Can a person be fully themselves and also yield to the will of God? That’s the question I pondered as I reflected on my weekend.
Anyone who has talked with me for more than five minutes knows that I am an avid sailor. I love sailing, but I am most passionate about sailboat racing. During the summer and late fall, I will be out racing sailboats on Lake Michigan on Wednesday evenings as a crew member and on Sunday mornings as a skipper. Last Sunday was a gorgeous day to sail, with 70-degree temperatures and moderate winds. The sky was dark blue with wispy clouds. The seas were calm and I could see the sun refract on the waves, breaking into hundreds of sparkling rays on the deep blue water. I had a good day racing, placing first in four races and second in one. Now, I will be the first to say that to win a sailboat race you need a fast boat, an able crew, and an experienced skipper. This Sunday all three came together, which accounts for the results.
I’ve noticed that my Sunday nights and Monday mornings pretty much track how my weekend race results turn out. If I’ve done well, I feel buoyant. If I didn’t do well, I can get rather crabby and down on myself. As I thought about this roller-coaster disposition I realized that it points to a person who is focused on themselves and not necessarily on God. That was not easy to accept because my most constant prayer is this: “Lord, I surrender to your will.” Someone who truly yields to the will of God wouldn’t be so mercurial in their temperament depending on the results of a sailboat race.
And so, I prayed for guidance on this; not so much for forgiveness but for understanding. The Quakers have a long-standing exercise in which we ask God to search our hearts for places of growth and to provide us insight on how to best understand what comes up. I am happy to share with you my understanding so far.
If we use Jesus as the example, we find that he was fully himself and yet he was fully connected to God the Father. He says multiple times that “the father is in me and I am in him.” If we surrender to God and truly endeavor to yield to his will, then there is no separation between God and us. There is no separation between our intention to do the will of God and his acceptance of our intent; no matter how weak and fallible we may be in the execution of our will to serve.
The idea is not to submerge ourselves and take on a false persona of humility. The idea is to be fully alive in God and to experience both God and the world as the unique human beings that we were created to be. The key is where we place our focus. If our focus is on ourselves, then our hearts and our interest is clear: it is “all about me.” But if our focus is on God and we yield sincerely to his will, then we can appreciate and celebrate how God uses our uniqueness as an expression of his love to accomplish his kingdom here on earth.
So, the short answer thus far is this: Don’t focus on yourself, focus instead on God working through you. And then, just sit back and enjoy the ride.
Michael Soika has been a community activist for more than 30 years working on issues of social and economic justice. His work for justice is anchored by his spiritual formation first as a Catholic and now as a Quaker.