On the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, I was thinking about Lent and I asked the Lord what kind of observance I should do for Lent. The thought went thru my mind: "Surrender to holiness". As I wondered what this might mean, my first impression was that it meant: "Let go and let God!" This seemed fairly obvious to me and, it can mean just that. In truth, it can be summed up in this well written article on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Surrender_%28spirituality_and_psychology%29 As I felt drawn to ponder the phrase further, I began to think there might a much deeper and more profound meaning of the phrase for my life.
My first thought was to define the word "Surrender". We hear it all the time in our society. We have bakeries named "Sweet Surrender", songs titled "Sweet Surrender". Actually, the term "Sweet Surrender" seems to be just about everywhere. Truly, it is over used. So, I turned to my dear friend Miriam (Webster that is) for a definition. When I read the definition of Surrender, I realized there is nothing sweet about it. According to the dictionary, the definition of surrender is:
1: to give up completely or agree to forgo especially in favor of another
2: to give (oneself) up into the power of another especially as a prisoner
Surrender is not only unpleasant, it is often painful. I mean, who wants to give anything up to another? We humans tend to be a rather possessive lot, not easily letting go of the things that are important to us, especially if it means giving up our freedom or our own way of doing things. Yet, surrender is what I feel called to do.
Then my next question was: "Surrender to what?" My first thought was "Surrender to God...of course!". But that isn't the phrase that kept going thru my head. The phrase I hear over and over is "Surrender to holiness".
I can honestly tell you I thought I knew what holiness is. But, again, I felt compelled to look the definition up. It isn't at all what I thought it meant. I thought "holiness" meant being very good and living a life for God...living a very good life for God. However, according to this article, the concept of "good" doesn't enter into the definition of holiness at all. http://www.tektonics.org/whatis/whatholy.php According to the author of this article, "good" is what we become as a result of being holy. I was surprised.
It appears the definition of "holy" or "holiness" means to be set apart. I never knew that. At first sight, the idea of being set apart for God brings great joy...and well it should. It means that, as Christians, we have been chosen by Him to be His people. As the prophet Ezekiel said "You will be my people and I will be your God." Those words have always brought comfort to me.
As we are set apart by God, for God, we become more like God, and begin to take on more and more of HIs attributes. As we take on more of His attributes, He becomes more and more a part of our identity. Eventually, the more we surrender to being set apart, to being holy, the more of our selves we are able to surrender to Him, and the more of Himself He surrenders to us. In the end, we become completely His and He becomes completely ours. Our identities become inextricably entwined with His. We have become one in Him.
Yet, as Lent has progressed, I've learned that being set apart is often hard and painful. It means we often don't fit in with the crowd. It doesn't matter whether the group we want to belong to is in a social situation, or a work situation or any other situation we may find ourselves in. It means that we can not truly be a part of the group, that we can not always go along with the crowd. It means there are times when we have to deliberately choose to do or say something that is different from the accepted norms. To do so means to risk ridicule, criticism or even rejection. Yet this is what we must do if we are going to be true to our identity as God's holy people and also true to ourselves.
This is a difficult thing for me. I have always wanted to be a part of "the group". I've always wanted to "belong" and yet, somehow, I have always felt like I don't quite fit in. Perhaps this is as it should be. Perhaps this is the Lord's way of reminding me that I really shouldn't "fit in" with everyone else. Perhaps it is a reminder for me to keep my eyes focused on Him instead of on everyone and everything around me.
Being set apart also means we can not allow ourselves to be swept up by the tidal wave of consumerism and pseudo individualism which defines our society . We can not allow ourselves to be seduced into believing that we have to have the latest gadget, clothes, car, etc. if we want to be individuals. In truth, the forces which control our society are leading us to become carbon copies of each other. We have become a society of clones where no one is really very different from anyone else. To surrender to holiness means that we can not surrender to the world. We are to be in this world, but not of it.
If we do surrender to the call of our society to become like everyone else, then we will no longer be set apart, identifiable as God's people. We will not only loose our holiness, we will loose our identity. We will become like many of the Jews in the Babylonian captivity. When King Cyrus finally set the Jews free and allowed them to go back to Jerusalem, many of them decided to stay right where they were...in Babylon. Their Babylonian identity had become so strong that they lost their identity as Jews. They had lost their holiness....they were no longer set apart.
If we surrender to being set apart, we will begin to grow in the Lord. We will become the individuals we were meant to be. If we persevere in our journey, we will become identifiable as God's people in the eyes of the world. We will bear His light to the rest of mankind and to each other. We will, in fact, have become holy.