You "turned you life over to God"? All what did you actually DO?
March 9, 2009 10:42 PM   Subscribe

Whenever someone says "I turned my life over to God," it seems everyone just nods and acts like they understand, so I just act like I understand, too. But I don't.

I respect people's spiritual paths and am curious as to what this common phrase really means to individuals. I imagine it is an emotional thing, but... I don't get it. What ACTION(S) does the person engage in during this undertaking of turning his/her life over? I want to know on a pragmatic level what it is that the person does- not metaphors. What is the thing they actually do?
posted by Piscean to Religion & Philosophy (40 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I don't think they "do" anything, other than deciding that they're going to live by God's rules, or whatever they conceive those rules to be. It's kind of like the idea of "submission to Allah" in Islam - a decision that they will lead their lives knowing they are subservient to God.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 10:47 PM on March 9, 2009

to me it always seemed like they were taking to heart the lessons of the serenity prayer, often used by AA -

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

basically, they believe that their god has an overreaching plan that they are part of and things have seemed too difficult lately. they perceive this to be because they have been fighting against the will of god or spending too much time trying to figure out they whys of god. so instead, they are going to live their lives the best way they know how and have faith that things fall in place in a more pleasing way. or, i can't change this - i can't help this - so i'm just going to let it be.
posted by nadawi at 10:51 PM on March 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

I nod and act like I understand. I don't.

Turning your life over could be anything from listening to the small still voice to deciding you are going to live by what the new preacher down the street told you — variations on externalizing the decision-making process all the way down to some light depersonalization. Some may bristle, but when you start listening for someone else's voice in your head to tell you what to do, they call it that as long as you don't mention G-d.

It also impinges on how things are received. Asking questions and looking for the answers is tough, but faith is easy. All you have to do is lay down your burdens and accept that Everything Happens for a Reason. If you don't understand why, remember that God Is Great (by contrast, you are not), so you cannot hope to comprehend the mysteries of His blah blah blah.

In terms of actions, you could see increased church attendance and Bible study, but that's not strictly required. It could be completely internal, no physical actions required.
posted by adipocere at 11:05 PM on March 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

As far as I can tell, It means that they are dedicating themselves to doing whatever they think it is God wants them to do.

It's expected in most believers that they'll do what God says to do in the Bible, but this is taking it up another level. It indicates a willingness to make big life decisions like becoming a missionary or or a preacher. It's basically saying "OK, God, I'm committed to doing your will. Show me the path and I will follow it."
posted by JDHarper at 11:08 PM on March 9, 2009

The word Islam means "submission", or the total surrender of oneself to God.
posted by crn at 11:15 PM on March 9, 2009

It means that they try to live by God's laws instead of their own desires. In turn, they put their trust in God to lead them down the right path, even if that path is sometimes a bumpy one.

They stop doing anything. They come to the point of hopelessness and despair of their ability to do anything. So they quit trying.

On the contrary. When someone has truly "turned their life over to God," they have quite a lot of work to do at first. Putting one's faith in God does not mean giving up. It might mean they have to do a lot of work on themselves, but they're leaving it up to God to help them figure out what needs fixing. Could be their lifestyle. Could be the way they treat their family. Could be their attitude in general. Maybe they need to stop drinking. Things like that.

Or at least that's how it's supposed to be. There are a lot of people with a lot of problems, and they just need something else to get hooked on. They don't really think about what it means, they just go through the motions, and that's why it often doesn't last.
posted by katillathehun at 11:19 PM on March 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

It doesn't necessarily mean they have "stopped trying," but they are --- in theory --- resigning themselves to whatever happens because "it's in God's hands."

Psychologically, it is a strategy to take the sting out of the unpredictability and vicissitudes of life because whatever happens is the will of God. No matter what happens, it must be fundamentally okay (even if, to us, it seems terrible), because God willed it.
posted by jayder at 11:21 PM on March 9, 2009

[The few times I've tried this and managed to do this for more than a day or two] I focused on living my life as I believed God wanted me to live instead of how I wanted to live. I've been a Christian long enough that it's pretty clear to me what God would have me do with the decisions I make (the movies I watch, who I spend my time with, how I respond to difficult situations, how I react to people who are in need.) It's also quite clear that I rarely act in a way that I would define as Godly, based on my reading of the Bible and my interactions with other Christians that I trust and respect.

