16"No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. 17Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved."
Out of all the uncomfortable things that can happen to us on our life’s journey, one of the most discomfiting is to realize that through our own human resources we are unable to effect the changes that we want in our lives. Through our own human level efforts, thoughts, and personalities, we are incapable of improving our lives to the extent that we desire. We are powerless.
The irony is that only through admitting and accepting our powerlessness can we unleash the inner power of God, which aids us in achieving all we desire. By releasing our efforts to control and manipulate our environment, we allow Christ to express through us, which powers the transformation we desire.
The word surrender defines this process of letting go. Surrender, as I mean it, is giving into God’s will for the solution; it doesn’t mean to quit. Surrender is a strategy, not a character flaw. It is similar to surrendering in times of war: we recognize that we are defenseless; we agree to cease fighting; we admit that we are incapable of continuing any further resistance without being destroyed, and we trust that in our surrender we will be treated fairly and kept from harm. Surrender means that we are placing our faith in God; we are acknowledging that we are incapable of bringing about a solution through our own efforts alone.
In 1984, I entered my Vocal Arts Master’s Program with an ability to sing. Yet, over the next two years of study, although I had improved my education, at graduation it literally hurt to sing. After graduating, although I still sounded fairly good, I avoided singing situations because it was uncomfortable; it was painful to sing.
Prior to going to Southern California for my Master’s, I had done a concert with a vocal artist, Leonora. Now that I was back in the Carson City area, she asked me to join her in another concert. During the rehearsals she had intimated that she would like me to study with her. Later, she told me she was anxious to get her “hands on my throat”.
As our studies began, I surrendered to her teaching. It took me a while to unlearn the universal vocabulary and imagery I was accustomed to. Gradually, I adopted her techniques, but it took a long time for me to release the tension and habits that had built up over the years. But after four years, I was singing consistently without discomfort.
It was my act of surrender that allowed God to use this teacher’s techniques to help me. I had to release my old way of thinking and trust that this new way would work. Although I stopped studying with her many years ago, I still maintain a singing technique that doesn’t hurt.
We are like that in our spiritual lives. We have grown up with a philosophy, or life instruction booklet, that dictates what we believe and how we live. Some of these principles were learned in formal settings, others we picked up along the way. It is not my place to judge, criticize, or suggest changing anything. All I ask is this: as in my singing, in your life do you ever experience pain, struggle or discomfort? Is life working for you? Could it improve in any area - either spiritually, physically, with your health, fitness, weight, finances, debt, career, job, family, friends, relationships, peace of mind, joy, love, attitude, reliability, temper, depression, uncertainty, fears, doubts, or any of the other challenges we humans face? If you are like me, the answer is ‘yes’. If so, perhaps it is time to surrender it to God.
Surrender is letting go of the outcome and no longer trying to control the results. In the Bhagavad Gita we read: Better indeed is knowledge than mechanical practice. Better than knowledge is meditation. But better still is surrender of attachment to results, because there follows immediate peace. Isaiah 64:8 teaches: O LORD, You are our Father, We are the clay, and You our potter; And all of us are the work of Your hand.
The admission of personal powerlessness combined with surrender creates an opportunity for an outer change in our lives and circumstances. While important, it is the inner change that results through this process that is more critical. Greek Tragedian, Euripides, wrote "Do not consider painful what is good for you." Pain can be an ally, alerting us that something is wrong. At other times, it can indicate that we are changing and growing. There was a time in my life when speaking with new people was emotionally painful for me.
Today, I can speak more freely with someone. I am more interested and care more about others. It is still not my strength, opening to people, but I no longer fear it. I have grown.
And I’ve seen similar changes in people in this congregation - a willingness to give of themselves, to reach out and interact, a willingness to love; a readiness to let God move through them more fully.
The key is to surrender; have faith that God knows the best course and timeline for our development. It is unique for each of us, depending upon how much baggage we bring with us, how much tension from prior teachings we still carry, as in my singing. It is important to be gentle on ourselves; it takes time to unlearn the old before we can learn anything new.
That can be true in our spiritual development. Sometimes God will guide us to let go of some older ideas. We will feel a divine nudge, intuitively knowing it is time to release the way we are thinking or behaving. But the old way feels so comfortable, so well-worn and broken-in, that we resist. Even though it causes us pain, we cling to the familiar.
God will not force us to do or think anything that we are unwilling to do. God will always give us another chance, and another chance, until we finally release the old way long enough to taste the new. We continue to alternate between the old and new ways until we are convinced that God’s way may have some merit. Eventually, we can learn to totally trust God and embrace God’s Will from the earliest awareness of that still small voice. But to do that requires a change in consciousness.
I like the expression: wherever you go, there you are. There are people who will move from place to place, looking for a change in their lives. Some people move from relationship to relationship, marriage to marriage, job to job, looking for completion, happiness, or an improved life. But no matter where we go, who we marry, what job we take...there we are.
It is difficult to accept that we are the primary cause of our troubles. We try our best to put new wine in our old wineskins, yet our old consciousness remains. New wine in old wine
skins can cause damage. If we do not change our consciousness - how we think, feel, respond - regardless of the outer changes we make in our environment we will quickly recreate the same circumstances in our lives.
Wherever we go, there we are - is a true idiom. But so is: Wherever we are, God is. The great news is that by surrendering to God we can change the blueprints of our thinking. As we apply the new ideas and discoveries that God whispers to our consciousness in prayer and meditation, and surrender to God’s guidance, we create the inner changes that will support the outer changes in our world. We can start to realize that as a human we are limited, but our spiritual nature is unlimited - with God, all things are possible.
2 Corinthians 4:16: Therefore, we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. The Buddha said: “It is utterly useless to try to change the outer world, for it is but a reflection of inner causes. The true seeker seeks to change himself."
Regardless of what we want to see ‘out there’ in our lives - it all begins ‘in here’, with inner change. Our current life situation can only be altered by admitting that our human nature is powerless to change it, by surrendering ourselves to God’s will, and by welcoming and encouraging the resultant inner changes. Matthew 16:25 “If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.”
As we attune to the awareness of our spiritual natures and to God’s presence within and around us, we open to God’s new ideas, new beliefs, new feelings, new thoughts, new discoveries, and embrace them. This alignment gently creates the inner change we seek, and invites us to act in new ways, becoming, in a sense new people... alive, awake, and alert Children of God.
We have all the Power of God within us right now to live the most fulfilling life. The indwelling Christ is within us right now seeking expression, completion, perfection, and Divine Order through us. It is my prayer that through surrendering our personal control and embracing God’s Will, we can align with Spirit in a powerful fashion, and accept the blessing that no matter where we go, there we are - and so is God.