A Lesson in Four Snapshots
Snapshot #1: September 2008
I was recovering from a life-changing, eight-hour panic attack that left me physically, emotionally, and spiritually broken. I was scared to sleep in my bed. Scared to take a shower. Scared to feed my kids. Scared to pray.
I was questioning my health, my sanity, and my salvation. Realizing I’d built my life’s foundations on answers to questions I’d never actually asked. My world had come apart, and I didn’t have a clue how to begin putting it back together.
Snapshot #2: A spring evening, 2009
The moment my husband walked through our front door, I dropped my knife and a half-sliced potato onto the cutting board, asked him to watch the kids, and escaped the house.
Speedwalking a mile through the rain helped the panic subside a little faster, but the familiar aftermath of fatigue and hopelessness followed me all the way to the cemetery, where I sank to the wet ground and sobbed into my drawn-up knees.
When my tears were spent and my clothes soaked through, the only prayer I could form was, “I need you. Please…rescue me.” I walked home slowly, wet and chilled, my eyes on the pavement as I envisioned Jesus’ sandaled feet striding with mine.
Snapshot #3: Morning of May 10, 2011
I stood outside of a government building in Kigali, Rwanda praying that on this day the battle for our adoption referral would at last come to an end. As we kept vigil in that courtyard, I recited aloud Moses’ words to the Israelites on the banks of the Red Sea:
Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today… The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.Exodus 14:13-14
At 4:15 that afternoon, I held my daughter for the first time.
Snapshot #4: Afternoon of June 3, 2011
Twelve days after returning from Africa, shell-shocked from all we’d experienced in our three weeks there, I locked the bathroom door, turned on a hot shower, and climbed into my bathtub confessional for a good, long, soul-searching cry.
The next day I wrote this to my long-suffering friend Allie:
“I was in the shower talking to God about all of this [depression, guilt, anger, shame, etc.]…and an image popped into my head. I told Him I felt like Eustace in Voyage of the Dawn Treader, after he’d been turned into a dragon and desperately wanted to peel off that hideous skin.
That’s where I went wrong, where I’ve been going wrong for the past month. I tried so hard to change my attitude, cheer up, focus on good things, snap out of it. I tried. Me, myself, and I. I even asked God to help me do it. But until yesterday I didn’t fall on my face and say, “I can’t do it. Please, please, please do it for me. It has to be all You. Only You can tear away this filthy, putrid, suffocating skin and set me free.”
An Education in Surrender
Two years ago my earthly father wisely stated that God is always working in us to achieve our surrender (to Him) of something we hold too dear. These four snapshots of my life reflect the birthing pains of an education in surrender.
I’m currently enrolled in a lifelong course called “Surrendering My Everything to a God Who Can Do Anything.” This is what I’m learning:
I cannot do it. Any of it.
I struggle to remember this lesson no matter how many times I take the class. I’m constantly pouring my limited energy into finding my solutions to my problems, and the result is always the same: I’m exhausted, alone, and defeated facing the mountains of discouragement, irritability, challenging relationships, overwhelming schedules, parenting struggles, spiritual dryness, and financial concerns.
I need to get over myself. Again, and again, and again.
I’ve tried to be The Little Engine Who Could. I’ve tried to climb every mountain through sheer force of will, puffing, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can…” Guess what? It never works. I strive and strive and strive until I’m all strived out, with nothing but an overheated boiler to show for it.
I’ve also tried to be The Little Engine Who Could…With Help. Arming myself with poor theology, out-of-context Scriptural promises, and a few Christianese pep talks, I’ve chugged away with “I know we can, I know we can, I think we can, I’m…pretty sure we can…”
The Little Engine Who…Couldn’t?
In every hard-fought battle of my life, it’s only when I acknowledge that I’m The Little Engine Who Can’t that I actually make any headway. When I trade in my positive-thinking and self-confidence for humility and surrender, my mantra changes to, “I can’t, but He can.”
Isn’t that the way of the Savior? An ark for the flood. A dry seabed for the escaping Israelites. A sacrificial Lamb for the sin-stained world. How He loves to save us when we cannot save ourselves!
We don’t always see it. Sometimes He parts the waters, and sometimes He makes us swim. Or, as Scott Krippayne brilliantly sings, “Sometimes He calms the storm, and other times He calms His child.”
Being forced to swim the sea shows us our weakness and causes us to reach in surrender for His strong hand. In that He is glorified.
Each time we acknowledge our need for more of Him and less of us, He is glorified.
Each time we say, “Lord, not our will but yours be done,” He is glorified.
He is glorified in jars of clay. He is glorified in weakness. He is glorified in The Little Engine Who Can’t.
I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.John 15:5