So, in terms of actions, this means subverting all of my own desires in order to focus on Godly ones. For some people, this might involve fasting a few days a month. Or giving up television. Or not drinking alcohol. Or not gossiping. Or (when I was not married) abstaining from sexual contact.

I couldn't disagree more with adipocere's answer. Faith is really hard for me, because it's not intuitive. It's not what I want to do, it's what I know I ought to do. The two things couldn't be farther apart. Nor would I say that those few times I've managed to really turn my life over to God that it has been doubt-free. Faith and doubt are not mutually exclusive. This is a different topic, though.
posted by Happydaz at 11:22 PM on March 9, 2009 [3 favorites]

People who really turn their life over to a god (and there are some notable examples) do not feel the need to proclaim this in casual conversation, but it is apparent from their deeds. If I hear someone say this, I tend to shake my head rather than nod it,
posted by Neiltupper at 11:26 PM on March 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

They seem to fall into two camps: One, the most intolerable, starts saying "that's God's will" with anything that happens from being in the long line at the grocery store to a major earthquake, and more or less does whatever they did before. It's sort of a zen-like c'est la vie where they disavow earthly things because they are unknowable and endure whatever happens until entry to the Kingdom of Heaven.

The other group does some "WWJD" (or similar arbitrary rule-making) math with stuff that they think would get them in dutch with the big G. These people seem to be a lot more successful than the first group, but only get along well with people in the same church/denomination, but only because they've started adhering to the rules of the chosen faith very closely.

You'll probably get a less volatile answer from someone who has actually said this.
posted by Ookseer at 11:55 PM on March 9, 2009

I do that. I'm an atheist, but I think it is the same thing.

When you are worried and struggling, and feel like it's you against the universe, there comes a time when you have to just stop. Stop worrying, stop fighting, just accept the situation you are in, and trust that it will get better. It will get better not as a consequence of your CONSTANT VIGILANCE, but just because things pass and no outcome really is the end of the world. So you keep looking for a job, or going to marriage counseling, or whatever concrete steps you're taking to help yourself, but you quit stressing yourself out. "Let go, and let God," as they say.

I feel like there is a part of me that sees clearly and knows what to do, obscured at times by fear or laziness or denial, but always there. Whatever allowed my ancestors to deal with way bigger hassles on the savannahs, I have it too, and it -- I -- will find a way. I think that is the same thing religious people do. I've been told that what I call a part of myself, is in fact God, so there you go.
posted by Methylviolet at 11:58 PM on March 9, 2009 [15 favorites]

I always interpret it as someone deciding they're unable to take responsibility for their actions, usually because they've lived in a way which has caused themselves and others distress. They need to somehow feel forgiven for the life they've lived. Turning their life over to god gives them an immediate sense of accomplishment and acceptance, which usually takes much longer to earn if you just decide to fix your life without the heavens backing you.

The sad thing is, when and if they accomplish what they're after, such as getting off drink and drugs, they don't give themselves the credit they deserve. It was their doing, their will power, yet a big guy in the sky takes all the glory.
posted by Relic at 11:59 PM on March 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

People who really turn their life over to a god (and there are some notable examples) do not feel the need to proclaim this in casual conversation


Disclaimer: I'm a Christian.

I've never said to anyone that "I turned my life over to God." That said, if you asked me, I'd tell you that my life belongs to Him (fact of the matter is that it belonged to God long before I was ever really at a point where I'd say so, I guess). The Chirstians I admire most are the ones who wouldn't admit being such a part of the equation in the conversion experience - they would make it sound more like God found them, than the other way around.

I think perhaps, and I need to be careful here lest I slight people I plan to see in heaven - despite their differing views, there are those who feel the need to be a decision maker in the conversion experience. I think that this diminishes God - in essence they serve a "smaller" God if you will (at least in their mind). Their God (really their faith) isn't as big as mine. That's not an insult so much as a fact - frankly saying I have a bigger God in my life intones that I've made a bigger faith leap. A lot of people (especially here) would look down on me, in comparison.

