It has such connotation of loss and defeat. But it was the word that came to me, along with this new song that I mostly wrote on a recent trip to Mount Sequoyah Retreat Center in Fayetteville.
The title means to connote a spiritual sense of “surrender,” which is a spiritual move that lots of folks talk about.
The song, and the dynamic, are about that moment when we give up our control, our effort, our striving, and say “I can’t do any more more…I don’t know how to fix this…”
What inspired the song on that trip to Mount Sequoyah, was looking back over my trips there. The fact that, over the span of my 25-plus years of trips there, the outdoor chapel has become a place of fervent prayer for me. I usually spend some time there, taking stock of life.
Sometimes, the moments there are joyful and life-affirming, because life is joyful and life affirming. Sometimes, the prayers are “Thank You!”
Other times, it’s painful. And the darkness and the quiet of that chapel become the place that holds that pain for me. I’ve prayed a very specific *kind* of prayer to God there.
I call it the prayer of “giving back to God.”
Some people would say that they “give things UP to God.”
That’s fine language. But “giving *back* to God” has always made more sense to me than “giving *up* to God.”
“Giving up” always seemed spacially inadequate (God is not “up,” and we are not “down”) and spiritual limiting (I still have *some* power and choice in life, just not “all” power and choice…)
So, “giving back to God” is the prayer that I pray…the prayer that resonates and makes sense to me. It seems to me it’s what others mean when they use the word “surrender.”
Then those specific times of prayer come, they are usually with a lot of tears too. Here’s what I pray:
“God, I give (the thing) back to you….I can do no more…I can’t *fix” this…I can’t make it right…it’s not even all up to me…I don’t know what to do…So, I give it back to you…”
All things come from God. The good, the bad, the ugly. And so, it makes sense to me that all things in prayer should go *back* to God too.
Early in our marriage, for example, Dennise and I were both depressed. Neither of us had found medication or therapy yet, and I didn’t know where things were going. It was a scary time. I felt lost and alone, and in the midst of a cold night on the mountain, I prayed, “God, I give my marriage back to you…”
A few years later, I had a crisis in ministry where I *thought* was being moved into a ministry position at my former church that was all wrong for me. The work was, in fact, the very kind of work that I had gone into ministry to *avoid* doing full-time. I was supposed to start the day I got back to Dallas. And i though I was literally saying goodbye to Sequoyah forever. I didn’t know what was going to happen to me or my career when I got back to Dallas.
So, I prayed a prayer where I said, “God, I give my ministry back to you…”
(btw: I have prayed that one *multiple times* over the years…)
About five years ago, my Father was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis. I had seen church members die of that disease. I knew precisely, and literally, just how it affected the body and how those who die from it are often rasping and gasping for air at the end. I knew the suffering it would not only cause this strong, quiet giant in my life, but also how hard it would be on my family.
And so, also there at Mount Sequoyah, I prayed “God, I give my Father back to you…”
And just a few years after that, Maria was getting ready to go to college. And she went…in a huge moment of irony…to Fayetteville!
But there I was, one night some months before she was to leave for the first time, sitting alone in the chapel at Sequoyah once again…looking down over the valley where my daughter would soon live.
I knew I’d always be her Dad, but I also knew we were coming to the end of the time where, day to day, I could help mold her. I knew what college was like, and how Moms and Dads are no longer as much of a force in their child’s life. But she is our *only* child, and so precious to us. And so I prayed, “God I give my daughter back to you…”
Now I would not want anybody to believe I am suggesting that this is a magic prayer. I don’t believe prayer is magic.
In fact, it would be a supreme irony to suggest that a prayer of the form “I don’t have any more power,” magically forces God’s hand and, presto, everything is better. No, that would give me all the power right back!
So, it doesn’t work that way.
I am still powerless in those moments.
Nor is it it like some blinding light hits me.
This prayer doesn’t magically “fix” everything. My daughter still went off the college. My Dad really did die.
But, Dennise and I are still in love and doing well, and I never *did* move into that ministry job.
I think what happens is not that we take power *back* somehow, or say magic words, but that in the moments we admit we have no more ability to “fix” things, no more moves we can make, something else opens up for us.
We are able to see doors we did not see before, or maybe doors that weren’t really even there before.
What changes is our ability to *see.” It’s not magic. But it does help. It’s helped me time and time again.
I am a big fan of admitting my human limitations and foibles. I try to do this as often as I can to God. The more I do, the healthier I am. And I’m always having to re-remind myself to do it…and to do it sincerely and honestly, not vainly or reflexively. Usually, I know I need to do it when I am sorrowful. When I feel like I can’t find the “way” or don’t have the power to “fix” a situation.
So, I was thinking about all this history…all those prayers of “giving back” to God, on my recent trip to Mount Sequoyah. It’s what inspired this song. The song, in a way, calls forth that spiritual process for me.
I hope it’s meaningful to you, and that you experience the blessing of “giving back” your troubles to God in prayer.
It’s a powerful, humbling, and deeply moving spiritual moment.
Try it soon, if you need it…it helps…