Next week, I've been invited to speak with some students in our church youth group on the topic of submission. They are using some parts from Richard Foster's book, Celebration of Discipline and my book Pray Any Way and the leader asked if I'd come and share a bit with the students. She gave me five questions to consider before coming so I thought I'd work on them here and include them as part of my blog. Prayerful that this will be encouraging to you as I think this through.
What is your definition of submission?
Submission is being aware of what my wants and expectations are and then being willing to have them be replaced by something else. For instance, I want to be outside working in the garden today, but my body is feeling feverish and I need to rest. I woke up feeling angry...and frustrated that my plans were ruined by a sick body. As I sat with the Lord and wrote in my journal, He reminded me that maybe there were other plans for today that I hadn't considered. Submission is about realizing that my plans are not always the best and being open to what else God has in mind.
Is there any significant experience that has helped mould your definition of submission?
Yes! When I was diagnosed with Endometriosis and told that it was a chronic illness, with no cure, and would cause possible infertility and physical pain for the rest of my life...I was devastated. But it wasn't until about 5 years into the disease, and 7 surgeries later that I realized, this disease was really here to stay. I needed to begin to change my daily routines to include pain management and rest. It wasn't something that I could beat with medication or surgeries or acupuncture or the various treatments I had tried. We prayed for healing, we went to the elders of the church and they prayed for me, we did everything we could think of that could 'fix' this...and yet, it never went away. I was willing to submit to God in anything else, any other area, and I offered my full obedience to Him, but I just wanted my health back. After all, wouldn't my life be more effective and productive for Him if I was healthy and strong? But, He didn't take my deal.
Where have you found it hardest to submit to God, and how has God helped you in that area?
Letting go of my 'ideals' for my role as wife and mom has been the hardest for me. My husband and I grew up together and he knew me as healthy and athletic. We played sports together and I was always eager to join in a football game in the park or go biking or waterskiing with him. One year later, I was diagnosed with Endo and everything changed. He became my care-giver, took over some of my responsibilities around the house and my understanding of what a wife was had to be re-discovered. When we had our two sons, my identity as a mom had to be re-invented as well. I wasn't always able to take care of them and needed help. I never wanted that to be my reality.
God gently and patiently invited me to learn new ways. The verse in Matthew 11:28-30 became my foundation...
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
I began to see that God loved me in my weakness...and that if I was willing, He would show me a new way to live in my current reality. Day after day, God opened my eyes to new ideas that reshaped my understanding of what it meant to be a wife and a mom.
What are some ways you submit to God and others in your everyday life? What freedoms have these brought into your life?
I have some routines that I've put in place that help me remember to submit to God. Because I can be so ambitious and driven to do things that make me feel like I've accomplished something and think that therefore, I am valuable...I choose to include a few things in my daily routine that cause me to slow down and pace myself a bit more. This helps me remember that I am valuable to God even while I'm resting. :) I have a morning prayer on my phone that I read before I get out of bed...that reminds me to be open to what God has for the day. I have my morning coffee with my journal and a portion of Scripture that I'm meditating on and then...I consider my 'to do' list for the day. This gives me the freedom to not chase after accomplishments or approval from others. It helps me to relax and be open to what God has for me and for the day ahead.
I've noticed that when I feel anxious about something, I want to gain control over other things...so I may try to find out everyone's schedules for the day or ask a lot of questions or help other people solve problems so that their stress goes down. If I use the routines of resting and spending time with God, I tend to stay aware of my own stress or angst and can ask Him for help rather than extending my stress onto other people. So, submission with my husband and sons looks like this: I invite conversation–not demand or pressure. I show interest in their lives–not strive to micro-manage. I see myself as 1/4 of the decision makers in the house, including everyone's opinions and ideas as important. I acknowledge that my ideas are not necessarily the best or right and stay open to what the others are thinking. For me it's important to remember too, that I am the only female in the house and these 6'5" young men are quite able to think for themselves and discern their way through decisions and may not need my input at all. The freedom that this has brought is that I do not need to carry the responsibility of each persons life on my own shoulders. I can love them, pray for them, respond and initiate conversations, but I do not need to be in control of them or their ideas or their challenges or celebrations. I can submit my way....to seeing what other ways are possible too.
What is your advice for someone who has a hard time submitting to God and others?
God wants us to be free from the obsession of us trying to get our own way. He knows that this only sinks us into self-absorption and there is no life there. My advice would be to get honest with yourself and God. Do some writing...or draw some pictures...whatever helps you see your life as it currently is...and try to identify the place of tension between what you want and what God may possibly want for you in relation to Him and others. You may desire some really good things...and yet they don't seem to be what God thinks is best for you. You may want to draw some diagrams of different boxes that represent areas in your life that you want to go a certain way. I'd encourage you to take one area at a time, and submit it to God, as an experiment of obedience. Do it even if you don't feel like it. Then watch what happens. Be a detective! Take notes! See what other ideas God brings around...look for what might happen if you let go a little...and use those findings to build your faith in God. Then, do it again in a different area of your life.
I believe God is gracious and patient and delights in our small steps. But we must release the grip on our own way of seeing and doing life if we ever want to experience the freedom God offers. I want that freedom now more than I want my own way. My disease and pain continue to be a challenge for me on a daily basis...but knowing God's love for me in my weakness, his desire to work powerfully through my life and His creativity for how that happens is way more exciting to me than just getting my own way. His way is much, much better!