Letting Go of Control – Part 2 of 2

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 new life

You ever notice when God wants to make a point, he can be relentless? Over and over again, he brings messengers, Scripture passages or “coincidental” experiences that keep knocking on the stubborn doors of our hearts. Or maybe it’s just me – and it takes me a while to get what he’s trying to tell me. Or he knows how easily I forget.

Last week, I shared about my experiences in the Land of the Unknown, a desert time waiting on God to fulfill his promises. Now I can preach it, but clearly, he still wants to make a point with me. So just this past week, I’m reading the passage in Genesis where Abraham and Sarah (then Abram and Sarai) get a promise from God that they will have a son and through him, will have descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky (Genesis 15). Now they are both well past the child-bearing years, but as impossible as it may seem, they believe God’s promise to them.

Unfortunately, as the story unfolds in Genesis 16, Sarai gets tired of waiting for God to carry out his plan, and bitter at the delay, she decides to take things into her own hands. “The Lord has kept me from having children… perhaps I can build a family….” (Genesis 16:2, NIV). Notice how she blames God for keeping her from having children.  How’s that for justification to take things into her own hands?

Oh boy, oh boy! Do I ever see myself in Sarai. Like Sarai, I want to be obedient to God’s plan. I really do. I not only say “yes” to the things he calls me to, but I get excited about them. I get fired up, and ready to rock and roll. Unfortunately, I get so fired up that I get restless. And then I get impatient. And then suddenly, God’s plans become my plans. How often do we tell God to move over, we’re taking over control?

Now I genuinely want to obey God and trust him but I get afraid he won’t come through for me. I worry that I’m going to miss out. What about you? You ever find that saying “yes” to God’s call is actually the easy part and it’s the waiting for the fulfillment of his plan that’s hard? The waiting and trusting while proceeding forward blind can be so painful. And letting go of control can seem impossible.

But if you – like me – choose to pause in the Land of the Unknown and experience your time there as fruitful times of growth, you will never regret your time there. It can be some of the most blessed, enriching, and treasured times in the desert with only your God to lead you day by day. No clue as to when you will reach the Promised Land, no awareness of the steps still ahead of you to take, no understanding of what he’s unfolding behind the scenes. But if you trust that he is good, he is sovereign and he loves you, then maybe, his plans and timing are best.

So what were some of my lessons learned while in the desert?

After Death comes Life

We all know the seasonal rhythm of nature: after the death of winter come the beauty and growth of spring. Frankly, that’s what keeps me going through some of our harsh Canadian winters – the promise that there will be new life and beauty. Spring is one of my favourite seasons as I love the newness of life and the anticipation of the good that is to come.

But it’s one thing to recognize that rhythm in nature, it’s another thing to see it in my own life. Prior to my burnout and time in the Land of the Unknown, I fought desperately to hold on. I could not let go of control because I was afraid of everything falling apart. I was so stubbornly set on MY way I could not see God was waiting to birth new life in me – but only after I let go. It was only after winter – where death reigns – that spring – and new life – could burst forth in me.

It wasn’t until I hit rock bottom and cried out to God that he said to me:

My daughter, you must let go and let old things die so that I can bring new life to you. You must stop fighting me. Your soul is in winter right now but it is for my purposes. Slow down, rest in me, face your pain head-on – and do it with me. I am with you. I know your pain, I weep with you, and I am gentle with your heart. Allow the nutrients of my love and grace to soak deep into the thirsty soil of your heart. I promise you: new life will burst forth in great abundance!

With that, I finally let go, broken, humbled and needy for God. With nothing left in me, I was forced to prayer – not because I had experienced God as good or seen him answer my prayers, but because God’s Word says God is good and faithful and sovereign. Looking back, I realized that it was an incredible time of faith building, a time of walking by faith and not by sight, a time of clinging to the certainty of things hoped for and the assurance of things unseen (Hebrews 11:1). There is no better soil than winter time for growing an enduring faith that withstands the worst storms that life can throw at you. Even when it feels like God had turned his face away from you.

