“Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.”
(James 4:7 New American Standard Bible)
I don’t know if I am the only one who struggles with submission. Initially, my face physically cringes when I simply hear the word! Submit? Me? NO WAY! I’m not letting ANYONE rule over me! I’m no doormat!! At least, that is what my internal monologue screamed at the word, “submission”—well, until recently.
In previous “submissions” of my writing, I addressed the lies of the enemy and the way that he wants to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10) anything good. What is good is that GOD IS LOVE. (1 John 4:8). The enemy wants us to believe the opposite of this, and Satan will stop at nothing to confuse or mislead us. He will even twist the context of words. In this composition of current thought, I want to debunk a word that I have misconstrued for nearly my entire life. Do you see how easy it was for me to sneak the word submission into this paragraph and how inoffensive it is in this context? I recently had a heart-to-heart with God in which His conversation with me was simple: “Sara, why are you so against submitting all that you have and all that you are to me?” My answer: FEAR.
Who knew that fear would be rearing his ugly head again so soon?! I guess I didn’t know just how deeply intertwined fear had become with my identity. As a result, the idea of full submission of all that I have and all that I am to God would mean facing each and every fear head-on, and that did NOT sound like a light and airy spring snack that I wanted to chew on! What if what I found was too much for me? What if it hurt? What if I disappointed God? What if what God wants for me seems to be too hard or too scary or too impossible altogether? What if I can’t have any more fun if I fully submit my whole life to You, Lord? What if people make fun of me? What if I look or sound stupid? What if the payoff isn’t worth the pain or the work?
After I exhausted my negative list of “what-ifs,” then it was time to exhaust the opposing thought. Are you ready? What if God really does want good things for me, things better than what I want for myself? What if God is protecting me from something that I cannot see when submitting means accepting “No” or “Not right now”? What if I have to step up and stop making excuses, that allow me to hide, in order to step into new levels of favor that come from submission? What if true freedom is the result of submitting all that I have and all that I am? What if what I find is that I’ve been afraid of nothing all of this time, and I could have relinquished so much pain so much faster so long ago???
Since my brain likes to take off on tangents that end up twisting me into a web of confusion, I did what any normal, mentally tied up geek would do…I did a word study! I know that I probably should have gone to the Bible first for definition, but the dictionary seemed more logical, so I started there. The word “submission” means “the action or fact of accepting or yielding to a superior force or to the will or authority of another person.” Some of the synonyms include agreement, acceptance, consenting, and compliance. Instantly, I heard myself say, “So, that’s why I had such a strong reaction to the word! Submission means giving up my way for the way of another.” Of course, the definition itself means that I have to (usually with my feet dragging!) agree to a superior force or to the authority of someone over myself. My reluctance to do so is, again, a reflection on my naturally self-centered personality. The reality was that I couldn’t fully “submit” to God because I was afraid to trust that He truly had my best interest in mind. After all, don’t I know myself best? Clearly, I think I do since my need to tip-toe instead of dive in deeply with God’s plans has been a theme throughout the past 6 months!
Who knew the pressure that comes off after letting go of that thought pattern? The pressure of fighting for every single thought and every single want and every single circumstance and every single outcome of every single interaction evaporates the moment that I do the thing I fear most, relinquish control and submit. The moment that I faced the reality that I could take care of other people, but I really needed someone to take care of me, I became honest with God. I needed someone who could protect me from myself! I needed someone who could love me when I am unlovable and forgive me when I am nasty. I needed encouragement for my insecurity and a push for me to be all that I am designed to be. Who knew that not only was God willing and waiting to fill that role for me, but He also ended up providing so much more than what I thought I needed as soon as I was willing to be in submission to His Truth. I got Peace, and I got calm confidence. The Bible says,
“Acquaint now yourself with Him [agree with God and show yourself to be conformed to His will] and be at peace; by that [you shall prosper and great] good shall come to you.” (Job 22:21 Amplified Bible)
When I read this, it became quite clear to me that I had my vernacular confused. All of this time, I had been confusing “submission” for “oppression.” Oppression means “prolonged cruel or unjust treatment or control” or “mental pressure or distress.” I have been under oppression before, but it didn’t seem to align with the character of God. Even so, I have never been able to reconcile how a good and loving father would allow oppression to happen. Over time, and with much grappling on this point, I had to decide whether I would “submit” to the fact that if God allowed it, then it is with purpose—no matter how unpleasant it may seem in the moment. The real question is, “Am I able to trust and accept God’s Will when it includes a refiner’s fire that hurts, or includes pressure that changes coal into a diamond?” I can tell you that I am just now learning to relinquish my way willingly for God’s way and trusting that HE WILL work all things together for good (Romans 8:28). I am also leaving the unthinkable tragedies to those who experience them and to our God who redeems such things. My mind is too finite to understand the detestable. It is people like Emily Smart who articulate this better than I do. For now, I am content to focus on my own battles, one at a time.
