Remember the scene in the Wizard of Oz when the wicked witch flew high above Dorothy’s head and wrote with black smoke across the sky, “Surrender, Dorothy.” Dorothy covered her face and trembled as she pondered how to avoid the witch’s wrath.
That’s what I imagine when I hear someone say I have to surrender to God. I imagine God writing, “Surrender, Brian,” across the sky as I cower with fear.
But, that’s not a god I can trust. It’s not the God I’m learning is passionately in love with us.
I struggle with the concept of surrendering because God’s not like the wicked witch. If God loves me, there’s no epic battle. Nobody has to wave a white flag or capture the other. We both win. We’re on the same team.
Maybe a better word for surrender is emptying. I need to empty myself of the false notions I have about God so he can fill me with his wisdom and embrace me with his love. I have to let go of life’s trivial distractions—excessive television, social media or video games—things that capture my time and prevent me from connecting more deeply with the Creator.
Merriam-Webster defines empty as “not filled or occupied. A container left empty of its contents.”
Isn’t that what God did when he emptied himself and spilled his divinity upon earth to give us Jesus in human form? He opened himself to create a new container to pour out his love so divine and human became one.
Jesus emptied himself each morning by going into solitude, seeking clarity, and letting go of the world’s distractions so he could be filled with his Father’s wisdom.
And after Christ’s death and resurrection, God emptied himself into the Holy Spirit, which he placed in our hearts.
Mirabai Starr writes in Longing for the Beloved that the Creator has filled us with a natural yearning for God. That yearning is the umbilical cord that connects us to the divine. It’s the fire that fuels our desire to remain connected with the source of our being.
She suggests people experience yearning in one of three possible ways.
Some experience yearning as suffering that leads them to surrender. They feel lost and abandoned by God. They seek to become one with him through the passion and sufferings of Christ. They then surrender their lives to become a living source of love.
Mother Teresa suffered in this way. In her journal, she wrote she often felt distant from God. Her acts of charity were the way she connected with him as she surrendered her life in love.
Others experience the natural yearning for God as an invitation to awaken to compassion. They don’t suffer so much, but seek to embrace God’s love for themselves and others. They empty themselves of the noise in their heads and the distractions of daily life so they can sit at the feet of the Creator and let him fill them with his love and wisdom. They then share his love with others.
Thomas Merton followed this pathway. Merton left his lavish lifestyle to enter the monastery so he could empty himself of the world and find God in solitude. From his hermitage, Merton reintroduced the Western world to the gift of self-emptying through meditation.
Finally, others have a constant sense of being connected to God. They experience a oneness that does not fade but only deepens. They never doubt that God is with them. So, for them, there’s nothing to long for. They trust God is always with them.
Martin Luther King, Jr., fits into this pathway. He had an unshakeable conviction that God was guiding him. In his speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” he states his only desire is to follow the will of God. His life spoke of this deep connection with the One who loved and inspired him.
Personally, I find comfort in the second pathway—emptying.
Through God’s invitation of emptiness, I enjoy quietly awakening to his compassion. With God’s grace, I’m willing to let him slowly quell my worldly distractions and whiz-bang thoughts so I can be filled with God and embraced by a deeper experience of divine love.
When I awake in the morning from deep sleep, I initially resist getting out of bed like I often resist God. My bed is warm and safe, much like my middle-class life. I want to distract myself with sleep’s pleasure.
As I slowly open my eyes to the dawn of a new day and its possibilities, I sense God’s nudge and eventually move from my bed to morning quiet time.
In that time of solitude, an emptying occurs. I sit and wait for God to show up. And in some shape or form, he usually does.
It’s never in black smoke demanding I surrender. Rather, it’s more like a gentle whisper that says, “I love you. I’m glad you’re here.”
Befriend your yearning. It’s a natural part of being human. It invites us to draw more deeply to the love and wisdom of the Divine. By embracing it, we step toward wholeness. In naming how we uniquely experience it, we find our pathway home.