When Surrender Means Holding On…

I’ve been thinking lately about surrender. There have been some hopes and dreams on my mind and in my heart for a while now that I felt like God put there, but recently I’ve been feeling the need to surrender those things back to Him again.

It is easy to get discouraged when what I see doesn’t seem to match what I believe He has spoken. Disappointment sets in, and I begin to feel like I must have heard wrong. My eyes and heart and mind tell me to bury the dreams, grieve, and move on. My mind says that this is surrender, letting go of what I’ve been holding onto so tightly and handing it back to the One Who I thought gave it to me in the first place. Surrender even means to give up, yield, or relinquish.

So, last week I decided to surrender some of my dreams and hopes back to God. I held open my hands, hoping that He would take them back and let me move on to other things I’ve been working toward and praying for. Instead of taking them away, He began to close my fingers back around those hopes. He is not ready to let me walk away from them yet. For now, surrendering to Him means continuing to hold tightly to the promises He’s spoken, trusting Him more than I trust my eyes, walking in faith that He is faithful and trustworthy and worth the risk of disappointment.

As I walked to church on Sunday, I was thinking about this topic and asking God to confirm whether He really was asking me to hold onto this hope. Sometimes it can be difficult to discern His voice from my own thoughts. Maybe I just wasn’t ready to give up; perhaps I was convincing myself that God wanted me to keep holding onto something that He really was asking me to give back to Him. Then again, maybe I was trying to give it back because I’m scared of the potential to get hurt and be disappointed if I keep holding on. (Isn’t it amazing how difficult it can be to figure out what’s going on even inside ourselves?)

The sermon at church on Sunday was focused on Abraham, and Romans 4:17-22 was one of the texts used. “In hope he believed against hope… No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what He had promised. That is why his faith was ‘counted to him as righteousness.’” Abraham believed in the God who “gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.”

Sometimes surrender means letting go. I’m learning this week that sometimes it also means holding on – not just to the hope or promises, but to the Giver of them, the only One who can speak things that are not as though they are… and be right. Faith isn’t blind. It sees the difficulties, the ‘impossibilities’ and chooses to still believe in the God with whom all things are possible (Luke 1:37).

Perspective

Perspective is an interesting thing. Charles R. Swindoll once said, “I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.” How we choose to see the situations we encounter can change our attitudes and actions like little else can.

For example, a couple of weeks ago, I was having a difficult time. Some old lies had crept into my mind again, and I had let them take up residence for a few days. When this happens, I find that the best way for me to deal with them is to burn them. As a verbal processor, I have to get things out of my head, but I don’t want them in my journal or somewhere they can stick around forever. So I write them on loose sheets of paper and reach for the matches. (This is always done in a safe place with water on hand in case the blaze gets out of control.) Once the lies are gone, I invite God to come and replace them with His truth (which goes in my journal).

So this particular morning, after days spent fighting with the rubbish in my mind and heart, I finally got some paper and listed all the things my mind and heart had been believing that I knew to be false. The list was lengthy and covered a wide range of topics about me, about God, about others, and about promises I feel like God has given me for the future. I felt free as I watched the paper burn, and I looked forward to hearing what God would say to replace the junk.

The journal would have to wait though. Almost as soon as the fire was out, I had to leave for a ministry where I volunteer occasionally. Just as I was getting ready to walk out the door, I got a call from someone already at the ministry. She was calling to let me know a man was there looking for me. He was expressing an interest in giving me a gift, and she knew the situation would make me uncomfortable. I thanked her for the call and tried to figure out how to handle the situation that awaited.

As I walked, though, I couldn’t help but laugh. One of the lies I had burned just before the phone call was that I am undesirable and unlovable, that no man will ever choose me or even be interested in me. While I don’t believe God made this guy “like” me or would put me in that situation to prove a point, I could just imagine Him laughing to Himself anyway. That picture of God having a laugh changed my view of the situation. Allowing Him to bring truth – that I could be found attractive – in the most unlikely of ways gave me a new perspective and allowed me to laugh right along with Him.

What uncomfortable situation do you find yourself in today? How might your perspective need to change? How might God use it to speak to you if you allow Him?

For those who are wondering, I was delayed along the way, and the man left mere moments before I arrived!

Gracious Uncertainty

I collect paper. Words of affirmation is one of my love languages, and I especially treasure written words from others and read them repeatedly. I have a drawer in my dresser that is full of random bits of paper. Chances are, if you’ve given me a card or letter in the last two years or so, I have it in that drawer. 