And the pruning…to be stripped bare – naked, fruitless, ugly – right down to the core of my roots. To have everything revealed in all my unsightly glory. To realize how much deadwood I was holding onto because of my fears of letting go – all of my “responsibilities” and legalistic rules. But as every gardener knows, the harder you prune – if done right – the more luscious and bountiful the fruit will be. Like a sculptor who sees the beauty in the ugly hunk of wood he has unearthed, he cuts back, shapes, and chips away until something of great wonder is revealed. Winter then becomes a season where God does some of his best creative, revealing work. A mutilation that’s really a cultivation of beauty.

And it’s in winter – during the long, hard, cold months – that our roots grow deep and strong. It’s being battered by the harsh storms that our faith takes hold in the deepest ways – becoming unshakable and unmoveable. And when you’re forced to wait on God, that’s when you’re driven to keep believing even in the face of his silence, because you have nothing else to hold onto.

What we perceive as dark periods in our lives are designed to be treasures from God. They are actually riches stored in secret places. We can’t see those times in this light because of the often-accompanying pain or fear that prevents us from accepting these times as treasures. They have a particular purpose from God’s viewpoint: “…so that you may know that I am the Lord…who summons you by name.” You see, unless we are cast into times where we are completely at God’s mercy for breakthroughs in our lives, we will never experience God’s faithfulness in those areas. We will never know how personal He is, or that He can be trusted to meet the deepest needs in our lives. His love for you and me knows no bounds, and he will take every opportunity to demonstrate this to us.

You Are Not Alone

One of the most insidious lies of the enemy is that we’re all alone. Depression causes us to withdraw and isolate ourselves, and to feel as if we’ve been abandoned. And when we’ve been wounded by others, we are quick to put up the walls and stop counting on others. It’s no wonder we feel alone when our experience teaches us that love hurts, relationships batter our hearts and disappointment reign in our friendships. Who needs this?

One of the hardest lessons for me in the Land of the Unknown was choosing to be vulnerable and reach out to others. This was probably – and continues to be – one of the riskiest things I’ve ever done. But I stand today bearing witness to the truth that we need community. We need to invite others to join us in the Land of the Unknown. We don’t need a crowd – sometimes that’s not realistic or even wise; sometimes we want only one or two trusted companions with us – but we all need each other. We are wired for relationship and health comes only in relationship.

During my depression and burn-out when all I wanted to do was retreat and bury myself away from everyone, one of my few links to sanity came through the loving ministrations of a dear friend of mine, Linda. Completely unasked for and unexpected, she persistently loved me through the darkness with her relentless texts and emails to encourage me, uplifting cards in the mail, small gifts to help me rejuvenate, and her warm hugs and loving presence as she listened to my woes. She would not let me go and she would not give up on me.

And there were others: Pamela, who cried with me and listened tenderly as I shared my painful journey with her – she would not let me do this alone; Gillian, who gave me perspective and humour and an appreciation of beauty even in sorrows: she would not let me drown or lose sight of truth; Wendy, a co-sufferer who understood my pain as she used her gift of artistry to craft a beautiful necklace for me, a reminder of God as my strong shelter against the rough waters of life – she would not let me lose hope. And my husband, Peter, who walked patiently with me, shouldering more than his fair share of responsibility to give me time to heal, he helped me find the strength to set boundaries and say no to what I needed to turn away from – he was strong for me when I was weak. And my mom, Lily, who listened carefully and offered her words of wisdom while wearing out her knees praying intensely for me, crying out to the Lord on my behalf – she knelt in the gap and petitioned for me. And my mentor, Adrienne, who knew of my sin and my struggles and yet was grace to me and a strong reminder that my Father knows everything and is the Master Storyteller of my life – she pointed me to my Father’s purposes in my story and his sovereignty over every detail.

