fixed or found? the journey from self-reliance to surrender.

In the last post entitled Opening Our Clenched Fists and Reaching Out Towards Hope, I began to paint a picture of the scary but glorious emergence from the dark valley of pain.  Nouwen’s metaphor of clenched fists opening – released from tension and clamoring – is a beautiful metaphor for a heart that releases its grip on control (manifested in the many self-remedies we choose) and surrenders its past, present, and future to a God that Walter Brueggemann once described as “wild, unfettered, and free.”  It must have seemed crazy to the Israelites, and so it also feels crazy to us to trust this Divine Mystery.  Perhaps, though, the second generation of Israelites, having seen the follies of their parents, intuited C.S. Lewis’ insights on Aslan’s character in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

“‘Safe?’ said Mr. Beaver…’Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. but he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.'”

And perhaps we, too, having seen the follies of our parents (the wounds inflicted in Egypt) and the folly of our own self-remedies (the wickedness revealed at Sinai) find ourselves plunged into the valley of the shadow of death only to discover, at some point, that we’ve been released from the burden of blaming others or fixing ourselves and propelled into freedom.  These New Exodus moments can be so rare, but the beauty and joy we find in them is profound.  Surrender is a glorious thing.

But how on God’s green earth do we surrender, you say?

The theologically appropriate answer, at this point, is – the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit blew in like a fresh wind at Pentecost, re-animating a New Humanity, a New Adam with the breath of life.  And on this New Exodus journey, we find at our darkest valleys and lowest moments that we are powerless, that the First Step in the Twelve Steps is the starting place – Blessed are the poor (ptochos – broken, beggarly, powerless) in spirit. Those impoverished in spirit need a Holy Spirit.  Those who have drowned need new life.  We simply cannot revive ourselves.

But how does this theologically appropriate answer translate into our daily battles with anorexia and sex addiction, workaholism and achievement addiction, depression and grief?  How does “surrender” fix our problems?

I’m convinced that our problems may actually be God’s way of leading us to surrender.

Rembrandt - The Return of the Prodigal SonYou see, we are not problems to be fixed.  Rather, we are broken and beautiful children of the King needing to be found.

Fixing is the problem.  Think about it this way.  It is in trying to fix ourselves that we continue to perpetuate our anxiety and depression.  It is in trying to fix ourselves that we run headlong into addiction.  It is in trying to fix ourselves that childhood wounds actually fester and grow.

The Prodigal Son tried to fix his problem (hunger) by eating the pods of a carob tree, a meal that middle-eastern scholar Kenneth Bailey claims would have given him no satisfaction, no nutrition, and no relief from his hunger pains.  He needed to be Found.

The Prodigal Son tried to fix his problem (despair) by going back to his father and asking to be a slave.  His problem was fixed by being Found…greeted by a Father who would run to him in his mess, not away from him, saying, “My son was lost and now is found.”

The Elder Son tried to fix his problem (insecurity) by becoming a narcissistic, self-promoting do-gooder.  The father told him that what he perceived to be the problem was never a problem.  “Everything I have is yours.”  He was lost and needed to be found, and hadn’t even left.

Our problems reveal the specific cure we need.  They reflect parts of us that crave God’s original shalom.  Our problem (sex addiction) is not an internet connection to be cut off, but a longing to be found intimately by another.  Our problem (depression) is not simply a feeling that should go away, but a longing to be known, loved, and found in our tears.  Our problem (eating disorder) is not about more food being eaten, but about a person who wants to disappear being found by One who sees and loves.  Our problem (cutting/self-mutiliation) is not simply a bad behavior to stop, but a longing to be released from a deeper pain and held in the arms of One who was cut on for our sakes.  Our problem (marital issues) is not a problem to be solved, but two people who long to be better known, understood, and intimately allied with one another and God.  Our problem (abuse) is not a memory to be erased, but reveals a longing to be held in the healing safety of Another.

