Surrendering Out of Love – Thy Will Be Done

“Fine!” That is usually the sound of surrender in my house. Sometimes a small person is mumbling it under their breath or sometimes a grownup, who should know better, allows it to pass their lips with a tone of resentment and sarcasm. Yikes!

Let’s face it, we don’t do surrender well. Culturally, we act like we are allergic to this condition. We are supposed to win and dominate! Surrender means defeat, right?

The first time I heard Hillary Scott’s song “Thy Will” from her album Love Remains, it hit me like a load of bricks. Surrender. The song is about surrender.

What is remarkable about Scott’s lyrics is the feeling of confusion and broken heartedness she communicates while falling to her knees in childlike submission to God’s will. Whaaaaat?  This is exactly the time we are not ready to surrender to God’s will!

Truth be told, we are only comfortable surrendering to God’s will if it looks exactly like our own plans. Our will, not God’s will – so that we remain in control. We aren’t ready to surrender control because we lack trust borne out of love.

God is saying, “Come, follow me.” Our response, “Where are we going? How long till we return? What will the journey require, and can you wait until I am ready?” And the God who offered everything to us and for us in love unto the cross waits. He waits and waits. The God who created time waits for our love.  Meanwhile, we stubbornly mumble “fine” in defeat, but not loving surrender.

In our relationship with God, surrendering is not defeat. Surrender is an act of love.   In order for our soul to sing “thy will be done” we must first fall deeply in love with God.

Living in the Fullness of God’s Love – The Universal Call to Holiness

Social media has informed me that a certain popular country music song is masquerading as a “worship song” with a “blasphemous” message. I was quick to notice the grave warnings issued to protect ones ears from Florida Georgia Line’s “Holy.” Deep was the sorrow communicated by furiously typed words and appropriately selected emoji!

Almost instantly, I set about Googling the lyrics of the pseudo-worship song. I felt an eager pull to commiserate with my fellow Christians on popular culture’s latest assault on God! Thankfully, Google swiftly loaded the offending words onto the screen . . . and then . . . everything came into focus. “Holy” is a song about sacramental love in the vocation of marriage.

Don’t feel bad for having missed it! It is not surprising that many of us find it difficult to recognize poetry (song lyrics) about God’s true plan for marital love! Our society has reduced marriage to merely a legal contract of mutual convenience based on transient feelings subject to dissolution when the relationship no longer makes one “happy.”

It is not surprising that a literal interpretation of the lyrics rendered many shocked and appalled. Has the artist replaced true and right worship of God with the worship of a woman?

I can hear the objections loud now and it sounds something like “only God is holy.” In response, I would clarify that God is Holiness itself. God is not just loving and good, but Love and Goodness itself. To those unfamiliar with the universal call to holiness, to say that a person is holy sounds a bit like saying they are equal to God. In truth, all are called to be holy! Each and every person is called to live in the fullness of God’s love without sin!

So what is the song really about?

The woman in the song brings her love out of darkness into the light. She is the “riverbank” of his Baptism, the launching place for his Christian life in Baptism. Through her holiness (her intimate relationship with God), she sanctifies him and brings him to faith (Baptism). He no longer needs the stars (a symbol of false worship) as he now knows love and through this earthly love (marriage) he is brought knowledge of heaven. Marriage and the goods of marriage (nuptial union, sex) are a foretaste of heaven. The song reflects the ability of marital love to heal and bring us closer to God who is the union point in sacramental marriage. Marriage has become the songwriter’s church – that institution which brings him closer to God.

After pondering the lyrics for nearly an hour, someone offered to show me the music video, which was also the first time I heard the song. It hadn’t occurred to me to listen to the music. I am a lover of words. Lyrics are poetry, an art form close to my heart. I don’t know what the writer’s original intent was with his lyrics. Judging by the woman in the white gown at the start of the video, bridal/wedding imagery, it seems to be a safe bet that I am on target here. Laying aside the artist’s actual intent, one could argue that art is for the viewer of the art and less about the artist’s intentions. Ask a Christian and an atheist to interpret The Lord of The Rings and you will see what I mean. If you want to see blasphemy in the song then you will see nothing else. For me, and many others, the song lyrics resounded within and I think it calls to some of us because as with really great/beautiful art, it speaks truth to our hearts.

A Night Out with Ben-Hur (and Messala)

On a rather rare night out with my spouse, we threw caution to the wind and added a 9:30pm movie to the evening!  After a day of laundry that truly reached epic proportions, this was either going to be a fabulous indulgence, or a horrible mistake.  I kept thinking, this movie better be worth the loss of sleep!

I am of the generation who likely never saw the original Ben-Hur or even realized the epic film of 1959 was based on a book written in 1880.  Honestly, I had no idea what the film was about.  I had heard there was a Christian theme and that Jesus makes a couple of cameo appearances.  Also, apparently, there are horses and a chariot race.  So that about sums up my knowledge prior to the film.  I had a babysitter and that was all that counted; I was going to see a movie with my beloved!

After gagging my way through several previews on what seemed like ten zillion variations on the theme of all things zombie (seriously, what is that about), the movie began!  It was easy to be drawn into the rich scenes and the dynamic characters.  Early on, the film was able to communicate the deep affection between the main characters Judah Ben-Hur and his adopted brother Messala.

Jesus appears in key moments to challenge and guide young Judah Ben-Hur in his path from revenge to forgiveness.  The main plot is that Messala in his ambition betrays his adoptive family and his brother is sent to be a galley-slave for five years while his mother and sister nearly die as lepers in a prison.  Judah Ben-Hur miraculously returns and pursues vengeance in the deadly chariot race.  Having vanquished his brother Messala, he fails to experience the satisfaction and relief he expected.  Judah Ben-Hur once again encounters Jesus and witnesses Christ begging the Father to forgive those who crucified him.

This is where the movie gets interesting.  Yes, we all saw it coming, Judah forgives his brother Messala.  Yay!  Ok now let us take a closer look.  At the end of the movie, Judah finds Messala lying on a stretcher having lost a leg in the chariot race.  Messala threatens to kill Judah and rages against him.  Judah stands over Messala and showers over him love and forgiveness.

Who are we meant to identify with in this moment?  Judah Ben-Hur, right?  He is the protagonist.  He is the one who learns to forgive.  He is the one who was innocent and betrayed.  The movie is named after this guy, so he is the main character, right?  Well, yes, but . . . most of us are not the innocent and mostly virtuous Ben-Hur, we are at various times in our lives the unrepentant sinner, the one who betrayed those who loved us.  We are Messala.  

Like Messala, we are sometimes broken and abandoned in need of mercy and through Christ that mercy is freely given.  In the end, Judah Ben-Hur sought out Messala in order to bring him back into right relationship with him and in order to heal what was broken.

God pursues you with the greatest intensity.  No matter how broken you are, no matter how deep the sin and betrayal, He is waiting and yearning for you.  Like Messala we need to put down our swords and stop trying to prove we do not need this love.

Ben-Hur was worth the loss of sleep.