Break Cycles, Embrace Grace

The Biggest Lie About Surrender – and Why You Can’t Afford to Believe It


I’m inviting my friend, Jennifer Dukes Lee, to tell her story of breaking the cycle of control she wielded in her life. Her latest book is releasing today, and this excerpt is one of my favorite parts of her book, It’s All Under Control. It’s a pleasure to welcome her to Welcome Grace.

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If you asked me five years ago, I naively would have told you that I didn’t struggle with control. I mean, seriously— as long as everything went exactly the way I hoped, I was totally flexible.


It’s not that I wanted to control other people. Mostly, I wanted to control myself. If I ever had high expectations of anyone, it was of me. I wanted to present the self-assured, together version of my whole being. Which means I craved control over my face, my emotions, my body, my food, my words, my house, my schedule, my yard, my future.


My preference was a tidy, predictable, safe life where no one got hurt, where my kids remained in one piece, where there was no pain for anyone ever again, amen.


I said I trusted God but had reached the point where I realized I actually didn’t.


As a Jesus girl, this shocked me.


Clearly, my old systems of coping weren’t working: My desire to obsessively orchestrate my whole life was burning me out.


As a mom, I heard myself snapping at my kids. As a ministry leader, I knew that I was functioning within my call, but I didn’t feel fulfilled. I was tired, even after a regular night’s sleep. And I found myself zoning out during conversations with my husband, because I was mentally making lists of everything I needed to get done.


In short, I ran out of gas.


Maybe the empty tank was God’s way of bringing me to a dead stop, so I would finally pay attention. It worked. God got my attention, and maybe he’s trying to get yours too.


Imagine that it’s you who’s run out of gas. Maybe that doesn’t take much imagining after all, because like me, you’re tired of trying to hold it together. You want to keep it all under control, but things aren’t working out the way you planned.


When you and I began to follow Jesus, we relinquished control over our lives. But because we suffer from the chronic condition known as being human we constantly try to steal that control back.


My wake-up call happened when I realized that the battle for my heart was regularly being fought inside the tiny squares of my to-do list.


I began to ask myself this question: “What are the things that, if they were taken away, would shatter the identity I have created?”


Was it my work? My calendar? My efforts to shield my children from pain and suffering? This urge to always say yes?


For me, the answer was: “All of the above.” I was trying to be the CEO of everything.


Jesus delivered a sobering reminder: You will never know if you can trust Me if you don’t give Me the chance to prove it.


I recommitted myself to a life surrendered to Jesus’ plans for my life. But something felt … off … when I considered what surrender truly meant.


I accidentally bought into a weird idea that surrendered living meant mostly that I needed to “do less.” Yet that was unrealistic because so much of life clearly couldn’t be opted out of. People depended on me. I had kids to feed. A house to manage. Books to write.


Most people can’t simply fire their lives and move on when it gets too chaotic. We can’t stop managing a household, cancel all our appointments, and spend the rest of our days on a floatie in the middle of a lake.


Here’s what I began to learn: Surrendered living is much more than “doing less.” It’s being more of who God created us to be.


Yes, I totally need more chill in my life, and maybe you do too. But here’s the full truth about surrender:


Surrender doesn’t come with some unrealistic demand that you are suddenly going to stop being the incredibly brave and brilliant woman that you are. Real surrender appreciates God’s remarkable design in you.


Do you know what a wonder you are?


You don’t settle. You are the sort of woman we can count on to meet a work deadline, organize a food drive, take in the neighbors’ kids during an emergency, drive your coworker to chemo, counsel a friend at 3 a.m. by text message, keep track of everyone’s appointments, and make sure we’re all wearing seat belts before you drive us on the three-day adventure that you single-handedly arranged.


We need you. We need take-charge, charitable women like you as doctors and nurses in operating rooms where details like “proper disinfectant” matter. Let me tell it to you straight: If you have an inner control freak, I’m hoping you’ll let her bust loose like nobody’s business if someone I love is on your operating table. We need responsible women like you to control all the bleeding.


We also need you in charge of schools, nonprofits, and Fortune 500 companies. We need rock-star women like you to show us that surrender isn’t “lie down in a pile.” It’s “march forward like a warrior.” Sometimes surrendering to God will require you to do the hardest work you’ve ever done in your life: take in another foster child, fight for your marriage, kick cancer where the sun don’t shine, or refuse to capitulate to the persistent drubbing from Satan.


Girl, listen up. We count on you. You are a woman fervently devoted to God’s calling on your life, not only in your work but also in your relationships.

Of course, as Carrie Underwood will sing to you, Jesus is definitely taking the wheel. But make no mistake: There are times when he’s going to ask you to do some driving.


Don’t think of Jesus as your chauffeur; he is more like your driver’s ed coach. He’s there to teach you His rules of the road. Friend, do not fear the wheel. You have been equipped to drive—and Jesus is beside you when you steer the wrong way. Hopefully He will pull the emergency brake if necessary, and I’ve personally put in a request for roads lined with padded walls.
 The windows are rolled down, the music is cranked, the tank is full, and there’s something that looks like freedom on the horizon.