You see, we surrender our need to be fixed, or fix ourselves.  We embrace the mysterious cure found in the strong, yet intimate, care of a Good (but not safe…) God.  Repentance, then, becomes something more than a mechanical prayer we say when we feel guilty.  It becomes an active and daily turning away from self-reliance and into the loving embrace of a God who isn’t mad, but delighted…

This process takes a lifetime.  For behind each clenched fist is another.  Our brokenness runs deep.  It is embedded in decades of hard memories, brain chemistry which has adapted and actually fosters the self-fix, the torrent of a powerful unconscious which lurks beneath our awareness, the body-memory of a place where our abuser violated us, and the seemingly inviolable patterns and habits which have emerged from years of resistance.

But here is what is liberating.  To assume we can fixed leads us further into a desperate search for the illusive pod that the Prodigal sought to devour.  It leads us to the lie of quick fixes and the false promises of hotshot preachers and therapists who pretend to be gods.  Instead, we’re lead out of the wilderness and into the embrace of the Father, to be Found.  This “being found” is a lifetime journey.  We’re prone to forget, and leave the safe arms of God and our community for more familiar lovers – less-Wild lovers.  But in those times, when we’re prone to find the fix again, let the quiet whisper of the one who longs to find you say again, “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy ladened and I will give you rest.”

Found.

Where surrender is possible.

May the Spirit blow this new wind your way…

+ + + + + + + + + + +

Think about a significant “problem” you struggle with.  How have you attempted to fix it?

How is “fixing” a way we actually assume we can manage our own problems?  How does it actually minimize our need for grace, for love – to be Found?

How might it be frightening to abandon your “fixing” project?

How would your life look different if you stepped into this new reality of being Found?

Feel free to post comments about your journey.

8 comments

  1. I may have missed this in a previous post, but when does the book about the New Exodus come out? These series of posts have been awesome, and I find myself pondering them many days after.

  2. Chuck, thanks for this. I find myself here weeping after reading this just longing to be found – not fixed. It’s such a deep mystery and I feel like I’m barely scratching the surface. Looking forward to buying the book.

  3. When the Holy Spirit blew into my life with refreshing winds of change, my sexual addiction was ‘blown away’ and my heart was changed. I cannot think like I used to think. I cannot want or desire what I once wanted and desired as concerns the sexual affections.

    I remember the exact moment when that happened. I was not even actively pursuing a relationship with Jesus. My spiritual advisor at the time was a master in Kundalini Yoga. He could not believe what I was reporting as it was indicative of a consciousness of renunciation generally understood to be impracticable by those as new to the disciplines as myself.

    Of course, for me there was hardly anything to it. I simply was another person in that regard. There was a tenderness and delight in my own simplicity as a sexual person and a wholeness I longed to protect. I never loved myself more than when I felt truly that God loved me. So in that sense I truly think I am following what you seem to be saying.

    Where I don’t think I follow you is along these lines: I ‘felt’ fixed…when I ‘felt’ seen…or known…

    I certainly admit that there are other areas of my life where I have not experienced this kind of — deliverance? — and I suppose I am stubbornly holding out that it is possible.

    My question is this: Is not ‘effectual transformation’ a necessary condition of ‘being known by God’?

    Perhaps another way of phrasing the question might lead us to explore this:

    Does being good feel good?

    It certainly does not seem unreasonable to wonder how having ‘the mind of Christ’ could not — in actual fact — yield ‘the joy of God.’

    I am thinking of Jesus prayer in John 17.

  4. i have a lot of catching up to do! i didn’t know you were posting this! very thankful. loved the new exodus model in class. glad i’ll have it in print at some point. hope all is well with you and the fam in san fran.

  5. I don’t know If I said it already but …Cool site, love the info. I do a lot of research online on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say I’m glad I found your blog. Thanks, 🙂

    A definite great read….

  6. Chuck-

    I can certainly relate to this post. I know that the difficult and painful experiences of my life led me into a state of desperation where I had no choice but to turn to Christ. However it is so difficult simply to live in being found. And the knowledge of being found all to often leaves us saying “this is it”? and life continues on. Everything in me cries out for more, but I guess that I will have to wait for the final justification. It is just frustrating when knowing you are found does not feel like you are found.

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