“You don’t need to make things happen. God provides. Your job is simply to listen, trust, and obey.” There’s so much truth in these words. God leads and we follow. Mary yields herself to become the vessel of God, saying “Be it unto me according to your word.” The psalmist says, “Save me. I am yours.” The Apostle Paul says, “You are not your own. You were bought with a price.” Jesus says, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” We surrender our lives to God; we cast our cares on Him, and He cares for us.
Yet there is another side to the truth that may at first seem contradictory. As is so often the case, the whole truth is a paradox, and which angle we most need to hear depends on where we’re at in life—or even where we’re at in our day. The other side of the truth emphasizes our responsibility to act in the world, to direct our lives, to fulfill our earthly duties, to make decisions, commitments, & plans, to discipline ourselves and lead others. I have long been allergic to such words as these. I have much preferred to be on the receiving side. “Lord, you lead and I will follow.” Seeking inspiration and insight through contemplation—like Mary, “treasuring these things in her heart.” In many ways this has of course served me well, because it represents a truth about our nature: we are part of a larger whole, we are utterly dependent on that whole, and we are Divine children needing guidance for our lives. Yet it is possible to be so focused on this side of the truth that we can miss the other side, causing our devotion to turn sour. We must not only receive but give, not only yield but direct, not only trust but obey, not only follow but lead, not only hear but do, not only surrender but fight.
If I had to choose one name for this synthesis, it would be health, which in fact etymologically means “wholeness.” We may look at these two aspects as two different things that need to be negotiated, achieving a compromise, for example, between the masculine and the feminine. But the truth is that, while health does manifest as a homeostasis and a balance between two apparently opposite forces, health itself is of one substance—not 50/50 but 100%. It’s just that our minds can’t quite synthesize the whole without seeing the parts, and thus it is useful for us to look for apparent balance as an indicator of uncompromising health, extreme vitality, life to the max.
Not only individual people but entire cultures may need to hear one or the other side of this truth. For example, it seems safe to say that American culture has, on the whole, erred on the side of being too masculine. We in America are an action-oriented people. This is a wonderful thing. We get things done. We innovate and create, we start and sustain large organizations, we accomplish huge, complex tasks, we make new discoveries and harness nature to powerful effect. The Masculine principle is apparently alive and well in America (keyword: apparently). Yet we must consider the fruits of our labors. How have we impacted the environment? How have we impacted the people of other cultures? How well are we taking care of ourselves? Wherever we have promoted poverty, death, or destruction, we have demonstrably lacked wisdom. It’s no accident that the Bible personifies Wisdom as a woman:
Out in the open wisdom calls aloud,
she raises her voice in the public square;
on top of the wall she cries out,
at the city gate she makes her speech:
“How long will you who are simple love your simple ways?
How long will mockers delight in mockery
and fools hate knowledge?
Repent at my rebuke!
Then I will pour out my thoughts to you,
I will make known to you my teachings.”
— Proverbs 1:20-23
In a sort of reversal of the “knight in shining armor” theme, She (Wisdom) promises to rescue us:
Wisdom will save you from the ways of wicked men,
from men whose words are perverse,
who have left the straight paths
to walk in dark ways,
who delight in doing wrong
and rejoice in the perverseness of evil,
whose paths are crooked
and who are devious in their ways.
— Proverbs 2:12-15
Notice here that the prescription is more wisdom, not less action. We won’t become healthy as a culture by decrying or suppressing the Masculine energy. Instead, we need to fulfill it and complete it by embracing the Feminine—by embracing wisdom.
What we as individuals most need to hear, again, depends on where we’re at. I have found much peace in the thought that I don’t need to make things happen—that I need only yield to “God working in me to will and to act according to his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:13) But there’s the rub. I still need to act. What I am beginning to understand is that when I refuse to direct my own life, I am effectively refusing to let God direct my life. Paul understood the need for self-discipline:
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
— 1 Corinthians 9:24-27
This is the message I am hearing and embracing today, because I had allowed my understanding of surrender to become distorted. What do you most need to hear? Has your understanding of self-discipline become distorted to the point of self-abuse and sickness? (I’ve been there too.) In that case, you may need to focus on rest, self-care, restoration, and mothering yourself, heeding the call of Jesus to “come to me…for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Whatever the medicine, we’re all after the same thing:
I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
— John 10:10