Surrender is not a work, in the negative way that Paul uses that terms. We get both the will and the strength to surrender as a gift from God. But sometimes we need a little encouragement to align our wills with God’s will. In stage five we sometimes return to the one thing we least wanted or even expected. I sometimes call it The Dark Night of the Soul II: The Sequel. You see, one would think that the closer you come to God, the more you would be appreciated by other people of faith. But it doesn’t work that way. People at earlier stages are often perplexed or even enraged by the things God does in us at the later stages. The deeper one goes into the stages of faith the more isolated one may feel in the church. So it is natural at later stages to worry about what other people think. It is a sign that pride is not totally eradicated. Hence another experience of the Dark Night.
I think of Abraham’s sacrifice on Mount Moriah. That was his second dark night of the soul, the sacrifice of Isaac. Abraham seems to have had many dark nights, but the first major one would have occurred in the context of leaving his comfortable situation in Mesopotamia to strike out toward a strange land that God would show Him. Job’s afflictions began in the context of his family, and then in conversation with his friends and in the end he experienced the direct presence of God, and that was a pretty tough experience too. Job had multiple dark nights of the soul. Jesus in Gethsemane experienced his second dark night of the soul. God often allows us to re-enter the path of suffering, so that we may lay aside everything that is in the way of our relationship with Him.
Those who endure the second dark night have the opportunity to enter Stage Six, which is the stage of unconditional love. And one would think that the person who loves unconditionally would be the most popular person in the church. Who wouldn’t love to be around someone who loves everybody? But that is not the case. The reason is that the person who loves everyone unconditionally also loves my enemy. And the one thing I will not allow you to do is to love my enemy. You might say that real Christians don’t have enemies. In one sense we don’t, and in another we do. When somebody shows love and kindness to a person who has abused us, or has made life difficult for us, that can be a very big challenge.
Ruled by unconditional love, people are compassionate, even under extreme hardship. God’s love flows through them to others, and the channel is clear: it is a life of forgiveness. My wife and I have learned in our marriage that it’s not enough to forgive now and then. In any marriage you need to forgive every day, probably every hour, because we’re human beings and we rub each other the wrong way from time to time. But to make forgiveness a habit is just a wonderful way to live.
People at this stage also need less material things, so people may say things like, “Why aren’t they doing anything to the car, or to the house?” People who live a life of love don’t pay attention to things anymore. And there is considerable benefit in that style of life. There is a freedom from anxiety and inner peace. These cannot happen when we spend our lives in fear of what other people think. When we surrender that fear to God we experience true freedom, true peace.
Are there any challenges to the life of love? Above all people, those at Stage Six seem out of touch with reality. They act as if there are no enemies in this world. But you can’t love Osama Bin Laden, you just can’t! You can’t love Adolf Hitler, you can’t! Some people would even say you can’t love Obama or John Boehner. You can’t love such people and be my friend. So, the person who loves everyone seems completely out of touch with reality. The biggest issue, perhaps, is a tendency to neglect their own physical needs, and those of the people closest to them, in service of a wider mission of love to the world. So I will suggest a rather strange surrender point for people in Stage Six. They at times need to surrender their other-centeredness. Their tendency to put everyone else’s needs ahead of their own and the spiritual needs of others ahead of the physical needs of the family.
Have you ever met someone who was so concerned for others that they didn’t take care of themselves? Not many people reach this stage in life, but should you ever be there, remember that there comes a time where God asks you to surrender your other-centeredness, and go out and take a vacation. Or repair that dripping sink. Or make sure that your spouse has something decent to wear at the church potluck. You may need to surrender your other-centeredness at times to actually take care of your health and your family. I suspect that as long as life lasts in this world, there will be something to surrender.