 As I was looking last week for a particular piece of paper, I came across a card I received from a former roommate. Inside the card, were a couple of bits of paper with excerpts from My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers. One of the excerpts in particular stood out:

 “Certainty is the mark of the common-sense life; gracious uncertainty in the mark of the spiritual life. To be certain of God means that we are uncertain in all our ways, we do not know what a day may bring forth. This is generally said with a sigh of sadness; it should be rather an expression of breathless expectation. We are uncertain of the next step, but we are certain of God.”

 This quote fits my current situation so well, and I am not the only one in a similar place in the journey. As I have talked with people over the past couple of weeks, it seems many of us find ourselves in a place of uncertainty. Obviously nothing is ever 100% certain in life, but I’m talking about a season where it seems like all of life is in some degree of limbo, waiting to see what God will do next.

This isn’t the first time I’ve found myself in a season of uncertainty. In the past, I have faced a number of these seasons with “breathless expectation.” When things I expected to happen fell through, I was left with no idea what might be next on my journey. I just told someone the other day that I often found those times to be at least as exciting as they were uncomfortable because it is a chance to dream big with God. The blank canvas of the future, free of the plans I had made for myself, provided an opportunity for God to give me new visions and dreams of what might be.

Notice all the past tense verbs in that last paragraph? I’m afraid that while I have faced seasons of uncertainty with grace and expectancy in the past, I’ve been leaning a bit more toward the “sigh of sadness” in this most recent season. Finding that bit of paper helped me to recognize the angst I’ve felt in relation to the current uncertainties in my life.

During the past week I have been choosing to feel the excitement and expectancy for what the future may hold. It will likely look nothing like the picture I have in my head, but I am thankful that I can be certain of the One with the paintbrush. He paints nothing but masterpieces.

Take the Step

Even as I wrote the post last week, clouds were building and getting darker in my own mind and heart. By the end of the night and into the following days, I was wondering if maybe my strength of positivity had abandoned me because I was struggling to believe the sun was still shining behind the clouds.

There wasn’t one thing that brought the storm. A number of factors converged and blocked out my view of the sun for a time. Some of the clouds aren’t worth mentioning, but there were three in particular that hit within hours of each other, and all of them brought doubts about the things God has told me about making this place my home.

I have mentioned before that I felt God was saying it was time to settle here and begin to put down more roots. One of those roots involves getting my Irish driving license, and the first step of that process was scheduled for today. I put off studying for the theory test until the end of last week, because without realizing it, I had begun to think it was futile to work toward getting my license here when I wasn’t sure I’d be here long enough to make it worth the small fortune it will cost.

So, what were the storm clouds? First, I just renewed my visa, and one year from today marks the end of the time I will be allowed to stay in Ireland unless I can convince the justice department that I need to be here longer. I have known for two years that three years was the maximum length I could stay without special permission, but that seemed such a long time away when I first arrived. Being given the information on what documents I will need to provide next year brought it to the forefront of my mind that I could easily be told to leave in a year.

The second of the clouds had to do with finances. Due to some unforeseen circumstances, I was told there was a remote possibility that a significant amount of my monthly support might be stopped. Recently, money has been tight already because of the visa and insurance renewals, and losing any support (let alone the amount I could lose) would mean I could no longer afford to be here. I don’t anticipate this decrease happening, but on top of the visa concerns (and knowing the costs of getting a license), it was stressful news to hear.

Finally, before I moved to Ireland, I felt like God had said that He had things here He wanted to give me. For a number of months, I have been praying into something I thought He had promised. Around the same time as these other concerns arose, I began to doubt that He had really spoken about this opportunity. It looks doubtful, or at the very least far away.

All of these factors converged, along with some other seemingly insignificant ones, to create a perfect storm of wondering if it is worth putting in the work to put down deep roots. This feels like “home” more than any place I’ve ever been, but is it worth the effort and emotions if I’m going to be uprooted?

Last weekend, I put all these thoughts on “pause.” The driver theory test was scheduled, and I needed to study so I didn’t waste the money I’d already paid when I booked the test. I’m happy to say I passed the test, and I should receive my learner’s permit in the post within a couple of weeks. I’m also happy to say that even though I don’t know the outcome of all of these situations, I have hope again. I know God can give me favor for the visa renewal, and He can provide all I need, and He is faithful to His promises even if they don’t look the way I expect.

Today, I took a step of faith. I don’t know exactly where the road leads, but I know He has asked me to pursue deeper roots here. I don’t know how He’ll provide the money to continue the process or how He’ll work out any other detail, but even without seeing the sun behind the clouds, I could see enough to take one more step forward. I trust it will be worth it.

What step might you need to take today despite the darkness surrounding you?