Trusting in a loving God
When I think of submitting, I think of giving up and losing control. From an early age, we are taught to not give up and to even question authority. Furthermore, we are taught to ask questions and eventually to try to get ahead in life. To submit in this context is a choice.
In complete contrast, our friends and neighbors living in poverty are forced to submit. Here in Sierra Leone, most people living in poverty were born from a history of slavery, and many lived through a long civil war. They have learned from early on to submit to those with money and power over them. They have no choice. For them it is do or die.
Recently my sister-in-law, Kristen, and I were seeing patients down in the slums of Kroo Bay. We came across a young man who asked for our help. He showed us his right leg, which was swollen from the knee to the foot. It was covered in a green, paper-like substance and looked very painful. Kristen and I began to ask him questions about his injury and what happened. He had been injured two years prior and did not have the money to see a doctor. He and his family had attempted to treat his wound with traditional medicine. They could not afford simple antibiotics to help heal the wound. His leg was becoming necrotic — basically dying from this infection. Why? How could he, his family and community just sit and watch him suffer? Why do so many like him have to submit to poverty on a daily basis?
We also met a young boy, Mohamed, about six months back. Jan (WMF staff) had met him while doing visits in Kroo Bay. He basically found Mohamed from the odor of his wounds. Mohamed’s legs had been so badly burned from boiling hot aluminum that his flesh was literally rotting away. Again, this young boy had been living in this condition for weeks as no one had money to take him to a hospital. Again I ask, Why?
I have to begin to think about submission from my own point of view, yet I also must think of it from the point of view of my neighbors in Kroo Bay. When I met these two young men, I could only feel deep anger — anger at God, at poverty, at life. I’ve seen these situations and countless others and have begun to question why our God would let them happen.
From the point of anger, I immediately go to trying to fix the problem. How could I get them to a doctor and begin treatment immediately? Now don’t get me wrong, we as fellow Christians do need to help our friends living in poverty. But how often do I think that I am the one in control? I am, after all, the one with the money and the access to good, quality medical care. I am the one with the personal mobile numbers of some of the best doctors in Freetown. But as I try to control the situation, am I trusting God to care for these two young men? And am I teaching our neighbors in the slum to trust in God or to put their trust in Westerners? Chris Heuertz writes in his book Simple Spirituality, “Submission is an opportunity to affirm our deep trust in God by allowing God to be in control as we resist the urge to assert ourselves as God.”1
I can’t go into Kroo Bay expecting to fix every problem. Even on just the medical side, there are so many needs that I would run around in circles trying to fix the problems. I can, however, release this control to God. When He sees the deep, crushing poverty of Kroo Bay, He is broken. Our God does not desire that people live in this way. He asks me to let go of the worry and of the need to try to fix problems and asks me to trust. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6-7).
Submission looks very different to our friends living in poverty. From an early age, these two young men have been forced to submit to poverty. They are forced to submit to the fact that they most likely won’t get more than one meal a day. They submit to the fact that they are not able to go to school because there is no money. They couldn’t even see a doctor because there was no money for the fees. For our friends in Kroo Bay, submission is not a choice. It is forced oppression.
This is not the submission God desires. Submitting to God is not simply resigning yourself to fate. It is trusting that God’s redemptive plan is being worked out in in this broken world. I want to do what I can to help my neighbors, while humbly trusting that God is in control.
The suffering we see and experience today is not the end of the story! Heuertz writes, “Submission goes beyond vulnerability and becomes an expression of love. An invitation to intimacy. A release of control.”2 God is also inviting these two boys, their families and their neighbors to trust Him.
On my journey to truly understand submission to God, I hope to encourage my friends in Kroo Bay to join with me as we learn to submit and give full control to God. We can’t expect God to immediately fix all of our problems, but we can surrender our worries as we trust ourselves into His loving hands. While our journey of trust originated in very different circumstances, we now walk it together. I hope and pray that together we can grow in our submission to God and the rising hope of His redemptive plan at work in our lives and communities.
Mohamed’s name has been changed for his protection.
1 Christopher L. Heuertz, Simple Spirituality: Learning to See God in a Broken World (Downer’s Grove, Ill.: IVP, 2008), p. 103.