I don't think there's anything wrong with "turning one's life over to God," and frankly I'm always glad and curious to hear what that means when someone tells me it. You should do the same - don't throw this question out to the green. This is a great question to ask, just like it is worded, to those people who you are asking about. Honestly, I think you'll find the answer is unique to the person.
posted by allkindsoftime at 12:06 AM on March 10, 2009 [3 favorites]

"it seems everyone just nods and acts like they understand"

It's unclear if you're suggesting this, but in case you aren't, chances are indeed pretty good that the purpose of the understanding nod is really to allow the subject to move away from this topic with as little impedance as possible.

Smile and nod
posted by -harlequin- at 1:34 AM on March 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

It means when you're helpless to help yourself and you have no where else to turn, all other things, people, circumstances and substances have failed you, instead of giving up completely and opting for the Final Exit, you choose to believe that there is a Creator who made you, who knows you inside and out, that gives life, breathes life, instill hope, love, charity, compassion and mercy, and that this the only option that can, could or ever will assist to lift you out of the chasm of death into life, healing and solace.

posted by watercarrier at 2:45 AM on March 10, 2009

It seems everyone just nods and acts like they understand, so I just act like I understand.

I think you're in the majority there.

It does sound like attention/approval-seeking to me. Nodding and smiling and acting like you understand is probably the right thing to do.
posted by rokusan at 5:24 AM on March 10, 2009

Wow, a lot of hate in some of these answers all because of the G-word.

I'm down with Methylviolet... a nonbeliever who thinks that in many cases, Letting Stuff Go is often better than forcing action in situations where it would not be of much benefit, i.e. ones in which I have next to zero control. As an example, a collaborator's almost insane level of obsession -ahem- "attention to detail", for instance. Now instead of arguing with him I find it better either to give in, or smile and nod and do it my own way anyway. Not worrying so much about his mental state and reaction to my work gives the added extra benefit of freeing up mental real estate for the things I do have some control over, such as the quality and focus of my work. Following your instinct rather than obsessing over details can be another way of Letting Stuff Go.

Granted, this is a new route of (non)action for me. I'm a control freak par excellence. But since starting to be aware of how I spent time thinking and acting on situations where I had no influence, and stopping that, I've been significantly happier. Data point.

If you're a Christian, then the act of doing things like this can possibly be called turning your life over to God. But most religions and philosophies have a similar concept in them. My guess as to a reason why is that sometimes it's easier to integrate a concept into your daily thoughts and actions if it has a routine associated with it, such as daily affirmations, standing outside in the sunshine, sport, meditation, prayer, journalling, whatever. In the same way you can assume that someone who talks endlessly about their meditation practice is a relative novice to it, so you can guess that most people who invoke God as the reason are probably new to that. With time, as it becomes more part of their internal wiring, they talk about it less.

So your strategy of nodding and pretending to understand is probably the best way forward.
posted by methylsalicylate at 5:31 AM on March 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

They don't know themselves what it means.

It's just some line they heard someone else say. It sounds "right" to their ear and that's good enough.
posted by wfrgms at 6:14 AM on March 10, 2009

Best answer: Envision a box, and with someone inside of it. Imagine all the outward forces of life pushing in on this box....fears, tragedy, failed relationships, drug addictions, financial woes etc. Think of them pushing in on the walls of the box trying to get inside...and whoever's inside trying to push them out, wall them off...essentially reject them. This is the "closed fist" approach to life, closing oneself off from things that are perceived to be threatening (this is even a trait of many that are practicing religion...but that's another topic).

The "closed fist" approach is a constant struggle, a battle against perceived threats and enemies. A constant worry about fears, injustice, and loss. This is the situation many are in prior to handing their life over to God. And its not a cop-out either...its a leap of faith.

Because what essentially is happening here, is a realization that the controlling nature of the "closed fist" does not allow one to find fullfillment. It doesn't help one address all these forces pushing in from the just prolongs them, subdues them, so they can return at a later time. What's happening is the realization that one must EMBRACE these outside forces and acknowledge them for what they are. From there faith is put in a higher power that whatever happens by letting go and being open, it will be for the best.

