Introductory Note:

There is something about those who are the most submissive and surrendered to God that makes them reliable vessels of God’s power. Carolyn Arends explores this dynamic of strength and meekness in her winning way, inviting us to practice letting go by “rolling onto God” the situations and concerns we attempt to control.

Grace Pouch
Content Manager

Excerpt from Theology in Aisle Seven

My grand­moth­er was great, but she had that spe­cial moth­er-in-law gift of rais­ing my moth­er’s blood pres­sure. A well-timed com­ment about cook­ing or child-rear­ing would leave my mom stam­mer­ing and defensive. 

As a teenag­er, I would walk by and whis­per, Water off a duck­’s back, Mom.” She came to under­stand my code—Let it go; Nana does­n’t mean any­thing by it, and we know you’re a good wife and moth­er—and my whis­pers usu­al­ly helped. But now I wish I had known to say, Roll it onto God, Mom.” 

Psalm 37:5 tells us to com­mit your way to the Lord.” Trans­lat­ed, this verse says some­thing like, roll onto Jeho­vah thy way.” At cer­tain fam­i­ly din­ners, that means pass­ing the gravy and rolling” the need to defend our­selves — as well as our more seri­ous needs and con­cerns — onto God. 

Jesus was quot­ing from Psalm 37 when he said the meek will inher­it the earth, and it turns out that the whole psalm is a primer on meek­ness. I have always been a lit­tle over-meek (ret­i­cent, shy, too def­er­en­tial). So when I read the Bible and find the meek con­grat­u­lat­ed, I’m delighted. 

But there’s a catch. It turns out that only two peo­ple in Scrip­ture are described as meek”: Moses and Jesus. So meek­ness like­ly has lit­tle to do with timidity. 

If meek­ness isn’t weak­ness, what is it? The word has an asso­ci­a­tion with domes­ti­cat­ed ani­mals, specif­i­cal­ly beasts of bur­den. At first blush, this ety­mol­o­gy does­n’t thrill me; I don’t par­tic­u­lar­ly aspire to be ox-like. But when I think about it, an ox at the plow is not weak but extra­or­di­nar­i­ly strong. The key, though, is that his pow­er is har­nessed and direct­ed. Per­haps meek­ness is strength that is sub­mit­ted to an appro­pri­ate authority. 

Short­ly after I began writ­ing this col­umn, I found myself in rare con­flict with a friend. At first I thought my anger was giv­ing me strength, bol­ster­ing my courage so I could deal with the issues. But the anger soon betrayed me, sap­ping my ener­gy and com­pro­mis­ing my abil­i­ty to act accord­ing to wis­dom and divine direc­tion. It’s only as I have turned my hurt — and the over­whelm­ing urge to prove that I’m right — over to God that I’ve begun to be able to respond (and some­times resist respond­ing) from a place of holy, rather than human, strength.

Psalm 37 is all about strength in meek­ness. It deals with trust­ing God to be God, and with not try­ing to do his job. The meek, for exam­ple, don’t repay evil for evil; they rely on God for jus­tice (vv. 1 – 3). Sev­er­al vers­es men­tion that the meek don’t fret. And the meek let God pro­vide their hearts’ desires rather than try­ing to manip­u­late peo­ple and cir­cum­stances to get what they want (v. 4). 

How much ener­gy do I expend try­ing to secure pro­vi­sions, con­trol out­comes, and man­age peo­ple’s per­cep­tions of me? Psalm 37 tells us that the meek give that labor up. They trust God’s claims that he will pro­vide, pro­tect, and defend, and in so doing free up resources for putting their hands to God’s plow. It’s a good plan. 

But here’s the thing: I would be fine with rolling my bur­dens onto God if I were guar­an­teed res­o­lu­tion. There’s a joke that describes the effects of play­ing a coun­try song back­wards: Your spouse returns, your dog is res­ur­rect­ed, and your truck starts work­ing again. I wish that sur­ren­der to God worked the same way. 

But faith isn’t like that. The bib­li­cal wit­ness is that cir­cum­stances often get more chal­leng­ing, not less, when one’s way is com­mit­ted to the Lord. So why roll it onto God if it” (the need, cir­cum­stance, quar­rel­some friend, or crit­i­cal in-law) isn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly going to get fixed?

There are sto­ries about pris­on­ers in Nazi camps who were made to move heavy boul­ders from one end of a field to the oth­er, only to car­ry them back again. Many of the men were even­tu­al­ly dri­ven mad, not by the back­break­ing nature of the work, but by its futility.

It isn’t the expe­ri­ence of being mis­un­der­stood (or suf­fer­ing or pover­ty) itself that will undo us, but rather the sense that we are endur­ing hard­ship to no good end. That’s why the apos­tle Paul empha­sized that we do not labor in vain (1 Cor. 15:58). We dis­cov­er there is no wast­ed effort or pain, because there is noth­ing that God can­not redeem.

I have a choice. I can wear myself out push­ing the boul­ders of my life around my prison yard. Or I can be meek, and roll those bur­dens onto God. I’m not sure exact­ly what Jesus meant when he said the meek will inher­it the earth,” but I’ve cer­tain­ly dis­cov­ered that this world is a bet­ter place when I roll it off my shoul­ders and into his hands.

Orig­i­nal­ly post­ed in Chris­tian­i­ty Today, Feb­ru­ary 15, 2010. Copy­right © Car­olyn Arends, 2010.

Avail­able along with oth­er arti­cles by Car­olyn Arends in The­ol­o­gy in Aisle Sev­en.

Pho­to by Zoltan Tasi on Unsplash

Text First Published February 2010 · Last Featured on November 2021

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