By Yale Chi Alpha Student Katherine Matsukawa
I pray that I will decrease and that you will increase.
Use me, Lord.
Your will be done.
Growing up, whenever I heard someone pray these words, I’d typically think, good for them…but I could never pray those things sincerely. Why would I want to “decrease”? When wouldn’t I ever want things to go my way? Why would I want to be used for a purpose not my own?
Looking back, I realize that my desire to control my life stemmed from my belief that I was a good Christian. In my mind, good Christians didn’t need help because they had it all figured out. It would not be unusual for people at my church to say things like “Katherine, you’re so Christ-like” or “You have so many God-given gifts.” Despite the fact that these affirmations should have pointed me toward God, I allowed them to boost my ego instead. I was outwardly obedient, but I knew there were some things I was covering up — prioritizing friends and grades over God, not willing to reach out to Him for help. My pride reassured me that I was doing fine, though, so there was nothing I needed to change. As I grew older, my confidence in my own abilities only grew. It became harder and harder for me to wrap my head around the idea that someone else could know what was better for my life than me. By the time I got to high school, it didn’t take much for the rhetoric that many of my teachers used to describe Christianity–oppressive, sexist, archaic — to shape the way I viewed God. Why would I let anyone dictate my purpose, let alone a God who is judgemental? A God who wants to micromanage me? A God who cares less about justice than about whether people pray the right prayers?
As academics slowly became the center of my life, good grades and accolades became the source of my pride. Being the first person from my high school to ever get into Yale, the applause and praises only reaffirmed my belief that I was living how I was supposed to. As a political science major aspiring to run for elected office, I was determined to leave a legacy. I remember registering for my first classes, signing up to participate in advocacy and community engagement clubs, planning ahead for internships, and thinking, this is it. Little did I know how lonely the road is where everyone’s gaze lies solely on their own goals. I didn’t foresee how easy it would be for my voice to be drowned out by a sea of many. The demands of Yale beat down on me like menacing waves in a storm. I needed to say the right things, study more, waste less time, make more friends, be more responsible, work harder, be better. Knocked off my pedestal, I felt like if I just achieved those things, I could climb right back on.
And it was in that state of grasping at straws for success that God called me into Christian community. On a night that I was feeling especially disappointed in myself and lost, I received an invitation from someone from Chi Alpha to attend their Bible study. I figured there was nothing to lose, so I went. And that night, in an act very out of character that could have only been prompted by God, I shared about some of the things I wasn’t proud of. I talked about how I was letting the stress of school get to me and how I was tired and anxious. Through the simple act of them listening to me and praying for me, I felt more welcomed and accepted than I had in any other space at Yale up until that point. As the weeks passed and I grew closer to the people in Chi Alpha, it continually surprised me how loving they were, not just in their words, but in their consistent willingness to make time for me and others. It was a kind of love that was not conditional on what I did or said. I thought, if these people are able to pour so much love out to others, then perhaps God, who they say is their source of love, really is worth talking to. Maybe, I haven’t given him a chance to show me who he really is.
I began allowing time for God in my life — an act that felt like taking a book off of a shelf that had been collecting dust for years. I started talking to Him again. I finally let my prayers go beyond “Thank you for this day and please bless the things I want to do,” and instead took on a posture of learning during the time I communed with God. I wanted to hear what He had to say to me rather than have Him hear what I wanted to say. I read the Bible with a willingness to gain insight rather than just to check it off a list of things to do. And it was in those moments of seeking answers on my knees that I realized who God is and has always been. He is not someone who cares about performance — in fact, He makes it clear that He cares more about the condition of our heart than how elaborate our prayers are. He is not there to pick apart everything we do–the reality is that He looks on us with grace and forgiveness. He isn’t there to remind us of all our wrongdoings — He casts our sin from us as far as the east is from the west and makes us into new creations.  He doesn’t hate us when we make mistakes — the truth is that neither height nor depth can separate us from His love.  He does not want to strip joy from our lives — no, He wants us to have joy in abundance and knows the only way we could ever have that is by placing our hope in something that will never fail. It was these realizations, day after day, that broke me down but in the best way. I finally internalized the reality of God’s love: I don’t need to do anything, say anything, or change anything about myself to receive it because I did nothing to earn it in the first place. I am not and never have been deserving of this love, yet He gives it to me anyway. Despite my whole life having been for everyone’s approval but His, He still calls me His own, dearly beloved, and chosen.
When we realize that we are given a love that we could never return no matter how hard we try, what other response is there but to praise the one who loves us? What more can we offer but our time, our efforts, and our desires? What else can we say but “your will be done?”
When we recognize that God loves us with a perfect love, then we must necessarily see that He also wants us to be free. Not free to control, but free from the burden of control — for me, this means freedom from the need to be right, the pressure to be the best, and the weight of striving after unachievable success. Though at times I still find myself trying to live out my day according to the way I think is best, God has taught me to recognize His gentle voice of redirection. Whether it be His prompting me to speak words of affirmation to a friend or take a rest from homework to simply sit and enjoy His presence, I have realized that the freedom that comes from handing control over to Him is more life-giving than any freedom I thought I had by living independently.
This Lenten season, as we reflect on the boundless grace that is available to us in Christ, may we stand facing God, arms outstretched, and hear from Him the ways He is calling us to respond. Or perhaps, if you’re in the same situation that I found myself in not long ago, seeking recognition, appreciation, love–may you know that you already have that in God, and more. May you internalize the words that He speaks to us: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.” 
 Psalm 103:12; Ephesians 4:24
 Romans 8:39
 Jeremiah 31:3
This piece is a part of a syndicated series in collaboration with Duke Crux for Lent 2021. Read more at https://dukecrux.org/lent-2021/.
Read the original article on yalelogos.com here.
All views expressed on this blog are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the view of Chi Alpha Campus Ministries, U.S.A., U.S. Missions, and The General Council of the Assemblies of God.