Fear of Being Changed into Someone Who Is Not “Me”

By Keith Miller | August 17, 2009

Keith, you seem to be writing a lot about the importance of surrendering your entire life to God. I have some fear about trusting God that much. Were you afraid to really turn loose? What’s the real skinny on actually deciding to?

P.S. And also, can you guide me to other writers who have helped you regarding the idea of surrender?

The simple answer is “yes,” only I wasn’t just a little afraid to surrender totally. I wasn’t sure it would even be safe to. I had started my real Christian adventure by committing “as much of my life as I could to as much of God as I could understand.” That commitment allowed me to come out of the spectator section onto the playing field and become a “visible” serious Christian. But when I first heard that God was calling me to “surrender my whole life” to him, I was very fearful. I had been baptized and confirmed and made some serious commitments and changes in my disciplines, behavior and attitude.

But there were some problems. People in my close relationships seemed to think I was controlling them (while I thought they were trying to control me.) And certain things plagued my intimate relationships, arguing with my spouse about some of the parameters of our most intimate life (ego, money, sex, and who’s really in charge here). Whatever the issues, I had an inordinate need to be declared “right,” even in arguments about who said what, etc.

I could not surrender to God because that meant I might have to acknowledge my self-centeredness and quit trying to make sure I always turned out to be the “good guy”—or that I might have to quit thinking some clearly un-Christian thoughts that occupied a lot of my time. Although I managed to change enough habits and behaviors that were very important and made me more vulnerable than I’d ever been, I just wasn’t willing to risk trusting God with my whole life that much—in a blank check sort of way. I didn’t trust that God would work the above issues out in ways that would make me happy or allow me to do well in a competitive world. This wasn’t all conscious, but I now can see it was very real and confining. So I just muddled along, experiencing a lot of anger and rejection in my most personal relationships—and ironically, honestly helping a lot of people.

But finally, in a treatment center, the pain got big enough to drive me to the end of my rope because of the threat of losing my family’s love and respect altogether. That put me in a position of powerlessness. I saw that with all I’d learned during my studies in theology and psychology, I couldn’t make anyone forgive me nor love me. At that point I finally really surrendered everything to God. I stepped through the portal of fear-filled pain in me and awareness that I was powerless to change my family’s opinion of me. And I simply surrendered my entire life (including the future) to God.

What has happened since that time has not been easy, but the sense of peace and the new perspective on just about everything has surprised me beyond anything I can describe to you.

I saw that God doesn’t evidently want me to spend all my energy focusing on “being good” or being “more religious,” but rather to focus on trusting and loving God, facing my denied selfish habits and learning how to be real and loving toward the people in all the different everyday areas of my life. But I now realize that I couldn’t possibly have kept all the rules, perfectly, or the disciplines, or loved perfectly—without a lot of denial and rationalization. I finally had to admit that in spite of all my determination and ability, I am powerless to transform myself into what I thought God wanted me to be.

About that time I was told that the faith that can transform our lives is not religious but “spiritual.” Whereas a religious person wants to know how to do the religious behaviors and disciplines and services that the religion prescribes, a spiritual person (particularly one who is committed to the God Jesus called Father) wants to know and do what’s real and loving in and outside of any church with which one affiliates. I finally got it that if an individual person is being the person he or she was made to be, that person will no longer focus his or her life on ‘goodness’, but rather on being authentic and trusting, while loving God and loving and helping other people become all they can be under God.

That was when I began to understand why I hadn’t been able to “give up” and surrender to God. In grad school I had learned from psychologists that everyone has several basic ‘drives’ that guide us to the things we need in order to survive: hunger, thirst, sex, autonomy, power, closeness, etc. But in our fear of not getting all we need, we have twisted these normal and natural instincts and exaggerated them to make sure we get what we decide we want (are entitled to)—based on what we are taught by our materialistic culture that we “deserve” if we are willing to work hard enough for them.

