Slowly I opened up and gave God access again to the place in my heart where He had first asked me to submit under the “wing of the Redeemer”. It seemed so counterintuitive to take refuge under the covering of the One who had brought all this disaster upon me. The resistance in my heart was strong.
Then I thought about a verse God had brought to me around the time I first started dating Ethan—it’s found in the book of James and it says “Submit to God, resist the devil and he will flee from you” (4:7). The verse had come as God’s answer to a question I had about how to approach prayer. At first the answer seemed too simplistic. Be on God’s side, not the devil’s. Wasn’t that like Christianity 101? But God kept the verse on my heart and began to show me that I often get this one backwards.
As the coinciding events of my developing relationship with Ethan and a prayer ministry I was leading began to challenge my heart in deep ways, God continued to unfold for me just how often I actually resisted Him when He did something I didn’t understand. For example, when one person gets healed and then the next one doesn’t. The question mark there made me take a stance of leaning away from God, in essence, resisting Him. And He was telling me that submission looked like leaning in, getting closer, searching for meaning, seeking His heart, pressing in until I saw His glory in all things that I didn’t understand.
I remember the first time Ethan put his arm around me and I tensed up, afraid. I don’t know if God saw a teaching opportunity or if he orchestrated each move of my heart in order to show me this, but when Ethan’s arm went around me and I went tense with fear, He spoke again, the reminder of James 4:7, whispering to my heart, “lean in.”
I wrote the following shortly after.
I am in a brand new relationship. I feel younger than I am, too young, and have no idea how this whole dating thing is supposed to work. I am eager to be close to him, but end up feeling stiff and awkward most of the time as we wade into this wild new territory. The other night, I was sitting next to him, enjoying his nearness despite my apprehension when suddenly he put his arm around me. I stiffened out of fear and uncertainty. His arm felt huge behind my back and I sat like a log beside him, balancing with anxious energy so that in my stiffness I didn’t tip forward and fall off the seat. I begin to fidget, trying to figure out how this is supposed to work, when I heard the words “lean in” echo inside my soul. I lowered myself just a little so that my head moved into place just below his head, resting somewhere between his shoulder and his chest. I fit there in a way I didn’t when I resisted. I could hear his heartbeat from there and I felt like I knew something of him that I hadn’t before. My rigid discomfort finally relaxed within his arms and I begin to feel as though I could stay right there forever.
I’ve found “leaning in” to God to feel something like that. God calls me into something new, something scary, something that I have no category for, I don’t have answers for, I haven’t got it figured out yet; and if I resist, remain stiff, hard hearted, distrusting, retreating out of fear, this new thing becomes the most uncomfortable thing in the world. And everything within me wants to go back to before when I sat comfortably beside God, but not directly engaged in something with Him. But when I decide to trust, to risk, to hope in the character of God and lean into Him, my head on His heart, awakened by what stirs and moves Him, aware of His movement and responding to His lead—then, even though I might not have anything anymore figured out, all that doesn’t matter as much anymore because I just want to be here, close to my God, held within His arms, listening to the sound of His heart. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you.” James 4:6-8
There is another thing that God said to me in this vein when I first began to date Ethan. After He opened my eyes to the transformative truth of James 4:7, He also told me, “I am going to do things in your life that you won’t understand at first, just keep leaning in.”
And so as I struggled to submit “under the wing of the Redeemer”, God reminded me of all this and finally I knew what I had to do. I had to lean in, close enough under His “wing” to hear His heartbeat. Answers were not going to come through my pulling away and resisting His leading. In fact, leaning in, submitting to that which I did not understand, but knew God was behind was the only way to get the devil to flee from me. As long as I resisted God, I was placing myself outside of His covering of protection and the devil had much more access to torment me.
As I began to submit to God before understanding all that He was doing, He would remind me of dearly held memories of life with Ethan, and show me His presence in these memories, the way He had woven himself into the fabric of our lives, often giving me a picture of something bigger through these memories. Like the time Ethan and I were at the Arboretum in a heavy rain, but had decided to stay and enjoy having the beautiful gardens to ourselves. If you have been reading my story all along, you might recall the scene when Ethan had given me his coat so that I could endure the rain, and we kept walking, exploring, enjoying one another. It was at the end of that chapter that I had said, “There was a secret truth that God had embedded into this memory.” The secret truth was a picture God had painted for me of what this time after Ethan’s death was meant to be—an invitation to submit and have everything my heart longed for.
That day after hours of exploring the Arboretum in copious rainfall, Ethan turned to look at me once we got into the car and said, “It meant a lot to me that you wanted to stay with me and adventure together even though it was cold and raining.”
“Well,” I answered, “It meant a lot to me that you gave me your coat so that I could stay with you.”
I had sensed the importance of not complaining about the cold. I had known, somehow, it was important to him. And I adored him for giving up his coat for me. This had become one of our favorite memories together (for a fuller look at this memory, see Ch 6).
God opened for me in that memory, a picture of His heart, of all that He was inviting me into. With the memory came the message from God, I know what I am asking of you is difficult, but it’s so important to me. I want to share beauty and adventure with you, and I will cover you in my protection so that you have what you need to endure.
I thought of the way that Ethan had put his arm around my shoulders as we walked through the garden in the rain, and how I leaned in because I loved him and enjoyed being near him.
Yes, if this was important to the heart of God, I would stay with Him. I would accept His covering, and come close, under His Wing.