This is also the philosophy in a nutshell of Alcoholics Anonymous.

I'm not personally a very religious person, but I also do not reject religion. There's a transition, or leap of faith, here that is more profound and transforming than most people realize. When you hear this phrase, instead of smiling and nodding, note their bravery..their courage..their openess to change..their passion for life.
posted by samsara at 6:19 AM on March 10, 2009 [5 favorites]

Also to add....this is not a "do something to get something" scenario. When you let go, you let go...expecting nothing in return, yet cherish what you are given. It's a life-change more than anything....not a remedy or self-help program. I think because we as a society are so result/goal-driven, this kind of decision can be confusing. I hope I explained it well however.
posted by samsara at 6:25 AM on March 10, 2009

Well, "God" however you define it, would at least imply that you recognize the existence of something larger than yourself. In Buddhism, they would probably call this "surrendering the ego".

Everyone's got weight that they're still carrying around from an age and a half ago. An ego forces people into shouldering a burden which quite honestly may not even be theirs to carry anymore. An ego is what places an "I" at the center of everything, all your situations, troubles, etc., when a lot of them may simply be out of your hands. At the very least I think the mind is good at torturing itself into unnecessary dilemmas and false conclusions long after the events which triggered them have faded from your life.

It's a personal thing. It doesn't necessarily have to be loud. It may not necessarily involve an actual action. There may not even be any "doing" involved. I don't think "turning your life over" necessarily implies standing on street corners handing out pamphlets.

In essence, it is like giving up in a kind of way. It means an ability to at least give up the burden of your suffering to something outside of yourself (hence in the 12 Steps: Step 1) "I admitted I was powerless" and Step 3) "I turned my life over to [God]").

I think to certain people (who have a strong and profound belief in themselves which they then interpret as always having control over their circumstances) it sounds a lot like giving up responsibility for one's actions, but I think it's more just walking out of the continual chain of I, I, I caused this, did this, can do this, can't do this, etc.

(A lot of these answers seem to focus on an anthropomorphic Christian understanding of God. Viewpoints from other faiths might be helpful for the OP too?)
posted by twins named Lugubrious and Salubrious at 6:37 AM on March 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

I've never believed in God, so take what I say with a grain of salt (it's based on discussions with religious friends -- I've had many such discussions, since I find this topic fascinating).

Different people mean different things when they say they've turned their life over to God. Makes sense to me, since there are many ways of relating to God (depending on one's religion, sect and psychological makeup). Others in this thread have covered two common ways of relating to God: as a subject who follows God's laws and as a person who -- for lack of a better term -- uses God as a coping mechanism.

There's another way: to turn one's life over to God may mean to decide to TRUST God as a friend/father/mother/etc. This sort of trust is connected with the idea of God moving in mysterious ways. In other words, "God, I don't understand why you want me to do X, Y and Z, but I trust you love me, so I'm going to do it."

Almost everyone has relationships like this. To bring up an extreme example, a woman might suspect her husband of cheating on her. If he says, "Honey, I didn't. I can't prove I didn't, but know that I love you and trust me." She may decide to take a leap of faith and trust him. (I'm not suggesting God is like a cheating husband. I'm just making an analogy to try to explain the idea of blind trust.)

I have a good friend who converted from atheism to Christianity. He was a typical atheist, in that he was very logical and rejected God because there was no evidence for His existence. When he "gave his live over to God," I was confused, because in other ways he seemed just as logical as always. I asked him how he could believe in God when he STILL had no evidence.

My friend told me that he felt God's love. He asked me if I felt my wife's love. I said yes. He asked "Can you prove your wife loves you?" I said no. I just felt it. He pointed out that my relationship with my wife was at least partly based on trust and blind faith. I had to agree. (Even if you don't agree that love for a spouse is the like love for God, perhaps this gives you an emotional analogy.) He said the his relationship to God was similar. God had "said" to him, "I love you, and if you trust me, you'll be a better, happier person." My friend's version of giving himself over to God was to reply, "Okay, though I don't understand your ways, and though I can't prove you exist, I DO trust you and I love you, too."

