Getting Out Of God's Way


Surrender is a scary word. For much of my life, I haven’t enjoyed saying or even writing it.

Our culture says surrender is a sign of weakness. Bad. Giving up. Waive the white flag. Christians,  on the other hand, have a different view.  For us, surrender *should* mean letting go. Getting out of your own way and letting God be God. Releasing control. No white knuckling. Having faith. The Bible has much to say on the topic (James 4:7, Romans 12:2, John 15: 1-7, Jeremiah 10:23).

They paint a clear picture of how God defines surrender = Trust HIM above all else. But, if I’m honest, God’s version of surrender is hard. Counter-cultural. And, even as a maturing Christian, I confess that my head and heart typically line up more with the world’s view more than God’s.

The Truth About Me

The truth about me is that for most of my life, I’ve trusted ME more than I’ve trusted God with the circumstances of my life. I’ve been a man of little faith and desperately afraid of failure. To minimize this fear, I do what I call “Go Down, Turn Right & Organize Around the Worst-Case.” It is a defense mechanism, really. If I’m ever faced with a conflict or challenge, I imagine the worst possible outcome and organize myself around that. 99 percent of the time the outcome wasn’t anywhere near as dreadful as I imagined it could be. But … at least I was ready:

  • For the phone call
  • Performance review
  • Rejection letter
  • The difficult conversation
  • The “No”

I’ve trained myself to operate this way, and it is hard-wired into my DNA. Anti-surrender. Play it safe. And It has taken me 40-plus years to figure out that the only person I’ve really hurt in the process …. is me. And God. And My wife and daughter. Family and friends. The list goes on …

What My Daughter Taught Me About Surrender

I tend to be a helicopter dad. Check that. I AM a helicopter dad. God blessed me with one child and I love her dearly. Although I inherently know that I am a flawed parent, I still have this ongoing fantasy that I’ll be the “perfect” dad. As us helicopter parents are known to do, I hover around her in a misguided attempt to protect her from anything that *I* might perceive as bad, risky or dangerous.

God created my daughter to be a feisty, direct, independent and free-spirited. I am the ying to her yang. While my tendency is to ask “Why?” hers is to ask “Why Not?” I am cautious. Conservative. Responsible. Make everyone happy (first-born, ya know). She scares the crap out of me.

When she was 9 (she’s 11 now), we made our annual pilgrimage to a “Dads Camp” in Michigan’s upper peninsula. Without the daily distractions of work, smartphones, social media and bright shiny objects, every summer we go up there and nurture even deeper roots in our relationship.

I mentioned she was direct. During one of our “one-on-one” chats, she told me what she was afraid of. One of her fears was the rope swing at camp. Kids would get up on a platform, about six-feet high. They’d reach out and grab a thick, heavy rope. Then they’d wrap their hands up high and their legs down low. And — in a moment of faith — they’d jump off, swing out over the middle of the Tahquamenon River and … let go.

We didn’t make it to the rope swing that summer. And It was my doing. I talked her out of it. *I* went down, turned right, organized around the worst case (years of therapy stemming to the rope swing). And I brought her with me. I played it safe that summer. And I felt it the entire 12-hour drive home.

The Belly Flop

When we arrived to camp the next summer, my direct daughter talked to me again about her desire to face her fears. So, I figured this time we’d start with the rope swing. It was last summer’s unfinished business. What better way to start camp! Father of the year!

We walked to the beach. I jogged onto the pier to watch and bark instructions. She climbed onto the platform. The rope was almost as thick as her petite frame.  She clutched the top. Then she hesitated about wrapping her legs around the bottom. She eventually did, but not very tight. She looked at me. Her lip was quivering. “Its OK. You can do this,” I said. “Just listen to me. I’ll count to three and you can blast off. And when I tell you to let go … just do it.”

She nodded … in duress. But Helicopter dad pressed on. After all, I wanted this to be an awesome experience of her facing her fear (truth is, I wanted it to be an awesome experience for ME). I counted to three. She jumped. And then she let go well before I could shout it. She was hardly off the platform. And she belly-flopped into the river. Ugh.

She came to the surface. “Give her grace and encourage,” I told myself. I did. When she came ashore, I encouraged her to give it another go. She wasn’t interested. I pressed some more. She balked. Full court press now. She cried.

Let God Be God
Later that afternoon, we were scheduled to be at the climbing tower with the other dads and daughters from our cabin. Neither my daughter nor I are very athletic, and the climbing tower wasn’t one of our camp highlights.

“I don’t want to go to the climbing tower today,” she said. In my head, I said: “Go down, turn right, organize around the worst case. Its already bad enough. Unless we play it safe for the rest of the camp, she might be in therapy for decades.”

“OK. We’ll do whatever you’d like,” I responded. So we played a couple of board games. I bought her a soda and candy bar. I could tell things were stirring inside of her.

“Maybe we should go to the climbing tower and encourage the kids in our cabin,” she said suddenly. “I’ll take pictures with your camera.”

“Great, idea. Let’s do that,” I said. We held hands, walked through the woods and arrived to the climbing tower.

By this time, our cabin mates had been there for more than an hour. They were almost done. My daughter and I were quiet. She took pictures and we sat on a bench, encouraging the others. “Dad, how much time is left here?” she asked. “Only about 20 minutes,” I responded.

“Good. I want to do that one,” she said, pointing to an obstacle called the Pamper Pole. It is a utility pole about 35-40 feet tall. A series of hand-and-foot holds guide you to the top. The higher you climb, the further apart the holds are. Once you get to the top, there’s a small I-beam you stand on before they belay you back down on the rope and harness that you’re secured to. There’s no way I could do the Pamper Pole. I didn’t imagine that she could, either.

But at that moment, I was convicted in my heart: “Let God be God, and let Claire be Claire.”

So … I let go. I didn’t hover. I didn’t organize around the worst case.

Claire got harnessed up and started climbing. She went about 10 feet up. I encouraged her. She climbed higher — pulling up with the hands and following through with the legs. Halfway now. I’m impressed. Others in our cabin saw this unfolding. They gathered around and cheered her on. She climbed even higher. Now I’m stunned. In just a few minutes, she’s at the top. She straddled the I-beam, hoisted herself up, looked down, and gave me the “thumbs up” sign.

Tears of joy started top stream down my face. God taught me something profound at the base of that Pamper Pole. When I surrender, amazing things can happen. Much better things than my “play it safe” brain could ever imagine.

Claire got down and I hugged her. She could tell that I had been teary. She smiled. I told her that she was my hero for facing her fears the way she did. I hoisted her atop my shoulders and carried her back through the woods for a hero’s arrival to the cabin. Her countenance had clearly changed from earlier that day on the rope swing. “Yeah, Dad. And I did that without you!” she reminded me triumphantly.

I got out of God’s way that afternoon.  And I got out of Claire’s. Through the faith of my daughter, I got to experience what God’s version of surrender feels like. And it is much better than my own.

By Jeff Madsen

Jeff completed his initial Crucible weekend in 2008 and graduated from our two-year transformational program. His mission is to build a legacy of surrender, simplicity and significance. Jeff is the owner of Legacy Nation, an independent corporate communications practice based in suburban Chicago. He is passionate about equipping men with a LifePlan so they can discover their God-given legacies. He’s also passionate about writing about ordinary people who leave extraordinary legacies. 

Photo courtesy of Jeff Madsen.