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Walking Through The Fire

Laura Phelps
March 8, 2022

Years ago, in the midst of a crisis, my husband and I found ourselves with a very small window of opportunity to get on the road and head toward help. I don’t recall too much of that car ride, but this I do remember: the dumpster fire. Not the dumpster fire that was our lives, but the actual dumpster fire we drove by on the side of the highway. Can you say, good one, Jesus? We still laugh about it to this day.

Women often ask me, “How can you laugh in times of suffering?” The secret?

I surrender. 

Surrender is something I struggled with for years because it felt like I was giving up hope. But to be completely transparent, I think what held me back most was the fear of being taken out of the game. I was addicted to the chaos. The chaos of the trial itself, but also the chaos of trying to manage it. If I released control, what the heck would I do now? It would have to be all up to God, and while I know that’s the right answer, it's also a risky one. What if He didn’t show up and meet my desire? What if He dropped the ball? I’d never have the strength to keep living. Not with this kind of pain, or at least the kind of pain I could only imagine I’d feel if God held out on me.

As reasonable as my thoughts were, they were lies. How do I know? Because God, Himself, told me so.

“When you pass through waters, I will be with you; through rivers, you shall not be swept away. When you walk through fire, you shall not be burned, nor will flames consume you.” (Isaiah 43:2)

God never promises us lives free of hardship, disappointment, or pain. Nor does He promise that when we surrender to Him, our prayers will be answered. What He did promise was that He would be with us in our darkest moments; that no matter how life-threatening the situation, God Himself would see to it that the trial does not consume us. He promises, “I will be with you.” But did you notice? His presence is in the circumstance. He walks with us through it, not around it. And let’s be honest. We don’t want to walk through it. We just want God to answer our prayer, because deep down we fear that what waits on the other side of surrender is worse than where we are currently standing.

We are all for looking at the dumpster fire. Just don’t make us jump in it.

But here’s the catch. God wants us to walk through it. He never offers “the way around,” but He always offers “the way through.” If you are not convinced, just meditate on the Passion. Our Lady stood at the foot of the cross while her son died on it. Neither took the shortcut, and it was love that made it all possible. Their love for the Father was so great that if doing His will meant watching her son die on a cross, so be it. It was our Lady’s example that changed me. It was standing next to her in my lowliness at the foot of my cross that I recognized what I needed to do. I needed to love and desire God’s will for my life more than I loved and desired my own. 

In the small but powerful book Trustful Surrender To Divine Providence: The Secret of Peace and Happiness, the author writes, “In order for us to enjoy peace and calm we need to have nothing opposing our will and everything done in the way we want it. But who can expect to have such happiness except for the man whose will is entirely conformed to the will of God?”[1]

Conformity to God’s Will is the secret to surrender. Practically speaking, what does this look like? It looks like accepting all from the hand of God without questioning. It looks like presenting your desires to God but asking that He does only as He wishes, because He knows what is best for you. It looks like obedience and trust, even when you are uncertain of how it all ends. It looks like staying close to the Blessed Mother because she has been where you are. And it looks like prayer. 

“Whoever makes a habit of prayer,” says the great St. Teresa of Avila, “should think only of doing everything to conform his will to God’s. Be assured that in this conformity consists the highest perfection we can attain, and those who practice it with the greatest care will be favored by God’s greatest gift and will make the quickest progress in the interior life. Do not imagine there are other secrets. All our good consists in this.”[2]

Surrender is not giving up, it is giving over. But that doesn’t mean your desire will go away. The longings of a woman’s heart run deep, and that is okay. In these moments when I am caught unexpectedly by grief over an unanswered prayer, I allow the tears to come, finding comfort in knowing that my God is right next to me as I pass through the river. The grief will not consume me. His grace does.

[1] Father Jean Baptiste Saint-Jure, S.J., St. Claude dela Colombiere, S.J., Trustful Surrender To Divine Providence: The Secret Of Peace And Happiness, (Tan Books, 2012), p. 33.
[2] Father Jean Baptiste Saint-Jure, S.J., St. Claude dela Colombiere, S.J., Trustful Surrender To Divine Providence: The Secret Of Peace And Happiness, (Tan Books, 2012), p. 29.
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