I hear lots of testimonies at church about what it means to surrender. Usually they involve someone who was living in a bad way. Or it’s someone experiencing personal challenge, turmoil or anxiety. Then they reach the breaking point and learn to “surrender to God.” They “give it to God” because God is “in control.” Then they encourage the congregation to surrender to God because God will work everything out.
But that way of thinking seems to leave out the human response. The fact is God has given me free will, choices, abilities and influence. Furthermore, God desires our human agency working in concert with him.
In Deut 29:29 we read the following: The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of his law.
This passage seems to suggest that there is reality belongs to God and a reality that belongs to us. Things that God is in control of and things that we are in control of.
Surrender then is becoming more and more discerning as to what is within our control and what is within God’s control. The discerning is key because the things that are not within my control today, I may have control of tomorrow. My wife may be upset at me for something I’ve done. In fact she may be so upset that anything I say to her will only make the situation worse. I may have to give up control of fixing the situation today. However, the next day, when the emotions have calmed down, God may be urging me to seek reconciliation with her.
When It Almost Happened
In another example I think of my patients named Earl. Earl is one of those difficult patients. I do the best to smooth things over with him, but every few visits (about every month or two) he gets on my nerves. I’ve spoken to Earl over and over again about our policy on narcotics, i.e. we do not prescribe narcotics for chronic pain. However again and again he is keen on expressing how I am failing to meet his medical needs because of this policy. This subtext comes up every so often. In one visit, Earl came into my office already agitated. He accused me of not providing him benzodiazepines previously when requested (he never asked). Later he went on to say how when he was in Urgent Care and explained his situation, the physician told him to find another primary care doctor. When I explained to him that I have a “wide open front door for patients but also a wide open back door” (probably not the best choice of words), he got defensive. “You know I don’t know how I feel about having a doctor who threatens me.” At that point my blood was boiling and I almost fired the patient.
I told him, “Earl, right now the emotions are running high between me and you. You’re going to say something you regret. And I’m going to say something I’m going to regret. Let’s finish the remainder of the visit in silence while I finish some things on the computer in order to complete your visit.”
As I’ve reflected on that visit, the practice of surrender means that I do not have control over this man’s emotions or words. I need to surrender this God. But what I do have control over is my response. That day I gave Earl the prescriptions he needed. I didn’t fire him or let him go as a patient. I’m working on how I can use words that will be more compassionate and not allow Earl to get underneath my skin with his hurtful words.
This idea – that surrender is becoming more and more discerning regarding what is within my control and what is within God’s control – can give me more confidence and freedom in navigating life’s challenges. Here are some concrete lessons I’ve learned.
- It is within my control to communicate the gospel in loving and persuasive ways. It is within God’s control to convert the human heart.
- It is within my control to spend time with God every morning. It is within God’s control whether or not to move my heart.
- It is within my control to respond kindly to my wife when she is upset. It is up to God to calm her anger.
- It is within my control to hold my tongue when a patient is rude. It is up to God to help the realize their behavior.
What are some of the lessons of surrender you’ve learned?
 Not real name.