Something we atheists rarely think about is that giving your life over to God is an ACTIVE process. Again, think of trust in a marriage: you don't just think "my wife loves me" the day you get married and then happily believe that forever. Throughout the years, you have doubts, fears, jealousies, temptations, etc. But you feel strongly that your life will be better if you believe your wife loves you, so you work hard to strengthen that believe.

Most religious people have doubts -- at least once is a while. But they know their live is better (more meaningful, etc.) if they believe and trust, so they work at it. That's one non-showoffy reason a person might keep affirming that he's given his life over to God. It's an ACTIVE process. It's on-going. To my atheistic way of thinking, the one function of the Satan myth is to personify doubt, temptation and mistrust. By turning those forces into a person-like being, it's easier to ward them off.

One recommendation: read some of C.S. Lewis's theological books. They excel at explaining Christianity and at least one version of the Christian mindset. Lewis started as an agnostic/atheist, so he's good at explaining things to that audience, too.
posted by grumblebee at 6:58 AM on March 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

I didn't read the rest of the thread, but here is my answer.

Aside from the whole getting born-again part, it's about realizing that your life is not your own, it's His, and He gets the privilege of directing it. It's not about me any more, it's about Him. I turn my worries over to Him, He takes care of them, He literally leads me in the directions I need to go, etc.

It's a relationship thing. For me, it's been since 1980. It's a good thing.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:23 AM on March 10, 2009

I usually take it to mean "I want to convert you too to my view of religion, so I'll be talking a lot about it to you". It's basically telling you that the person uttering the phrase is chronically incapable of keeping their religion to themselves. If you're not sharing the same religion, you really don't want to respond, at all.

Telling me once that "you've turned to God" will get a smile and nod (as a way of "sure, dude, don't expect me to react to that" avoiding talking about evangelizing right there and then).

Telling me twice will get you dropped from my Christmas card list (and I'll block you in MSN as well).
posted by DreamerFi at 7:35 AM on March 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

I am an atheist and although this may be interpreted as incendiary, it is not meant to be. I am just stating what I believe and if it hurts your feelings, then perhaps it speaks something of the strength of your faith. It is simply my opinion.

I believe that those who use terms like, "turning my life over to god", do so to indicate that they feel helpless and that they feel the need to appeal to a "higher power" to take over and relinquish them of their responsibility for decision making. In essence, if you are of sound mind to begin with, your conscience (your "gut feeling") guides you in whatever you do. You may or may not listen to the voice in your head, but if you are honest, you know it is there whether you believe in a god or not. Does that mean that your conscience will always be correct? There are no absolutes in the world as far as decision making, but your conscience will serve you well.

There are several phrases used by theists like "turning my life over to god", "god's will be done", etc., that all mean the same thing: "I see myself as frail and weak, and this is more than I want to deal with." Life is hard, but you are stronger than you may think.
posted by konig at 8:57 AM on March 10, 2009

it seems everyone just nods and acts like they understand

I dont think thats true. People nod because they sure as heck dont want to talk about this, not because they understand. Considering how personal all this stuff is, I assume it means something like following a moral code, believing in destiny, and working toward a rewarding afterlife. The idea is the person has decided that working for the afterlife reward is better than what he or she was doing previously. Unfortunately, for many religions the "work" in this scenario is subscribing to pre-modern social philosophies that are based on little more than homo sapien pack mentality, magical thinking, misogyny, and xenophobia.

Personally, I see religion as a psychological issue of sorts. I dont want to hear about it the same way I dont want to hear what you say to your therapist. This stuff seems to come from the same place of the emotional pain. Its simply socially encouraged to proselytize or at the very least the religious person thinks he or she is being helpful by talking about this.
posted by damn dirty ape at 9:02 AM on March 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Echoing allkindsoftime: Maybe next time someone says that, you should ask what they mean.

You might be in for a long conversation, but you will get a better understanding of what the individual you're asking means by "turning their life over to God". You might also find out that they haven't given it much thought.

Also, reminds me of a lyric by Belle and Sebastian: "So I gave myself to God, there was a pregnant pause before he said 'okay'"
posted by baxter_ilion at 9:21 AM on March 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

"Whenever someone says "I turned my life over to God," it seems everyone just nods and acts like they understand, so I just act like I understand, too. But I don't."

