What does it mean to "turn it over to God"?
When I first started looking into Christianity, one of the things that most perplexed me was the concept of turning a situation over to God.
When I would receive advice like, “Jen, you need to just turn it all over to God,” it kind of sounded like a bad idea. Being the dense person that I am, I took the statement a bit too literally. I thought that that would mean setting all reason aside and taking no further actions of my own free will. Basically, I pictured myself lying in bed in my pajamas, waiting to do anything at all until I heard the booming voice of God give me detailed instructions.
I think that this concept might be at least somewhat confusing to others as well. I frequently get emails from people who are looking into religion for the first time, and one of the things I often hear is confusion about abstract concepts like this one. (As one reader put it, “So often in this journey I’m completely lost in abstractions, like there is some decoder ring needed to discern what real things I can do to learn and grow.”)
In case it’s helpful to anyone else, I thought I’d elaborate on what I’ve learned. Here is an example of one of the first situations that I attempted to put in God’s hands, including specific examples of the actions I took:
Background: Early last year, my husband and I desperately needed a house. We’d been living with my mother for two years while we got our business off the ground, and while it was a wonderful experience, we both felt that it was time for us to move on. We both felt strongly that we wanted to buy a house near my mother’s so that we could still see her frequently. Our budget was very limited, however, and it was going to be hard to find a house in our price range in the specific area we wanted.
We had been leaning this direction for a while, but when we discovered that we were expecting our third child (when our second was only five months old), I started to feel panicked. Not only were we cramped already, but I was growing weary of being a housewife living in someone else’s house. Yet there were so many options swirling around in my head: “What if we can’t find a house that meets our needs? Should we rent an apartment? Should we stay here?” I didn’t know whether I should be looking at local apartment complexes, looking at houses for sale, trying to find ways to make it work to continue living with my mom — I was so overwhelmed and confused.
After spending a couple months agonizing over the situation, I decided that I wanted to let go and turn it over to God. But what would that mean? Should I stop looking at houses? Should I try not to think about the situation at all? After getting some great advice from wise friends I finally felt like I had an idea of what it would mean to turn this situation over to God. Here’s what I did:
1. Followed the path of peace: First, I began to pray regularly for direction on this matter. When I contemplated the logical arguments for and against each of our choices, I found that only the option of buying a house gave me a sense of peace. Even when I approached the other options in a positive, “can-do” way, they left me feeling uneasy. I was cautious not to assume that that therefore was a sign that we were meant to get a house, but just took it to mean that this was the path we should pursue at that moment.
2. Stopped pursuing paths that unnecessarily distracted from living my vocation to the best of my ability: Another way to phrase this one is that I “stopped banging my head against walls.” My old way of searching for a house would have been to stay up until the middle of the night surfing real estate websites, let thoughts of mortgages and closings consume my mind, walk around grouchy and irritated because I felt like the weight of the world was on my shoulders, etc. A big change in my behavior after turning it over to God was that I only worked on house research as time allowed. I trusted that if we were meant to get a house, I would find time to do the necessary legwork without having to set aside the foundational work of my vocation like taking care of the children, keeping some semblance of order in the house, going to church, etc.
3. Kept the ultimate goal in mind: What I found was that to turn the housing dilemma over to God was, ultimately, to set my goals higher — much higher — than the details of the situation at hand. Early on in the process I thought of my goal as, “TO GET A NEW PLACE TO LIVE! NOW!” To turn it over to God was to focus on the fact that my ultimate goal in this or any other situation is simply to know, love, serve, and grow closer to God.
We ended up finding a perfect little house at a great price. We found it by driving through our desired neighborhood on the way home from running some errands one weekend — the owner had put the For Sale by Owner sign up less than 24 hours before. When we told him we wanted to make an offer, he said a bit hesitantly, “I hope you guys don’t think it’s weird if I tell you this, but I really feel like this is an answered prayer.” So did we.
So, if that’s helpful to anyone, those are some specific details of what I did when I turned a dilemma over to God. I should note that my actions weren’t really as perfect as I described there — I glossed over a lot of ups and downs for the sake of brevity. Also, just because that’s what I did doesn’t mean that that’s the perfect way to do it.
I would love to hear from readers as well: What is an example of a situation in which you made the choice to “turn it over to God”? What are some specific actions you took (if any) after making that decision? How did it turn out? Long comments welcome.