When I want to get my faith bearings, I try to hang around people of faith who hurt, who live with suffering loss, or who somehow manage every day against steep odds. Spending time with a guy whose kidneys aren’t working, or whose daughter keeps running away from home – that sort of encounter sits me straight up in my chair.
When I’m lucky enough to be in the presence of someone whose body resembles a sculpture of scars, or whose life is a perfect definition of vulnerable, I put my cell phone away. My focus turns razor sharp. I get quiet and try to learn everything I can that I know a master’s degree never taught me.
I know a woman who lives with such deep bone pain from melanoma, with more than a dozen unrelated surgeries to her name, that one would think she should just give it all up. Call it quits on life. Throw in the towel. Remember a few good memories and pray for a new, resurrected body.
But she is simply full of life. On many days she prays an old prayer of determination, popular in the black church, which has the line: “Prop me up on my leaning side.” Her posture actually leans these days from all she’s been through in 54 short years of life. But she uses that prayer to keep her spirits from succumbing to pain.
Laced within the words of her every call and email to me is an absolute confidence that life is good. She is certain that God is on her side. And, catch this: She always asks how I am doing, how my wife is getting along, and whether work still gives me the joy it always has.
This friend faces pain, endures it, and is fearless that she will come out okay on the other side. Her vulnerable manner of trusting her life to God, and her story to close friends, is nothing short of inspirational.
From her life, and so many others like it, I have discovered a crucial difference between giving up and surrendering. To give up is to lie down, become indifferent to the world, and pronounce a hopeless state of affairs. People who give up take little interest in others. To surrender is very different. People who surrender under the sign of faith sustain a forward trajectory. They are unworried by what lies ahead, simply trusting that the Lord will lead the way.
I know plenty of people who do not know what to make of Jesus on the cross. Sometimes I don’t either. One thing I am sure of, however, is that the suffering love the Lord displayed on that tree is no picture of giving up. It strikes me as surrender, in the most beautiful sense of that word.
–Peter W. Marty, senior pastor