Out on the open road, may you feel the reassuring love of Jesus. On this journey toward surrender, you’ll discover that, at last, it really is all under control: God’s.

The Takeaway

The battle for your heart takes place in your mind.

Be aware. Capture.

And next week, we’ll talk about flipping the script.


I’m so excited to be a part of a huge giveaway to celebrate the release of It’s All Under Control. Jennifer and her publisher, Tyndale, are giving away 50 copies of the book in celebration of its release! Enter below to win. Giveaway ends September 30. Winners will be notified by Tyndale House Publishers.

It’s All Under Control 50 Book Giveaway

BIO: Jennifer Dukes Lee is the wife of an Iowa farmer, mom to two girls, and an author. She loves queso and singing too loudly to songs with great harmony. Once upon a time, she didn’t believe in Jesus. Now, He’s her CEO. Jennifer’s newest book, It’s All Under Control, and a companion Bible study, are releasing today! This is a book for every woman who is hanging on tight and trying to get each day right―yet finding that life often feels out of control and chaotic.


Adapted from It’s All under Control: A Journey of Letting Go, Hanging On, and Finding a Peace You Almost Forgot Was Possible by Jennifer Dukes Lee, releasing this fall from Tyndale House Publishers.


Capture Those Thoughts to Break Negative Cycles


Do you remember those old Western movies with John Wayne? He rides easy in the saddle, holster slung low, and has an iconic drawl. But what I remember are the scenes of runaway horses and stage coaches. The horses move as one, faster and faster, dust billowing, the coach lurching, and the passengers tossed about like rag dolls.


The hero gallops close, at one with his horse as he leans toward rescue, and he grabs the team of horses and starts to pull back. Slowly, the horses come to a stop and we discover the passengers bruised and broken and the stagecoach off course.


So it is with our thoughts. We can take a feeling or sense about something and turn it into an assumption that leads to hasty decisions and divisive plans that leave those around us bruised and broken. Our thoughts run wild and steal our peace and good sense.


Last week I talked about developing an awareness of the thoughts. This week, we’re going to address what to do with them. Remember, if you don’t know what you’re thinking, you can’t address the negatives and keep the positives.


And that’s the key: we’re transformed by the renewing of our mind. And this transformation is evidenced on the outside of ourselves in how we live our lives and interact with people. Is it true transformation if you spend time praying for your loved one and then turn around and treat them with disdain?


Breaking cycles is not just thinking good thoughts, but it’s allowing action to flow from those good thoughts. We must remember that we don’t live this Christian life as islands or solo artists, but we are part of an intricate tapestry, a complete body that makes up the church. Each of us has a purpose in that body, and we find that as we walk and talk and grow in Christ. And our talk flows from our thoughts.


Webster’s Dictionary defines thought as an idea in the mind. The Greek word used in 2 Corinthians 10:5 is noema which means something that is thought out, planned, and devised. How many times have you planned out a conversation that puts someone in his or her place? Or orchestrated an elaborate series of actions to enact revenge on someone? Our thoughts can be as dangerous as a runaway stagecoach.


This same Greek word {noema} references the mind itself. It’s the word used for minds that are blinded to the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:4) as well as the warning in 2 Corinthians 11:3 to be on guard for the adversary’s cunning ways to lead our minds away from sincere and pure devotion to Christ.


So when Paul is instructing us to take every thought captive, he’s commanding us to apprehend those thoughts that set themselves up against God. In order to do this effectively and strategically, we must be aware of our thoughts.


As we are aware of our thoughts, we can then begin to capture them. But let me warn you, capturing them might be kind of like trying to capture a fish with your bare hands. Or trying to hang on tight to a wriggling baby covered in baby shampoo during bath time.


To capture means to catch and forcefully hold. Kids who grew up playing king of the mountain or capture the flag know exactly what capture means. It means to gain something and then not let it go. No. Matter. What. (We can use this capture for good things too: like hope and peace and trust and love)


Can you arrest that thought that tears down your neighbor, acquaintance, grocery store clerk, or loved one?


Will you gain control of the run-away thoughts of revenge?


Would you apprehend those thoughts of despair?


Can you conquer those thoughts that tell you you’re worth nothing to nobody?


And will you secure the thoughts that strip you of your security in Christ?


It seems impossible, I know. Certain thoughts become patterns that feel like ruts we can never escape and we follow them to the destination we don’t want to experience. Again. And again.


We’ll get to that. It’s in the second part of 2 Corinthians 10:5, but first, I want us to grow aware of our thoughts and practice capturing them. Pick one area of your life, whether it’s a spiritual or relational to work on this week. Next week, we’ll address flipping the script and how to make our thoughts obedient to Christ.