Birds of a feather understand each other's flight plans. Me? Not so much. But, hey, who am I to judge? I turned my life over to the flying spaghetti monster. It gives me a sense of purpose, not to mention that I can now make kickass pasta.

It's ok to not understand someone else's belief system, but be careful if you ask about it. Only ask if your real motivation is curiosity rather than criticism. It's just as ok for someone else to believe in god as it is for you or I to not believe in a god.

Cheers! (and pasta!!!)
posted by 2oh1 at 11:47 AM on March 10, 2009

I don't buy that you have to agree with someone's choice to "give up" their life to some religious deity.

Your life is your own; any kind of direction one takes was ultimately created by that person, not some god, and certainly not the make-believe loss of will that somehow implies piety.
posted by trotter at 12:05 PM on March 10, 2009

Well, fwiw, since I "turned my life over to God" it has gotten immeasurably better and I have become an immeasurably better person.

Heck yes I'm weak, and He is strong. And I will never ever be ashamed to admit it.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 1:05 PM on March 10, 2009

Although I wish to avoid sounding judgmental, I've always understood the phrase to mean a declaration of abdication of personal responsibility and self-reliance.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:29 PM on March 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

In some cases that is true but not if done right. (No offense taken, stavros.)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:43 PM on March 10, 2009

Wait, what? From the best answer:

Because what essentially is happening here, is a realization that the controlling nature of the "closed fist" does not allow one to find fullfillment

And then:

What's happening is the realization that one must EMBRACE these outside forces and acknowledge them for what they are.

The kicker:

From there faith is put in a higher power that whatever happens by letting go and being open, it will be for the best.

I totally agree this is what it happening when someone transfers their life to God, but I don't agree that that decision, and "stuff happening" afterwards is for the best—at all.

Yes, life is difficult, and stuff happens. But stuff happens whether or not one believes in God, much less if a person somehow relinquishes her personal choices in life to that God.

I cannot see this as anything other than the profoundly cowardly assumption that humans have no control over their actions.

Or that attempting to direct one's own life is somehow a egregious religious crime.

That, or I am seriously not getting how passively facing life as a thing that happens to you is a good way to live.
posted by trotter at 10:00 PM on March 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Hey trotter, thanks for the critique! What I mean by that is that life will still throw curve balls, but its "how" those those failures are interpreted that matters. Decisions are still up to the individual, but now they're made in accordance to what fits a religious life. When you look at programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (which is what I studied mostly when taking a philosophy of religion course), you'll see this message quite clear: that whatever was tried in the past simply does not work, that you can't address an addiction to alcohol alone, and that the struggle to reject alcohol often leads to relapse. It's a life transformation, not a goal or checkpoint per se. It's taking in all the bad things that happen in life and accepting them for what they are, instead of pushing them away or running from them....that's what I mean by embracing. And don't kid yourself, this kind of life is still a struggle, where one experiences absolute dread, and incredible joy. It's the interpretation of what that struggle means that is put in perspective.

Although, as far as best answer...I think twins named Lugubrious and Salubrious explained the act of letting go much more eloquently than I did. It doesn't mean that you stop working, and "expect" good things to happen...instead it means that you have faith that the outcomes in your life happen for a reason. Take Martin Luther King for example, or Ghandi. Two men who put all their faith in the belief that the good of man will come through...stood up against unthinkable odds with great courage, but not because they wanted to, it was because they had left their lives in the hands of a higher power. It was never about them, to them...
posted by samsara at 6:49 AM on March 11, 2009

instead it means that you have faith that the outcomes in your life happen for a reason.

Okay, what I don't understand is that "everything happens for a reason" thing. (Sorry if this is a derail -- flag if you think it is). I've heard that all my life, and maybe I'm being too literal about it, but unless you believe in a totally non-deterministic universe, then of COURSE everything happens for a reason. You don't have to be religious to believe that. What is the reason that I fell on the sidewalk? Because I slipped on some ice. That's the reason.

