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

September 9, 2009

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.”


Where surrender is possible.

May the Spirit blow this new wind your way…

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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.