At the time I could not understand how Jesus was loving me through my friends and family; I was too immersed in my pain to see that clearly. Depression and darkness has that kind of power. But looking back I see how he used each one to paint a wondrous picture of his love and care, to allow me to experience – and not just “know” in my head – what his friendship with me really means. He would not let me go and he would not give up on me. He would not let me do this alone. He would not let me drown in my sorrows or lose sight of truth. He would not let me lose hope. He would be strong for me when I was weak. He would kneel in the gap and petition the Father for me. He would point me to my Father’s purposes in my story and his sovereignty over every little detail.

Today one of my dear friends is deep in her own Land of the Unknown and my heart breaks for her. Do I have answers for her? Can I even fully understand what she is going through? No. But I can choose to walk with her in her Land of the Unknown, praying for her, holding her up when she needs strength, listening to her and wiping her tears. I don’t think I have the power to short-circuit her time in the desert – but boy, I can try my best to make sure she doesn’t feel alone. Be a loving presence in her life. She can’t feel God right now – her pain is too great – but maybe, just maybe, I can be his source of love for her right now, bridging the gap between her and her Father. Can you do that for others even as you invite them to do it for you?

God IS the Promised Land

As the Israelites wandered the desert for 40 years searching for the Promised Land, they missed out on a truth that was quite literally, right under their noses. Their God had delivered them and walked with them daily. He was their source of life and their protector. He was their Promised Land. How often do we look to our stuff, others or experiences to find our Promised Land? We even look to God’s answers to our prayers or his provision as our Promised Land, rather than to him, our provider. We look to what he can do for us rather than God himself.

And then when life doesn’t go our way, we start murmuring. We start to question God’s plans for our lives. We try wrestling for control. We shape our own golden calf. And when we do that, it’s bad news. We wander farther and farther away from the truth that God is enough. We don’t experience that he is the source of all joy and peace. How can we, when we’re all tied up in knots worrying about things over which we don’t have any control?  When we’re too busy fighting for fruitless control?

When life doesn’t go our way, we can’t help but to ask why. But one of the most difficult lessons I had to learn is that God doesn’t ask us to understand him – he asks us to trust him and his perfect love for us. This is a point around which many believers get stuck – when they experience great pain in life, they want God to tell them why, and they get very angry at God. But even knowing the answers won’t comfort us. This is hard. In times of suffering, answers won’t ease the pain. Only the Lord himself can do it. And if our trials turn us to him, that’s all the answer we really need. All we need is him.

The hardest burden I bear as a therapist is seeing the devastating pain of my sisters and brothers and there’s nothing I can say or do to take that pain away. During those times, I know all I can do is cry with them. What keeps me on with the work I do is my hope that God will reveal himself with and in and through his people who comfort. I pray to believe it is his good and perfect will to give them this answer and NOT the answers they are seeking to their suffering.

What about you? Are you in the Land of the Unknown right now? Are you fighting to let go of control? Are you holding onto things, relationships, roles, responsibilities, power or memories for giving you purpose or making you feel loved or appreciated in some way? If so, your Father is calling to you to let go – not because he is demanding, but because he knows what is best for you. He knows the peace, love and joy that are waiting for you as you accept that he is enough. He knows that all the “stuff” you’ve been holding onto are idols in your heart and prevent you from the life he means you to live.

It’s hard to let go, isn’t it? Truly, it would be foolish to let go if you didn’t have absolute assurance of God’s love for you, his goodness and his sovereignty over your life. It would be like surrendering to some deity up there who seems harsh, fickle or uncaring. Unless you have a personal experience with God of his reclaiming love – either directly or through someone who has shown you his love through their care – then I’d say don’t do it. But don’t cheat yourself of a life changing encounter with your Father. He is waiting with open arms to pour his love over you, to fill your emptiness with his fullness.

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If this series has struck a chord with you, please check my blog for updates on my upcoming book, AWAKE: Living Life to the Full, where I unpack this theme – and more – in far greater detail.

 

 

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