The Takeaway


Maybe you struggle with hopelessness. Monitor your thoughts. See how many thoughts are feeding you despair. Then capture them. Don’t let them go any further than a thought. Don’t plan out the next five events that may or may not happen based on the depths of hopelessness you feel.


Or maybe there’s a relationship that pokes and prods. Evaluate your thoughts towards the situation. See if you’re planning conversations and encounters and then capture them. Take note and capture.


Scripture to Ponder


“We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” 2 Corinthians 10:5


“In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” 2 Corinthians 4:4


“But I am afraid as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.” 2 Corinthians 11:3


“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7






How Your Thoughts Pave the Way to Broken Cycles


Have you spent time listening to yourself?


I’m amazed at how negative my thoughts can be sometimes. Before I know it, I’ve tried and quartered the person that seems more like an enemy than a friend. Or I’ve embraced despair over a situation. Or I’ve declared there’s no hope for so and so.


And then there’s this classic move: planned out conversations that work perfectly in my mind and fail spectacularly in person because, doh, the person is a real person and not a character in my script.


And sometimes my thoughts aren’t so nice and would totally require major cleanup and brown-nosing for the rest of my life, thank-you very much.


It’s in those moments when I consider that my secret thoughts aren’t really secret after all. God knows the secrets of my heart and I know that I can go to him, not for justification of my bad thoughts, but for help in sorting through them.


Angry thoughts hide hurt feelings. Hurts slices our core needs:  to feel safe, validated, and loved. Instead of dealing with the pain of abandonment, we grow angry and seek retaliation or exhibit desperation. Rejection tugs on the basic need to be accepted and rather than deal with the deep wound it causes, we turn to angry thoughts.


(Why is it that we have anger management classes, but not hurt-management classes? Because anger makes us appear strong, and hurt causes us to appear weak. Hurt is multi-faceted and many-layered, and can take years of deliberate choices in order to heal, but dealing with our hurts is what makes us stronger.)


Another thought that motivates me in cleaning up my thought life is the verse where it talks about what is done in the dark will be brought to the light. Yikes. I don’t know about you, but I’ve had some thoughts I don’t even want to admit I’ve had. But what’s in the dark, must be exposed to the light in order to be healed.


So, what are you thinking? Truly. Bring all your thoughts into the light. Oh, sure, they’ll squeal and you might squirm when you hear yourself, but trust me, it’s best if you can bring them to God. It’s like you bringing your broken treasure to him in cupped hands and like a child state, “I’m sorry. I don’t know what to do. Help.”


We fly through life. While we’re sorting the laundry, we’re sorting a relationship problem. In one instance, we answer our kids, that text, and our husbands. We juggle work projects and people projects and church dissension and personal growth issues and pretty soon, we push the auto-pilot button and say, like Batman in the Lego Batman movie, “Rope, you’re in charge.”


Auto-pilot. I’ve been there. I’m there more often than I admit. With three kids in school, managing our days, our home, church responsibilities, my writing studio project, and ministry, my mind is a busy, busy place. I can be sitting still, but my mind is leaping and turning and diving and solving and brainstorming.


I turn on auto-pilot and it’s when I do that the thoughts I think in secret get spoken. Chagrined? Yes. Dismayed? Oh, yea. Embarrassed? Absolutely. Needing to bring all the broken pieces to God? No doubt.


Am I saying that we can’t ever mess up? Not at all. What I am saying is that our thoughts are one of the most important commodities we possess. They affect our lives for good or for evil because it’s in our thoughts that temptations give birth to sin.


Our thoughts are merely unspoken words. And when we dive into God’s words about the power of words, we see the importance of guarding our hearts so that our minds might be renewed in order for the thoughts we think to become the life-giving words we want to say.


Friends, we don’t change from the outside in. We change from the inside out. One of the things I don’t do for my family is clean out their pockets before I wash their clothes. I probably should because I have washed wallets, chapstick, crayons, gum, hair ties, legos, screws, and keys, but I’m afraid of what I’m going to find in the dark recesses of their pockets.


Let’s not be like that with our minds. God knows our thoughts anyway, so let’s ask him to help us be aware of our thoughts so our words can be life-giving. So let’s reach into that pocket and turn it inside out. Get rid of the fuzz and lint and ask God to make your mind new.

The Takeaway


In order for negative cycles to be broken, we need to begin in our hearts and what’s in our hearts is evidenced by the words we think and say.


Pay attention to what you’re thinking and talk to God about it.


Scripture to Ponder


“Would not God have discovered it, since he knows the secrets of the heart.” Psalm 44:21


“There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs.” Luke 12:2-3


“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” Proverbs 4:23




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I write to encourage you that you can experience a vibrant, transformative relationship with God even if your past or your shame tells you otherwise. God invites you upward and onward, will you join me? You'll receive weekly devotionals straight to your inbox. By subscribing you'll receive my 7-Day Devotional, Kicking Perfect, as a thank-you gift from me!

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