power to lift us out of the miry clay, we will remain stuck and perhaps even more so because we know we are in our own way. We don’t like surrender because, as Rohr notes, “surrender will always feel like dying”. But he adds, “and yet it is the necessary path to liberation” (18). Of course it feels like dying, and of course it is the only way forward. Our way sucks, relatively, in comparison to the Way of Jesus into which we are invited. To let go of our way is to let our will and way die, which is the point. Why don’t we readily do this?
I don’t think humans in general like the idea of surrender, and I am sure Americans don’t. Giving up is a sign of failure in our culture – that’s what losers do (we tell ourselves). Perhaps we need a different way to think about the term. Rohr is helpful in that regard, as he states: “Surrender is not ‘giving up’, as we tend to think, nearly as much as it is a ‘giving to’ the moment, the event, the person, and the situation’” (27). We “give to” all the time in our lives, deferring to others’ expertise over our own. We see a doctor and listen to the advice given even if it means getting cut open in surgery or treatment that will make us miserable for a long time. We listen to lawyers who advise us to take actions that will cost thousands of dollars to avoid spending even more thousands of dollars. We listen to building experts who advise us on how to address structural issues in our homes so that we can continue to live there. We listen to counselors who give us advice on how to process things we really don’t want to process. The list goes on and on – all of them facets of “surrender”, giving in to a moment and trusting another more than ourselves. This is what it means when Jesus invites us to follow. Surrendering our lives to God is the ultimate wisdom because God is the very source of life; God’s presence is everywhere and God’s wisdom is unparalleled. What are you sensing “surrender” means for you today? What “Follow Me!” invitation is before you?
Stuff to Process…
1. “Surrender will always feel like dying, and yet it is the necessary path to liberation” (18). What does the word surrender mean to you? What does the word conjure up in your mind and heart? What have been your experiences with “surrender”? What is our culture’s perspective, and how might that influence your relationship with “surrender”? What kind of death in your life would bring liberation to you?
2. “Surrender is not ‘giving up’, as we tend to think, nearly as much as it is a ‘giving to’ the moment, the event, the person, and the situation’” (27). How does this way of thinking about “surrender” affect your relationship to the word?
3. “How long it takes each of us to just accept – to accept what is, to accept ourselves, others, the past, our own mistakes, and the imperfection and idiosyncrasies of almost everything. It reveals our basic resistance to life, a terrible contraction at our core or… ‘our endless capacity for self-loathing’” (27). What do you find difficult to accept about yourself? About people close to you? Does our ability to accept ourselves or others change with age?
4. “We each have our inner program for happiness, our plans by which we can be secure, esteemed, and in control, and are blissfully unaware that these cannot work for us for the long haul – without our becoming more and more control freaks ourselves. Something has to break our primary addiction, which is our own power and our false programs for happiness… What makes so much religion so innocuous… is that there has seldom been a concrete decision to turn our lives over to the care of God” (20). Have you ever had the experience of turning your life over to God? What happened?
5. “Jesus made it step one, you might say: ‘If anyone wants to follow me, let him renounce himself [or herself]’ (Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23; Matthew 16:4). Have we ever really heard that? It is clear in all of the Gospels: ‘Renounce the self!’ What could Jesus possibly mean or intend by such absolute and irresponsible language?” (29). What is your first reaction to Jesus’ words? Spend some time working toward greater understanding and acceptance.
6. “The common way of renouncing the self, while not really renouncing the self at all, is being sacrificial! It looks so generous and loving, and sometimes it is. But usually it is still all about me (29)… ‘Personal sacrifice’ creates the Olympics and American Idol, many heroic projects, and many wonderful people. It is just not the Gospel, but only its most common substitute… So much that is un-love and non-love, and even manipulative ‘love’, cannot be seen or addressed because it is so dang sacrificial” (30). How do you handle situations when you sense that you’re being manipulated by someone else’s “goodness”? How do you feel when someone calls your bluff for making sacrifices that only serve to make you look noble and heroic?
7. You see, there is a love that sincerely seeks the spiritual good of others, and there is a love that is seeking superiority” (22). From your relationship with others, share an example of both ways of loving.
8. “We can only live inside the flow of forgiveness if we have stood under the constant waterfall of needed forgiveness ourselves. Only hour-by-hour gratitude is strong enough to overcome all temptations to resentment” (34). Reflect about a time when you were forgiven for something you did. How did that feel? Reflect about a time when you forgave someone else. Was there any connection between the two experiences? Could you make a connection between either one and a future experience of forgiveness?
9. “We have been graced for a truly sweet surrender, if we can radically accept being radically accepted – for nothing! ‘Or grace would not be grace at all’! (Romans 11:6). As my father, St. Francis, put it, when the heart is pure, ‘Love responds to love alone’ and has little to do with duty, obligation, requirement, or heroic anything. It is easy to surrender when you know that nothing but Love and Mercy is on the other side” (27). How have you known unconditional love?
*This teaching summary is part of a series that dovetails the deep spiritual components of Twelve Steps and the rich insights of the time-tested Enneagram. Understanding your Enneagram Type can provide helpful insight into how you “do life”. There are several free tests that will surely narrow things down for you, but the Enneagram Test from the Enneagram Institute by far offers the best assessment and provides the richest feedback (look for the RHETI test). In addition, we will be drawing insight from two books as we follow Jesus through these steps. You can get Richard Rohr’s Breathing Under Water (and its companion journal) and Christopher Heuertz’ The Sacred Enneagram online and in digital formats. CrossWalk will have a limited supply of the books on hand. In addition, you may find songs for different types helpful in understanding what you’re working with.