Survival by surrender

Written by Ben Young
Published on January 15, 2021

Most of us possess a natural desire to control our circumstances and the people in our lives, especially when times are tough (like during a global pandemic). Living in an ever-changing world, fraught with complexity and uncertainty, it’s normal to want to hold on to control in our little corner of it. Whether we desire to control our career, our family, our spouse, our kids, our health, or the outcome of a particular project, we sometimes live in the illusion that we really are in control. Of course, some aspects of control are necessary, but far too often we fall prey to an inordinate obsession to control others and our circumstances.

I know a little bit about this. A few years ago, my life began to fall apart. Divorce shattered our family. By far, the most painful aspect of divorce is the impact it has on the kids. By God’s grace my two daughters are in a good place now. They are smart and talented, and I am immensely proud of them. But for years when they were younger, understandably, they struggled to cope with the new, brutal reality of living in a divided home.

My stress level and anxiety reached such a peak three years after my divorce that my health started to deteriorate. I was sick and couldn’t seem to get well. My kids were struggling to deal with life, being bounced back and forth between their mom and dad. I was still seeing my therapists every single week (yes, plural therapists). I was desperately trying to control my life and my kids’ lives, but my body was physically shutting down. I had trouble sleeping. I had trouble eating. The emotional pain was too great. Fear flooded my heart, and I reached the end of myself. I fell flat on my face and cried my eyes out. I don’t know how I was able to cry, or how I had any more tears left, because I had already cried for about three years straight prior to that day.

At my next therapist appointment, he gave me an analogy that made a lot of sense. He said it was like one of my kids was drowning, and as I went to save one, the other kid started to drown as well. Then when I went to save the other kid, I noticed that they were attached underwater by a rope, and as a matter of fact, we were all attached by the same rope and all of us were drowning.

And then a Thursday night, when I felt like I could carry on no more, I quit. I completely quit. I quit trying to control my life, my kids’ lives, my health. I surrendered. I had to. I was dying. In that moment, somehow I knew if there was any way I could ever hope to influence and help my kids in the future, I had to be alive to do it. So, I surrendered it all to God.

Let me answer your next question. No, my life and circumstances did not get better in that moment. They actually got worse on many levels, but I now had a new sense of contentment, a strange peace that God was with me and He was with my kids. I turned them over to God as I turned myself over to God. My love and provision for them did not change a bit. I did not give up my responsibility as their dad at all. In fact, I hope I became a better dad at that moment. I just let go. I stopped trying to play God.

Melody Beattie’s books in particular were instrumental in my path of surrender. She wrote in one of them, “Letting go doesn’t mean we don’t care. Letting go doesn’t mean we shut down. Letting go means we stop trying to force outcomes.”1 That bit of wisdom helped to relieve me of some of the incorrect thinking that had kept me paralyzed.

Though previously I had believed my motives and heart were in the right place, I was trying too hard to control and manipulate the outcome. I had to allow my daughters to make their own choices and to live their own lives, even though they were so young. That’s how I learned the brutal and heart-wrenching secret of surrender. I was dragged into it kicking and screaming. Crying out to God and to my friends, I simply gave up and gave it all to Him. Letting go is never easy, and not always painless, but it is freeing. And it’s essential in our relationship with God. Surrender is an inestimable key to surviving.

Surrender is about letting go of the people, the problems, and the circumstances in our lives that we have no control over. Surrender means letting go, trusting God, and moving forward in life regardless of the outcome or consequences.

Reinhold Niebuhr wrote one of the most powerful, life-giving prayers ever penned, known commonly as the “Serenity Prayer.” Reinhold and his brother Richard were influential theologians who impacted Christians all over the world during the twentieth century. Many recovery groups now recite the first part of this prayer to close their meetings. “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.” It’s a reminder to accept life on its own terms and to peacefully find realistic solutions to your problems. But as wonderful as the first part of this prayer is, the best part is in the second half, which most people never see or hear. “Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardship as a pathway to peace; taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; trusting that You will make all things right, if I surrender to Your will; so that I may be reasonably happy in this life, and supremely happy with You forever in the next.”

There it is. The invitation to live in the moment, let the day unfold, don’t get ahead of yourself, live one day at a time. To paraphrase Niebuhr, he says to embrace hardships and radically accept this broken, fallen world as it is. Don’t buy the lie that you can create heaven on earth. It ain’t gonna happen! Then, he closes with the secret: surrender to God’s will for your life. Surrender and you will find “reasonable happiness.” I love Niebuhr’s realism and how he gives hope by pointing to supreme happiness in the next life with God. If we can live the words of that prayer, just one day at a time, our lives and our perception of this world will radically change. Surrender will enable us to survive the day in a powerful way—a way that places us in the center of God’s will, to live for Him and to serve others with the gifts and talents He has given us.

As freeing as surrender is, it always comes with a price that never goes on sale. We are often brought into the way of surrender by being thrown into painful circumstances that feel like they will never end. This pain and helplessness thrust us into the arms of God and into the place of surrender. We do not know what tomorrow holds, but we do know that God holds tomorrow. That He will be in our tomorrows and give us the strength, power, and even contentment one day at a time. All of it flows to us through this way of surrender. 

  1. Melody Beattie, More Language of Letting Go: 366 New Daily

Meditations (Center City, MN: Hazelden, 2000), January 13 entry.

From the book Survive the Day by Ben Young, © 2020. Used with permission by David C Cook. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.


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Ben Young

Dr. Ben Young is a writer and pastor at Second Baptist Church, a diverse, multi-ethnic church with over 20,000 people attending weekly services online and on six campuses throughout the city of Houston. The author of several books, including Room for Doubt, Devotions for Dating Couples and Why Mike’s Not a Christian, Dr. Young is also an adjunct professor at Houston Theological Seminary where he teaches homiletics, apologetics and practical theology.

Born and raised in the Carolinas before moving to Texas in 1978, Young was educated at Baylor University, Southwestern Theological Seminary and Bethel Theological Seminary in San Diego. Having hosted a nationally syndicated radio talk show for years and serving as chaplain for the Houston Astros, Dr. Young also enjoys surfing and practicing Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

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