Another lesson that my dad taught me about surrender had to do with relationships. None of these lessons I’ve been sharing have been easy, but this one was particularly difficult for me. And unfortunately, it’s one I’ve had to learn many times over.
THE ROOT OF MY WRESTLING
The first time I remember wrestling through surrender was when I was 14 years old. I went through a phase of immense fear, and it was almost entirely related to losing my parents and being alone. It eventually got to the point where I wasn’t even able to sleep, because I’d face dreams of losing my parents, or I’d be terrified something would happen to them overnight.
None of this was rational, obviously. But fear never is.
When my dad realized what was happening, he sat me down to talk about it, as any good father would. But instead of reassurances about it all being in my head, or promises that nothing would happen, he instead challenged me with this: what if the worst did happen?
In my fear, I wanted guarantees – don’t we all? - but my dad’s question stopped me in my tracks.
“If the worst happens,” he said, “will you still trust God?”
I didn’t know how to answer at first. At this point, I had not connected my fears with my relationship with God. What my dad was wisely pointing out is that my fear was not nearly as tied to him and my mom as I thought it was; rather, my fear was that God was not good, loving, or trustworthy.
“If you don’t decide now that God is good and that you can trust him,” he explained, “then if or when something bad does happen, you will fall apart.”
My dad then brought my struggles back to the start of my relationship with God. Was I sincere? Did I really surrender my life to Christ? If so, this was just the next step. God was calling me to act on what I’d said by trusting Him to care for my parents and for me, regardless of what that would end up looking like.
“If you wait to decide,” my dad challenged me, “then you’ll decide wrong.”
It was time to act on what I knew to be true, rather than what I felt could be true: God is good. God loves me. God loves my parents. God is in control. Even if the worst happens, these things are still true and God will help me through.
THE TEMPTATION WE ALL FACE
What I didn’t know at the time, but eventually learned, was that my own parents had gone through their own crises of surrender when it came to relationships.
There were complications when I was born, and at one point there was a question if either of us would survive, but especially my mom. My dad retold the story and his struggle as he was stuck waiting and praying while the doctors did what they could. He recalled that someone from his church had come to sit with him and encourage him, and the first thing he said was, “Mike, it’s okay to be mad at God right now.” My dad was shocked. Mad at God? The thought never entered his mind. Why would he get mad at God, when God’s sovereignty, goodness, and love were his only hope and lifeline?
My dad’s reaction in that moment revealed something critical about his relationship with God: He had already decided that God was worthy of his trust, so when the time came to put his faith to action, he was ready. Regardless of the outcome, my dad had already decided that he would continue to honor God, follow Him, and live for Him, because he recognized that God is good, loving, and in control. When we don’t understand the why, we must trust the who.
My mom had her own struggle years later, when I was 11, as I began having odd health issues and the doctors didn’t understand what was going on. While later we found out it was migraines, the time of waiting was brutal and scary. I didn’t know it at the time, but through that time of the unknown, God was dealing with her about surrendering me, and it was something she wrestled with for a long time.
And now it was my turn. Would I surrender my parents to the care of God, or would I do everything in my power to hold onto them, hoping to control the outcome of their lives and my own?
As scary as it was, I finally made the decision to surrender my relationships. It was the hardest prayer I’d ever prayed up to that point in my life, and it’s a time of my life I’ll never forget.
“I’ll follow you no matter what happens,” I prayed. “Even if I lose my parents.”
Step by step, I chose to act on what I knew to be true instead of what I felt, and soon the fear began to dissipate, and peace entered instead. Years went by, and I rarely struggled with surrendering my parents again, though there would be times of fear here and there as different health issues began to pop up, especially with my dad, though also for my mom several times. However, each time I faltered, I went back to my crisis moment and surrendered again, and God brought me through it – and he brought my parents through it.
THE REALITY OF SURRENDER
Obviously, if you’re reading this, you know enough of my story to know that eventually the worst did happen.
