For me, it happened gradually, like an oak tree losing its leaves in autumn. Sometimes one at a time, floating silently to the ground when the final thread of stem at last gave way; sometimes whole clumps, torn violently by an icy wind and hurled to the frozen ground. It took a long time for me to realize that the limbs were finally bare.
My dreams weren’t far-fetched or unusually selfish, I don’t think. But as every last one of them scattered to the wind, I began to examine everything I had ever believed, or thought I knew to be true.
One issue I have to come to grips with daily is loving someone who persists in self-destructive behavior. For years, I tried everything in my power (including prayer and fasting) to see this loved one healthy in body, soul and spirit. I thought that if he would just attend the “right” church or hear that one special sermon or read the one amazing book or somehow have one illuminating moment or perhaps an incredible “burning bush” experience with God, that things would change. Not so.
After beating my head against the wall for years, I finally had a godly pastor say to me, “I’ve seen it before, over and over. This person is not going to change. The habits and thought processes are too ingrained.” Some of you will stop reading this right now, saying to yourself, “That’s not true! God can change any person! Everyone and every situation can be changed by the power of God .” In response, I say a hearty “Amen.” God can and does change anyone who is WILLING to change.
And that’s the rub. Change doesn’t just “occur.” Even with God’s help, real change only takes place when the person submits himself to God and works at allowing God to change him or her. Real change involves having one’s mind renewed by the word of God. True change requires determination, surrender, accountability and plain ol’ hard work.
So, is it ever okay to give up? To say “I quit”? Yep. In fact, I believe God desires for us to give up–give up control, that is. I believed that if I prayed enough, if I fasted enough, if I gave enough suggestions or tried to “fix” things enough, eventually this person would see the light and we could all live happily ever after. Hmmm. Not so much. Did you notice how many “I’s” were in that last sentence? That was the problem. As long as I thought I could accomplish anything, I was fooling myself and adding to my own misery when the situation remained unchanged day after day.
So I gave up. Not that it’s not tempting sometimes to try to make changes happen, but I have learned, more days than not, to leave my loved one in God’s hands. Does his behavior affect our relationship? Certainly. Do I still pray for this person to be made whole? Of course. Does it still hurt? No doubt about it.
But there is peace in letting go. It’s not my job to change another person, and I must rest in that. Micah 6:8 (NIV) says,
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
I think that about covers it.