When We Are Brought to Utter Yielding

By Rev. Susan Smith

            In talking about how a person without God is a “seed upon the wind,” the late Howard Thurman makes an observation, that people with God are actually seeds upon the wind. We struggle to be in right relationship with God, and it requires what Thurman says is “the commitment, the yielding to God at the core of his being.” This always includes a serious struggle; we want God but we also want what we want. We struggle subliminally when we feel like we are having success in our world, but that struggle becomes more intense and intentional when we are in cavernous place in our lives, sometimes because of our own doing or sometimes just because life happens. We become as Jacob was: serious and intentional about getting our “blessing,” and we are, at these moments, willing to allow God to give us what God has determined what our blessing is. We relinquish our determination to dictate to God what God should give us. In the process, we give God ourselves in a way we have never done before.

Thurman says we have the experience of “years of warfare,” when “at last the very citadel of (one’s) spirit is under siege and is brought to a place of “utter yielding.”

What does “utter yielding” look like? What does it feel like? We all have our own stories about how we have been brought to our knees, literally and figuratively, and though after we have gone through that experience we have found that we were and are able to survive spiritual battles, we only remember that we went through it. We cannot describe the experience fully because we cannot remember the actual pain we felt. In that sense, I am reminded of how my mother shared with me years ago that having a baby hurts terribly, but, she said, “once the baby is born you don’t remember the pain.”

We don’t remember. We don’t remember the depth of the feelings we have gone through in order to get to a place of spiritual freedom. But the pain happened and was so intense that we were brought to a place of “utter yielding.” It is at those very most raw spiritual moments that we say to God with no caveats, “Here I am Lord. Here I am.”

What many of us fight against is the ultimate will of God. It is God’s will, not ours, which has to take precedence in our lives. We bring an untold number of hours of spiritual misery upon and into ourselves when we decide that we will box with God. But that is a lost cause. We will not win. And our spirits, in that fight, will suffer.

But when the struggle has been intense – and for too long – we reach a point where we utterly yield to God. We have no desire to fight God anymore, and we ascend to a place of divine direction. We go there not begrudgingly but willing because we have no fight left in us anymore.

Iyanla Vanzant did an exercise with a man recently which showed what the utterly yielded person must do in order to get to that point. This was an older man who had married years prior a woman who was years his junior. As time went on, they grew apart, and as they grew apart, he became worried that she would leave him. He was getting older, but she was becoming, and he saw it. He felt in his spirit that she would not want to remain married. It wasn’t that she didn’t love him anymore. It was just that she had gotten strong enough to trust what she was becoming, and strong enough to believe that she could do it without leaning on him for protection, emotional and spiritual support. She was ready to fly.

Her husband was fighting his new reality; he had been fighting for some time. In the exercise, Iyanla had the wife face her husband and tell him her truth. His pain was enormous. He closed his eyes as she talked. Tears rolled down his cheeks. You could almost see the wrestling he was doing with God and hear his words pleading that what he was experiencing would somehow stop and things be back to “normal.”

But it wasn’t to be. They were going to separate. Iyanla sat with this broken man and talked with him…and told him to yield to his new reality. Things were not going to go back to “the way they were.” “Let it go,” she said, and as she said it, she began tearing pieces of paper towel off a roll and giving them to him. “Ball them up,” she said as she gave him towel after towel. “Ball them up and throw them down and see that what you want is not what is to be. Ball up those pieces of paper until what you see and know doesn’t hurt you like you are hurting now.”

I watched as he began the exercise. Sometimes, he would take a towel and not be able to ball it up; he would break down and cry. Other times he would ball the paper towel up but not too tightly. Sometimes he would ball the paper towel up but now be able to throw it down.

But the process of utter yielding requires that we ball up the idea of the thing or things which we have stubbornly clung to, tightly, and throw them away. As we cast away from ourselves that which prevented us from hearing God and therefore following God’s plan for our lives, we begin to experience freedom and release.

Because that man’s experience was on television, we don’t know how long he had to practice making room for God in his life, in spite of his pain. But something happened…there was some release which freed him from his feeling of deep loss and fear of the unknown, because at the end of that program, he was able to look his wife in her eyes and tell her, without crying, without his face twisting into a painful grimace, that what she wanted to do was OK with him.

He had utterly yielded.

We hold onto situations and desires and people for reasons only we know, to our own detriment. Our going to God, even in frustration and maybe anger because God is not yielding to us is an important first step. God sees our dying souls and whispers to us, even as we struggle, “it’s all right to let go.” What God does is not unlike what we do when a loved one who is about to die refuses to let go. We have to tell their semi-conscious bodies that it is “all right to let go,” and often, those words help them. They utterly yield…and they pass on.

God wants us to utterly yield to the life and purpose God has in store for us. It is up to us whether or not we take God’s hand, and move on.

Amen and amen.

About The Author

Dr. Susan Smith Dr. Susan K. Smith is the former pastor of the Advent United Church of Christ in Columbus, Ohio. She received her education from Occidental College, Yale University, and United Theological Seminary. She is the author of five books and the proud mother of two children.

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