Back to Job. According to the Bible, getting to know God, and agreeing that His way has our best interest in mind, is not only loving and merciful, but it is full of blessings. In this case, Job speaks of peace, prosperity, and great good. For someone who had lost EVERYTHING like Job had, and to still be in agreement with God, was humbling to me. Here I am, fighting God every step of the way on minor corrections, and there is Job standing in faith despite devastating disasters brought on by Satan himself. Then I started to think more about that. There are several things in my life that were uninvited hardships, and I know a LOT more people with many more difficult circumstances. What if hardships, corrections, and “NO’s” are truly a gift in disguise? (Again, I am not referring to the unthinkable, just the uncomfortable for now).
Think about a toddler. If we gave into everything that our children wanted, then eventually our children would become so selfish that they would not care about another human being. Also, if we didn’t correct children when they were about to harm themselves (light socket, hot stove, running into a street, excessive video gaming, you name it), then could we really say that we love our children when we refuse to protect them? Along the same vein, what about doing everything for our children? Sometimes, struggle will become productive. Do we really want 30-year-old children who can’t tie their own shoes or show at least a bit of emotional regulation? I don’t, which sometimes means I have to sit back and watch my son learn through pain and repeated practice. I hate watching Maddox work through unpleasant emotions but love how the payoff of how a “no” or a “not right now” turns into creativity and innovation! Productive struggle becomes a setup for a new skill set and blessings. I would imagine that God is the same with us. The Bible says,
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:6-7 NIV)
This Scripture seems to align with the second definition of what submission means, which is: the action of presenting a proposal, application, or other document for consideration or judgment. I also connect this definition to that of my son when he wonders about something or asks for something that he wants. He comes to me with the phrase, “Mom, can I….” Sometimes, my answer is, “Absolutely!” and other times it is, “Absolutely, not!” There are even times when Maddox is met with “Let’s figure this out together!” In all cases, I have my son’s best interest in mind, and I do my best to explain the why behind the decision as needed. Maddox knows that I am a safe space for him to work through anything, and he also knows that sometimes what we work through may take time.
Like my response to my son, I need to look at God through the same lens. I can go to him in prayer with anything, about anything. He may not always give me the answer I prefer, and I may have to wait or painfully practice something in order to learn, but I know that He truly does love me and has my best interest in mind. It may NOT FEEL like it is best in the moment, but in retrospect, the act of submission ALWAYS ends up being linked directly to what is best. I can look back over hard seasons, painful seasons, irritatingly uncomfortable seasons, seasons of rest, and seasons of pure joy and see God’s provision, protection, and purpose. With every act of vulnerable trust (which is what I lean on as the true definition of submission #FAITH), God showers His Love and Power like rain!
With Easter just around the corner, I cannot help but remember the selfless act of both God and Jesus to sacrifice what was most important, so that I can live in freedom now. I may be unable to give my whole life for others, but I can take a step in the direction of willing submission to God, to others, to my son, and to much more than that. So, if I know that God loves me and has my best interest in mind, shouldn’t I be more like Jesus presenting my requests before God—ending with, “Your will be done, not mine” (Luke 22:42)?
No longer will I look at submission as a dirty word that offends me but, rather, a vehicle that transports me from oppression to freedom. I can start by submitting my schedule to God first by spending time with Him when I first wake up. I can submit to myself by carving out self-care time above the “to-do” list. I can submit to my son by dedicating an undivided hour each day for bonding. I can even submit to the leadership at my job by willfully, and with a joyful attitude, walking out the duties asked of me to the best of my ability (independently of what I think about them). Will it be hard? Yes. It will certainly take practice to discipline myself and trust God to that depth, especially in our self-centered, “you do you” culture that I’ve embraced for 40 years. But, will it be worth it? If Job has anything to say about it, I’d venture that the answer is also yes! After all, Job’s second half of his life, post-submission, was more blessed than the first! As for me? Stay tuned! We will see what God does as I spring into submission, how it impacts my life and the lives of those around me, and what it looks like a year from now. Until then, pray for me, friends, and I will do the same for you!