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Jen Pollock Michel

( author + writer + speaker )

Filtering by Tag: surrender

Celebrate Advent: Make room for willingness. (Luke 1:26-38)

Today's word is willingness. The school year was just beginning, and I was tuning into a webcast one evening with Lysa Terkeurst and Ann Voskamp. The subject: saying yes to God. Lysa's simple message was this: I can give God my willingness. I can give Him my yes.

I realized how reluctant I'd become in saying yes. Some of the reluctance was good. For years, I'd assumed more and more responsibility in every sort of direction, until finally, the plates I'd been spinning came crashing to the ground. When they did, the only thing I was left holding was resentment.

No, I knew what it was like to try scooping all the  littered pieces of broken humanity into my lap. I was done with being a hero. Willingness has made me its fool.

Not long after, the era of twins dawned. Life complicated and multiplied. I felt exhausted. Heroism was now defined by the taking a shower.

These past four years have taught me something significant and important about limitation. I have limited capacities. I need sleep more than ever. My priorities are first to my husband and to my children. I am not so readily willing as I once was.

It can even be that new responsibilities terrify me. Maybe it's because life stacks up like laundry. It doesn't matter how heroic all of my efforts are to tame the piles - there's simply no catching up and no getting ahead. And I know some of the reluctance is good, a fair reckoning with my limited time and energy.

But if I were to really tell the truth, some of my reluctance is rooted in fear.

I'm afraid to disappoint people.

I'm afraid to do something less than perfectly.

(Kinda like this stupid blogpost which I written and re-written and revised and edited and still feels like a bunch of nonsense.)

Yes, sometimes reluctance is good, especially when it's a prayerful kind of waiting on God and leaning in to hear what direction He wants me to take. But sometimes my reluctance is a bunch of excuse-making, dragging my heels nothing more than doubting God. I'm Moses before the bush, begging God to send anyone but me!

Willingness is a great gift . Willingness happens in the space of surrendered trust. Willingness is doing the accounting, finding the deficit of your own capacities, and even still, putting yourself into God's hands. Willingness was what Mary offered to God.

I could spend the next four weeks of Advent turning over in my mind two phrases of today's reading: "I am the Lord's servant. Let it be unto me according to your word." It's the structure of that last phrase that strikes me. It's a passive construction. Let it be unto me. Mary's not directing this scene. She's simply receiving the script.

And what will it really take for me to grow more willing?

Mary's readiness to see herself rightly. 

Mary's readiness to receive all things from God's hand. 

Considering how it is that I'm willing and where it is that I'm reluctant can be a really important spiritual diagnostic. Adele Ahlberg Calhoun in Invitations from God asks this: "What inside me needs to change so that God's motivations and desires are mine?"

In other words, what inside of me needs to change so that I become more willing?

For me, the real trick is in discerning where my willingness is God-breathed and right and when it's really that well-worn habit of refusing to reckon with my limitations.

The reason this blogpost feels so clumsy is because truthfully, most days I have no idea.


Photo Credit What I want tells my secrets.

My desires are a kind of soul-language. What I want reveals what I really value and what I'm willing to spend my life's energies pursuing.

And I want God, but I want easy. And I fight the sure and steady lure to make my life more comfortable and convenient. I want to follow, but I'd rather not heave a cross on my back.

I don't fully trust my desires. Maybe it's because know what it means to have a divided heart, to be split right down the middle, wanting the good and the right and the beautiful, but still seduced by empty promises.

The Scriptures bear out the story of God's great desire. The ways in which He's acted in human history have not been compelled by obligation. He's been subject to no one and nothing. What He's done, He's wanted to do. And what He's wanted to do has always been right and good.

And me wanting can be so god-like and so good because it's the desires of my heart, growing congruent with God's, that give witness to new life in me. Seeds of grace, saplings of transformation. Wanting what it is that God wants can only happen by the invisible, interior work of the Spirit. And oh, to be in step with Him, is joy and peace and life.

And me wanting can be so cruel. Disappointments ripen.

And me wanting demands so much: commitment, courage.

And me wanting terrifies. I'm not in control.

Can I really be ready to trust that what He gives is good and when He gives it is perfect?

And so it is that I'm getting honest with what it is that I want. And where it is that I'm stuck. And how it is that I'm afraid. And where I'm reluctant to let go.

And surrender always does feel like a free-fall, sucking breath from wide-eyed me.

Autumn Days

The leaf sacheted and fluttered without a sound. Yellow brilliance, twirling and spinning and falling. A thing of beauty, this solitary leaf in its descent. The twins and I take our routine walk around the block after lunch, and we pick leaves. Andrew hands me a fistful of brown. Consider the lilies of the field. . .the birds of the air. . the falling leaves, these lessons scripted in the winds and the fields and the trees. Fall's leaves - fiery reds, the golden yellows -they are the radiant dying. Fall in all its glory is the prelude to winter's death.

I consider all that has been dying in the autumn days that silently chilled into my winter.

Fear. Perfectionism. Hurry. Ambition. Leaves falling soundlessly, imperceptibly, until it's as if the Maker Himself has shaken the tree and hurled His weight against its branches. Shedding. Forfeiting. Relinquishing. Letting Go.

Eugene Peterson describes this in his book, The Jesus Way. Speaking of Abraham, Peterson writes, "Habits of relinquishment became deeply ingrained in [him]. They become deeply ingrained in us as we read. Leaving Ur and Haran, leaving Shechem and Bethel, leaving Egypt and Gerar, leaving Beersheba. Leaving, leaving, leaving. But every leaving was also a lightening of self, a further cleansing of the toxins of acquisition. A life of getting was slowly but surely replaced by a life of receiving - receiving the promises, receiving the covenants, receiving the three strangers, receiving Isaac, receiving circumcision, receiving the three strangers, receiving Isaac, receiving circumcision, receiving a lamb in the thicket - being transformed into a life that abandons self-sovereignty and embraces God-sovereignty. . .In the process of leaving behind, Abraham became more, gradually but certainly realizing that relinquishment is prerequisite to fulfillment, that letting go of a cramped self-will opened up to an expansive God-willed life. Faith."

Relinquish.  Autumn's mandate. Wait. Winter's Test. Receive. Spring's promise.