I take it that (most) theists mean something more profound, like "Everything happens for some purpose God has." Now, If I was religious, and I believed that, it wouldn't -- by itself -- make me feel especially good. What if, yes, God had a reason for giving me cancer, and it's because he wants me to suffer. Since most believers think of God as good, I assume they mean, "Everything happens for some GOOD purpose God has."

I'm sure that different theists each have their own views on this, but am I right about the norm?

If God has a good purpose, even for making us suffer, then is it necessarily for the sufferer's good? For instance, if God is giving me cancer, I would hope it was for some reason that would help ME (it's fine if other people are helped, too). I guess I'm selfish, but I would be really pissed if God gave me cancer to somehow help others. That wouldn't make me feel better about suffering. This is even true if we're talking about someone I love. I don't want God to sacrifice me for the good of keeping my family safe. I want God to keep my family safe WITHOUT sacrificing me.

If I was a theist, would I look at this differently?
posted by grumblebee at 11:21 AM on March 11, 2009

Response by poster: When I marked the answer as "best answer" I meant it as one that spoke to me best. All of the answers are extremely thoughtful and helpful, regardless of the philosophy behind them, and I appreciate the diversity.
posted by Piscean at 1:24 PM on March 11, 2009

Response by poster: grumblebee, I think that people who accept all experiences as "God's will" are able to explain their own suffering in terms that help them to continue to believe that even bad experiences are good in some way. There are children who know they are dying who say that they understand that they were put on earth to help others. This means their suffering is good for them as well; they are fulfilling their life's purpose. Regardless of whether they were taught this by their distraught parents, the fact that they believe their suffering is for a higher purpose is enough to help them bear it.

Your comment, like some other observations in this thread, doesn't answer my question "What action(s) does the person engage in during [the] undertaking of turning his/her life over [to God]" but it is an interesting thought nonetheless, as are the ideas of subservience, fatalism, atheism, free will, cowardice etc. that have come up.
posted by Piscean at 1:35 PM on March 11, 2009

A couple of months late, and it's the Christian god again, but...

In my understanding, it takes time, to decide in what way your efforts will be directed to or by God; intention, as you act on those decisions; and more reflection, as you think about how it went.

Time includes visualizing. Intention is when something comes up and you remember the new state of things (turned over to God) and your response might change as a result. Reflection leads to new things on which to spend time.

One concrete thing I've heard is for people to visualize their life and then hand it over to God in their mind. There are a lot of ways to do this, but one is to picture huge heavenly hands, or Morgan Freeman or whoever, holding the box of your life; you put things into the box (people, concerns about job or image, world issues) and then picture the hands/God/Morgan Freeman putting the box up on a godly shelf. That's like God-as-caretaker. Or you can put the pieces of your life into a jar and throw it into space, which is God-as-eternal-and-endless-and-immutable-and-capable-of-taking-care-of-your-jar-of-life. These are a reminder to your brain so that when the pieces of life are before you, you remember that they are not fully in your domain.

It all assumes you have an understanding of God as something worth turning things over to. What is God? Who is God? What kind of god is God and is s/he actually worth turning things over to? Some people start there.

"Turn your life over to God" is a one-time decision that you can remember fondly as you do the day-to-day work of living it out. Or a new understanding that needs reinforcement. Like "I do." Or a commitment to a cause. What steps would you take if you had decided that your consumption habits were outrageous and unhealthy, and you wanted to make a change for sustainability?

Experience with friends from a polytheistic faith: The process seemed similar. You learn a lot about the God/gods you've decided to follow and when things come up, you think about why they're trustworthy and decide to act based on that information. Daily reflection or active worship enforces the idea. After a while, it permeates your entire life and your response to problems includes the caveat that the god ultimately has it under control.
posted by ramenopres at 10:52 PM on September 25, 2009

Oof. Sorry for the horrible writing. It's late...
posted by ramenopres at 11:03 PM on September 25, 2009

So... sorry... stated succinctly: I turned my life over to God, i.e. I (1) understood (my) life in a new way and (2) examined specific areas of my life in light of how I understand God and the things s/he asks me to do.
posted by ramenopres at 11:07 PM on September 25, 2009

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