In 2017, twelve years after that crisis of faith where I initially surrendered my parents to God, I faced a new crisis. What should have been a routine surgery and a routine outcome turned south, and while the doctors spent five days trying to rescue him, my dad passed away.
During those 5 days, I had to wrestle with God in surrender more than I ever had before.
When we first heard the news that something had gone wrong, I immediately went back to that place of being 14 and terrified. And then I remembered what my dad went through when my mom and I were in danger. And then I remembered what Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth shared when her father died suddenly – that her first through was “God is good, and everything He does is good.”
At the start, I prayed, pleaded, and begged God to completely heal my father. Soon we realized that would not happen. Then I prayed that God would at least give him a way to live, even if it was with a heart pump or some other device. But then we found out that it wasn’t just his heart anymore; it was his other vital organs. Finally, I began to let myself pray what I was scared to pray at the beginning: “Whatever you want. Glorify your name. Just help us through.”
It was a prayer I never wanted to pray and I never thought I’d have to pray. But as we sat in that waiting room, all that ran through my head for several days straight was, “Glorify Your name.”
THE FALLOUT OF SURRENDER
This time, my surrender didn’t end the way I wanted. But I had already decided, all those years ago, that regardless of the outcome, I’d still trust God, still love Him, and still follow Him.
That’s what surrender is. Because if I only follow God when I have a particular person in my life, I’m not following God, I’m following that person.
I wish I could say that surrender made the days and months following easier. But I’d be lying. I loved my dad. Losing him was the hardest thing I’ve gone through. But surrender did help me stay focused on God in the midst of the pain. Surrender helped me take one step at a time, one day at a time. And surrender allowed me to receive God’s peace through the trial, as I had made God my ally and not my enemy.
I wish I could tell you that’s the end of the story when it comes to surrender relationships. But I’ve learned that surrender has no expiration date.
There are still times I have to choose to surrender my dad all over again, rather than give into despair, resentment, or bitterness. I have to continue to remind myself of God’s goodness and love, even in the midst of loss.
And there are other relationships in my life that I continue to have to surrender
This is a lesson that God continually brings to mind and often has me “re-learn.”
I relearned it when my mom was in a bad car accident only days after my dad died, and I relearned it when she had heart problems and we were in the ER all night a year later.
I relearned it when Cameron and I were dating, as I dealt with fear of conflict that would lead to losing him. I relearned it when we got engaged, and early in our marriage, when I had no reason to be afraid, and yet still was consumed by fear of loss and convinced something would happen to him/us.
I relearned it when we found out we were going to have a baby, and I was terrified of losing the baby, or doing something to “mess up” my child before he’s even here! And I know I’ll continue to learn this lesson as my marriage grows, and as I become a mother.
Surrender never ends. It just may look a little different.
The most important thing to remember when it comes to surrender is that if you wait to decide if you trust God, you won’t trust God.
Surrender is a commitment that we make at a particular point in time and has a continual effect on our lives, often not having to be acted on until much later.
True surrender begins with our salvation.
In Luke 14:25-33, Jesus clearly calls for surrendered relationships up front. If we wait until we’re facing the loss of a relationship, we’ll always choose the relationship over God.
In my years working with women in crisis, the number one cause of failure was this very issue. “I want to follow Christ,” they’d say. But when they didn’t get custody of their kids back, they’d go back to their old lifestyle.
“I want to follow Christ,” I’d hear. But when they were challenged to forsake their destructive and immoral relationship with their boyfriend, they faltered, and then returned to him.
“I want to follow Christ,” but when their loved one passed away, they fell apart and reverted to sinful habits to deal with the pain.
“I want to follow Christ!”
Over and over again.
But failure to count the cost.
WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE?
Corrie ten Boom once said, “Hold everything in your hands lightly, otherwise it hurts when God pries your fingers open.”
I cannot promise you that surrender is easy or makes things easy.
But I can promise you that God is good, God loves you, God is in control, and He is worthy of our trust.
When we cannot understand the why, all we have to do is go back to the who.
If you believe God is who He says He is, the only question that remains is, what are you going to do about it?
In a word: passionate.