By Denise Rhoades
I had turned 40 in the spring of that year–and was still single. As in, never married. I had miraculously become a follower of Christ five years earlier (less than 10% of people do at that age. So yes, it’s a miracle!). I had briefly lived as a global worker in West Africa and was about to finish a Master’s in Missions. I felt only one gaping, jagged hole in this jigsaw puzzle of my life: a dream I’d held for nearly as long as I’d been alive. I wondered where I’d lost pieces along the way: for a husband. A family.
Path to a White Flag
On Labor Day weekend that year, my church was hosting a singles retreat in Branson. I had decided to not go; a friend cancelled on me last minute. But then there was my pastor’s wife. It’ll be fun!
The theme of the weekend circled around Romans 12:1-2–offering our bodies as a living sacrifice rather than conforming to this world. There are only a few words in those sentences. But there was a lot to challenge my heart and mind.
When the retreat ended Sunday afternoon, I wasn’t ready to drive back home just yet. I remembered a captivating structure–one we’d accidentally found the night before–overlooking the city. I felt it almost…calling me. I decided I’d get ‘lost’ again and find that hillside. I spent over three hours sitting on the concrete platform of this chapel outside in the beautiful sun. Perfect white clouds played above me in a blue sky arching over the Ozark Mountains.
I read of Jacob wrestling with God; of Hannah; even of Jesus in Gethsemane. I know my God understands and welcomes those who wrestle, who surrender only after a battle waged. That concrete platform, where I sat so alone and yet so far from alone, is where Jesus brought me to a point of surrender.
I wanted more than anything to be married and have a family. Was I willing to sacrifice my life and chance at love to whatever God called me to do? The world says, Get married. Have a family. That’s one of the ways you become more valuable. Could I be different if it’s what he asked of me?
After a long, throbbing struggle, I told God, If you want me to serve you singly for the rest of my life, I will. But you will have to give me the strength, courage and direction. I need you to remove this desire to be married from me. I cannot do it on my own.
Now, it’s possible you’re in a place like this as you stare in an overseas direction. The danger of Your kingdom come, your will be done is what this will demand of us; of what a God unleashed might look like. Frederick Beuchner writes,
If that [prayer] were suddenly to happen, what then? What would stand and what would fall? Who would be welcomed in and who would be thrown…out?…Boldness indeed. To speak those words is to invite the tiger out of the cage, to unleash a power that makes atomic power look like a warm breeze.*
To surrender–I’m guessing you’ve felt its breath on your neck–is a prayer inviting the Almighty to have his way. As Jen Pollock Michel reasons,
We are conflicted about the extent to which we want to be formed in the desires of God. How much will I have to give up? How much will it cost? Which of my desires will I have to surrender in exchange for the priorities of God?**
For over three hours I was alone at that platform, save one man who tried the doors to the chapel behind me; I explained they were locked. He thanked me, we discussed the beautiful day and he left.
About 10 minutes later he returned; my heart stopped for a moment wondering if I was safe. He said, I have been sitting in my car but the Holy Spirit just wouldn’t let me leave. I felt compelled to come down here and pray for you, that you are struggling with something but I needed to encourage you that God will answer. He hears you!
I began to cry. He prayed and I thanked him. Moments later, he was gone.
A wave of peace tumbled over me, upending me in its undertow. It was as if God’s arms of love themselves wrapped around me. I felt like I could dance… so I did! I left there having surrendered my desire, my wishes–for whatever desires God would expose.
Two days later, I began an internship at a new church to help them develop an outreach to a lost people group in Senegal. Within a week, two of the pastor’s wives asked me how old I was and if I was single. And just so we’re clear–you don’t get to be 40 and single without seeing the writing on the wall. I asked them who they wanted to set up me with.
Fast forward six weeks. In a Bible study, I ran into the man they wanted me to meet. Two and a half months later found us on a Christmastime first date. Five months later, he bent his knee on the sands of the Key and put a ring for the world to see (actually a line from the wedding vows he wrote!). Five months later we married in a worship service that made my heart swell and gave God all the honor. Today, we serve God as an inseparable team.
The White Flag
Is it just a military term? An end to a battle? The waving of a white flag? Resentfully giving up?
Or could it begin a mind-blowing new life, a journey you would have never planned for yourself?
What surrender isn’t: giving up.
What surrender is: allowing God to have His perfect say for His plans for your life, no matter where or what that may look like. Surrender is an open door.
What’s he asking you to surrender?
*Beuchner, Frederick. Whistling in the Dark. As quoted in Michel, Jen Pollock. Teach Us to Want: Longing, Ambition, and the Life of Faith. Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Books (2014), p. 138.
**Michel, Jen Pollock. Teach Us to Want: Longing, Ambition, and the Life of Faith. Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Books (2014), p. 138.