How does one accept the reality of pain and disappointment without losing hope? How do we surrender and face reality and yet not give up? How do we trust that God might never answer our prayer the way we want it and yet still keep asking for a miracle? How does one continue to experience loss and yet still have faith?
Because if you live long enough, you will learn and experience first hand that life is hard. Wishes don’t always come true. Dreams are crushed and die. Sickness destroys and takes away life and love. Prayers don’t always get answered. Loved ones aren’t always healed.
I’ve heard and told myself all the usual answers: God is good. He knows what he’s doing. He is sympathetic to my cry. His answer is sometimes wait or in heaven. He is doing some great work through the pain. It will all be redeemed. I can trust him. He loves me.
That is all true and I still believe it. But now I am at a new level. Do I give up hope of ever seeing the thing I wish to come true? Is it faith to just keep doggedly believing and then feeling disappointment and pain with every reminder that healing has not yet happened? Or is it faith to totally let go of any and all expectation, desire and hope?
It feels like if I let go, then I have lost hope. It feels like the end. That I have doomed myself to a life of lack, that things will never change. Is this what God wants me to do? To totally let go? To never expect my desires again?
I have done this before. I surrendered my desire to be married, believing I probably would not, only to meet my husband. Everyone has heard stores of couples who finally gave up trying to conceive only to quickly get pregnant as soon as they stopped trying. Hence, the temptation to make it a formula: If only I surrender totally, then God will give it to me. But this “formula” is not a guarantee.
In John 11:1-27, we find the story of Mary and Martha, close friends of Jesus whose brother was dying. They sent word to Jesus to come help.
Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days.John 11:5–6 NIV
What? That doesn’t sound like love to me! So when Jesus does finally show up, it is understandable that Martha blurts out her disappointment.
If you had been here, my brother would not have died.John 11:21 NIV
Martha faces the facts. She knows that Jesus could have answered her request and yet he chooses not to. She is saying what I feel: It hasn’t turned out the way I wanted it to. You didn’t make it all better. You haven’t answered my prayer. It still hurts.
But Martha doesn’t stop there. She also expresses faith.
But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.John 11:22 NIV
She is stating the truth that she still believes God can answer prayer. God can heal, restore, break strongholds, set people free.
Jesus calls Martha to hope in him in the present, to take what she believes about him and cling to it in her distress. It is a call not simply to affirm the truth about Jesus’ power but to affirm his right to exercise his power according to his own purposes. She will never have the answers to all her why’s, but in his character she will find enough of an answer to sustain her faith…Jesus calls Martha to trust him now – trust that he is good even here, when her losses are insurmountable and when Jesus, who had the power to prevent it all, had chosen not to act.Carolyn Custis James, When Life and Beliefs Collide
After this amazing statement of faith, the bystanders ask the age-old question:
Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?John 11:37 NIV
We think that love is shown by keeping tragedy from happening. Yet Jesus had a bigger plan in mind – to show them his glory. He was disturbed in spirit and deeply moved and he wept. And then he gave them back their brother.
So, like Martha, I do not stuff the pain, minimize it or explain it away. I face the fact of my disappointment. But I also exercise faith. The prophet Isaiah tells me how to do that.
In quietness and trust is your strength.Isaiah 30:15b NIV
This kind of quietness means to be tranquil, at peace, to rest, lie still, be undisturbed, with the sense of idleness. It is used of the land when it is not producing and of a city that is not at war. It means to not strive or wrestle, but rather to be idle. In other words, DO NOTHING. The Message translation put it this way: Your strength will come from settling down in complete dependence on me.
And yet, still be confident and trust in God.
There have been times in the past that God has called me to be active, to speak up, to initiate. Other times, he has said to pray for the ones fighting the battle. This time he says, “Be quiet, do nothing. Trust. Trust Me.”
And this answers my initial question. Because I trust God who is absolute love, I can surrender, let go and release my efforts, tension and fear. I have not given up or lost hope. Rather, I float in the river of God’s love and let the current of his Holy Spirit carry me to my destination. I trust that he will get me to where he wants me to go.
The reason we do not have to be afraid is that we have been given the Spirit of God. We are in the river. We do not not have to thrash about trying to float. We must simply open our spiritual eyes and see that we are in the river of God’s love and that our staying afloat and moving along are God’s responsibility.David Benner, Surrender to Love
Lord God, I surrender to your absolute love. I trust your goodness. I float quietly in your Spirit. You have heard my prayer and my heart’s desire. I trust that your Spirit will carry me to the end that you have prepared for me.