So I discovered that if I want to be the person God evidently designed me to become, I have to try to surrender my entire life to God, and then face my compulsively exaggerated and twisted focus on some of those basic instincts, and then confess the ways I have hurt and used other people in my life by using anger and subtle manipulation to get more than my share of money, possessions, prestige, sex etc., And as I saw these unacceptable facts and events in my life, I learned to make amends. When I tried to do these things, my worship and trust of God felt natural, and strengthening. (See Matt 5:23-24)

Now when I go through the daily process of facing, confessing, and making amends for my harmful actions toward God and the other people hurt by these self-enhancing behaviors, then the instincts and need to be right usually shrink toward being normal sized. And my experience over a number of years indicates that God will not try to make me into a super-pious saint. But instead, God is gradually allowing me to feel at home in my own skin and enjoy using and sharing the gifts and abilities he has given me to help other people to move toward becoming all they can be as God’s children. And most of the time I’m not afraid of getting old and all the shriveling that involves, (although it’s true that women don’t give me a second look any more (except maybe to see if I’m going to make it across the street safely). And that tells me that I’m not exactly “ruby-lipped and 22. But I am happy, really happy, and in love with my wife, Andrea. And I know that deciding to surrender my whole life to God was the biggest step on this leg of the adventure in loving we’re on.

And I’m still fascinated and passionate about learning all I can concerning God as God is revealed in Jesus, and about living that kind of loving.

Thanks for asking.

God, forgive my frightened stubborn avoidance of surrendering my life and my will. Help me to surrender this day and just trust you. Teach me how to love you more, and how to love other people and help them become what you made them to be. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

“When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day—our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear.” 1 Jn 4:17 (THE MESSAGE)

P.S. The following are a few statements of faith from people whose writing has helped me along the way in looking for the courage to surrender:

“If then, thou desirest to obtain freedom and grace, freely to offer thyself into the hands of God is the first essential. The reason why so few attain to inward light and freedom is because they cannot endure wholly to deny themselves. ‘My words remain unalterable: Unless a man forsake all he cannot be my disciple. If therefore thou desire to be my disciple offer thyself unto me with thy whole heart.’ “ Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, p. 253.

“Men often take their imagination for their heart; and they believe they are converted as soon as they think of being converted.” Blaise Pascal, Penses, p. 78.

“But conversion is not realizing that it is possible. It is a conscious submitting of all we see of ourselves to all we understand of God. The knowledge of God is very far from the love of Him.” Blaise Pascal, Penses, p. 79

A prayer to enter the deeper life: “Lord Jesus, I believe that thou art able and willing to deliver me from all the care and unrest and bondage of my Christian life. I believe thou didst die to set me free, not only in the future but now and here. I believe thou art stronger than sin, and that thou canst keep me, even me, in my extreme of weakness, from falling into its snares or yielding obedience to its commands. And, Lord, I am going to trust thee to keep me. I have tried keeping myself, and have failed, and failed most grievously. I am absolutely helpless. So now I will trust thee. I give myself to thee. I keep back no reserves. Body, soul, and spirit, I present myself to thee as a piece of clay, to be fashioned into anything thy love and thy wisdom shall choose. And now I am thine. I believe thou dost accept that which I present to thee; I believe that this poor, weak, foolish heart has been taken possession of by thee, and that thou hast even at this very moment begun to work in me to will and to do of thy good pleasure. I trust thee utterly, and I trust thee now.” Hanna Whitehall Smith: The Christian’s Secret to a Happy Life, p. 54

“Here in this inner region, in this root of man’s being, he [God] is still subduing his enemies, he is conducting his mysterious education.” F.D. Maurice quoted by H. Richard Niebuhr, Christian Culture, p. 228.

(The following is a thought I jotted down while reading Alfred North Whitehead’s Adventure of Ideas.)

Looking out on a clear beautiful day one would assume the only light in the sky was the sun, but wait for night and you will see the stars—which could not be seen at first because of the brilliance of the first light you saw. To see the beauty in the heavens we must look further—maybe a deeper conversion, a deeper life for us all. J.K.M.

Topics: Christian Living, Weekly Devotional | Comments Off on Fear of Being Changed into Someone Who Is Not “Me”
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