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Pruning Time, part 7: Surrender

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Give over thine own willing; give over thine own running; give over thine own desiring to know or to be any thing, and sink down to the seed which God sows in the heart; and let that grow in thee, and be in thee, and breathe in thee, and act in thee, and thou shalt find by sweet experience, that the Lord knows that, and loves and owns that, and will lead it to the inheritance of life, which is his portion. — Isaac Penington

Know that the LORD Himself is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves. — Psalm 100:3a

The difficult and countercultural disciplines of Lent can help us learn focus, commitment, insight and gratitude. If we misunderstand them, they can also exhaust and distort us.

If we think of spiritual discipline as a way of making our unsatisfactory selves into something more impressive, we damage ourselves. When we fail we may get discouraged and succumb to self-indulgence or depression. When we appear to succeed we may become narrow, proud, and addicted to the illusion of control.

It’s a tempting illusion. I knew a girl once who was anorexic. I couldn’t understand what was going on with her—wasn’t she hungry? Couldn’t she see how thin she was? Later I read writing by anorexics who said the main issue was not food but control. Emily Troscianko, a former anorexic, wrote in Psychology Today: “control is probably at the centre of it all … control equals strength, strength equals denial, denial equals simplicity, simplicity equals purity, purity equals perfection, perfection equals perfect control. In fact, it’s the ultimate illusion: you’re completely under the control of the twisted ideals and the routines that … make you inhuman.”  I’m not tempted to starve myself, but I do understand the desperate wish to feel in control … and I do know that this wish  can stifle inner life and communion with God and other people.

I try to remember that my task is pruning, not topiary. I’m not trying to reshape myself to look like something other than what I was created to be. I’m trying to clear away dead wood and excess so that I can grow healthily into the shape God intended for me.

I also try to remember that the work is not all mine. I do have work to do; I need to keep naming and letting go of illusions and distractions. But I can’t make myself grateful , clear or courageous, any more than I can make fruit grow on my trees. God does that. I don’t need to remake myself in the image of my ideals. I need to open myself and let God keep making me in God’s image.

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