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Why You Should Give Up

I remember April 4, 2005 like it was last week. It’s a little fuzzy in the finer details, but I’ve still got all the important things down. I remember being allowed to stay up past 11 on a school night as long as I kept the TV volume in my room as low as possible. I remember trying to be extra silent as I jumped on my bed, riveted to what I was watching on the TV screen. I remember watching Sean May put up a double-double to secure the game. I remember watching UNC win its first NCAA Championship under Roy Williams. And I remember thinking, knowing, from that night on that the only place I ever wanted to go to college was UNC.

During my teenage years I shaped almost everything about my life around that single goal. I took all the right classes and did all the right extracurricular things that I thought would look good on my application. I took an SAT prep class at our local Community College to get as high a score as possible. It was the only thing that I knew I wanted about my life, and I wanted it more than I wanted anything else.

Have you ever worked especially hard for something? Not like tried a little more than normal; I mean like poured everything about yourself into one thing? I did. I did for this. So when I got in, I was ecstatic. And when I moved into my freshman dorm room I was beside myself. This was all I ever wanted for my life and it was all laid out before me.

Chapel Hill was, and in many ways still is, like a second home to me. I love that place and never miss a chance to go back there. But this is where I should tell you that I didn’t graduate from Carolina. I didn’t make it past my sophomore year. And it wasn’t for lack of trying. I worked harder than I had ever worked in my life. I poured all of my time, attention, and energy into my time there. So much so that it was a detriment to my relationships, to my sanity, and to my faith.

I was at the driest point I had ever been personally and spiritually. I couldn’t understand why what I had always wanted wasn’t playing out like I had foreseen. How could God have guided me through all that preparation and brought me here only to throw me to the winds after I had it in my hands? I remember finally praying to God to ask what was wrong and why I wasn’t happy with what I had always wanted.

And the answer to that prayer completely altered my perspective on the purpose of my life. I had spent all of my energy, everything that I had in me, in the pursuit of what I wanted without so much as a thought as to what God wanted for me. So I left UNC and transferred to a smaller school. And it remains one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

There’s a story in the Gospels (Mark 10, Matthew 19, Luke 18) that Jesus tells about a rich man that comes to him and asks what he must do to be saved. Jesus tells him to give up all that he has. Saddened, the man leaves and we’re left to assume that the task from Jesus is left undone.

How often are we like the young man Jesus talks about here? I know I was at this point in my life. I was so committed and so resolutely determined in the pursuit of what I wanted that I didn’t have the time or energy to stop and consider what God wanted. It’s something I still struggle with to this day. We all have these visions of what we want our life to be and we are encouraged from a young age to throw everything we have at attaining it.

But how often does that come at the expense of our proximity to Jesus? How often does our pursuit of our desires and dreams conflict with the plan that Jesus has for us? Following Jesus is the most difficultly simple thing I can reckon with. Because the direction from Jesus is unnervingly simple: give up the things you desire above all else and then you can walk this road me. But when we wrestle with what that means for us it becomes nearly impossible. Especially in a world inundated with the American Dream of being self-made and determining our lives by what we do, the sacrifice of giving up control of our lives is insanely difficult.

But the peace that comes when we finally do surrender our whole lives, including the things we want above all else, to God is worth it. The day we release our desires to God is the day that we come closer to the One who calmed the storm with his voice. The day we have the courage to give up is the day we move towards the greatest peace in existence. Giving up is not part of our twenty-first century ethos. It’s just not something that we do. But it is something that is vital to the Christian life. Because it is only through giving up what we want most that we are able to engage with the greatest potential of our life. God has woven a beautiful plan into the fabric that makes up each of us; all we have to do is be willing to put aside our own plans to see it.

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Josh Godwin

There a handful of things in this life I truly love: my God, my wife, my dog, my town, my Cheerwine. I also love ministering with teenagers to help them realize God's love and everything God made them to be.

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