The spasms in my lower back were radiating throughout my entire body. Where had they come from? While I contended with back issues from time to time as the result of a previous back injury, this pain came unexpectedly. There was nothing I’d done to trigger the relentless pain I was now experiencing.
My husband and I were out of country at a pastors and wives retreat. It was supposed to be a week of solace and Sabbath rest—away from anything church and ministry-related—in order to focus on ourselves, our relationship with the Lord, and our marriage. And here I lay flat on my back, popping pain medication every 2-3 hours. If the Lord was using this pain to get my heart’s attention, He had it!
The retreat centre was situated in the middle of nowhere—exactly where God wanted me. That became more and more clear to me as the week unfolded. Based upon experience, He often removes me from the normal rhythms of life and puts me in a vulnerable place to take care of His business. His business always comes down to matters of the heart. And inevitably those matters of the heart lead to another level of trust in Him. I knew deep within that this time was no different.
I woke up the following morning and cautiously eased my way out of bed, slowly dressed myself, and precariously walked to the dining room supported by my husband. As he asked the blessing for our breakfast he laid his hands upon me and prayed that God would help my back to relax and release.
“Relax and release.” That was it! Suddenly these two words pervaded my soul. These were the words my massage therapist of fifteen years spoke time and again whenever she worked on my back. Massaging out the tensions, stressors and pent-up emotions, and zeroing in on trigger points that somehow connect themselves to strategic areas of my life. For instance, my lower back is typically related to a relationship that needs to be worked out. Tension in my shoulders is most often connected to a responsibility that I’m bearing the weight of. My neck triggers the headache that’s been hovering due to things I’m thinking about. Or in my case, overthinking. There have been times that as I’m laying prostrate on the massage table that God will bring Scripture to mind that relates to all of these areas. That’s when I pray I can “relax and release”; leaving it all on the table—literally.
“Relax and release. Relax and release” my heart rehearsed over and over again. The mantra worked its way into my heart of hearts. I had no choice but to relax given the pain I was in, but what was I supposed to release? Suddenly, it all began to become painfully clear. In order to relax and release I had to trust and entrust. And it didn’t take long to figure out what area of my life that pertained to at that moment in time.
For months, the Lord had been stirring in my husband and my hearts concerning making another ministry transition. It had been an intense time of focused prayer, fasting, and Scripture-led deliberation. My heart was having a hard time coming to terms with this particular move. And it was creating a lot of spiritual muscle tension. Not because I wasn’t prepared to leave our ministry behind to embark on a new one. Rather, it had to do with my children. For the first time in thirty years of ministry my husband and I were venturing out without any of them. They had been a vital part of our ministry life up until now. In fact, much of our ministry success had to do with their support and involvement in every church my husband had pastored. Relax and release them? My heart could hardly bear it!
“Don’t you trust Me?” the Lord asked. The words echoed in the chambers of my heart. It wasn’t the first time I’d heard Him ask.
“Of course I trust You!” my heart retorted. And, in fact, I had. I trusted Him as my Saviour at the altar when I was fifteen. I trusted Him when He redirected my path from community college to Bible college. I trusted Him to provide when I ran out of finances in my final semester. I trusted Him as I became a pastor’s wife. I trusted Him in my own personal areas of “out-of-my-comfort-zone” ministry. I trusted Him in every transition we made, not knowing where exactly He was leading me and my family.
As recently as months before, I had responded to an altar call. There at the altar I lay prostrate before the Lord; pouring out my heart to Him, giving my all to Him, as if for the first time. This is the way I had learned to trust Him throughout my life—one altar at a time.
“What more do I need to entrust to You?” I asked. “I’ve given you everything. I’ve given you my life. I’ve given you my ministry. I’ve given you my marriage. And I’ve given you my children!”
“Really?” He prodded.
“Well yes, Lord! I completely gave you my son just after his nineteenth birthday. He’s in your presence and in your care now until I see him again in heaven. I’ve given You my daughter to establish her life miles and miles away in another part of the country. I’ve given You my youngest son so he can serve you in full-time ministry wherever you need and lead him. And then there’s my youngest daughter…”
“Yes?” He chided, sensing my apprehension.
“Lord, my youngest daughter is my only hope of having one of my children living close to me. You wouldn’t ask me to give her up too would you?”
“Why not?” He inquired. “Don’t you trust Me?”
There were those words again.
In all honesty, I wasn’t sure if I did. While I wanted to trust Him, I wasn’t sure I could. That was a hard confession to make—especially because His faithfulness had been proven to me over and over throughout my life. Regardless, trusting again wasn’t coming easily. It never does. It often comes at a price. And I just wasn’t sure I was ready to pay that price again.
Suddenly my back was no longer the issue. In its stead, my heart lay vulnerable, broken, and bleeding on the altar of sacrifice. I knew there’s no way I could embrace what God wanted to give me if I was still holding on to what I thought I needed. Especially when I knew deep down that what I really needed was to get to a place where risking was the better option.
I was reminded of a passage in Luke,
“As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:57-62).
While there have been times in my life when all the Lord required of me was my willingness to surrender, I knew in my heart that this was likely not one of those times. I knew full-out surrender was the only way to alleviate the pain I was experiencing.
So, after days of wrestling, through tears and heaving sobs, I finally put my heart into the hands of the One who created it. Then, holding my heart in His hands, and like an anesthetist inserts a sharp needle into a vein, the Great Physician gingerly and calculatedly pierced it and injected His words into it. He reminded me that His intentions are always good. That He always has a plan and hope and a future for all of us whose hope is in Him (Jer. 29:11). He wasn’t out to get me. Or even take something from me, like I’m prone to think with my limited faith and earthly perspective. I just needed to relax and release. I needed to trust and entrust—one more time.
Hind’s sight is always 20/20. As I reflect on the way my life has unfolded since those back spasms, I see how the Lord’s hand has guided me, watched over me, and protected me. I see how His Comforter has orchestrated my healing in the aftermath of my sweet surrender. I can now see what I would’ve missed out on had I not trusted the Lord’s infinite wisdom. And in the moments where I acknowledge it all before the Lord, I can hear Him asking, “Aren’t you glad you trusted Me?” Looking back now, I’m so glad I did!
How about you? What are you wrestling with in the area of trust? What is it you need to release back into God’s hands? Here are some healthy ways you can learn to “relax and release”.
Walk it out. Talk it out. Soak it out. Cry it out. Work it out (Exercise). Massage it out. Smooth it out (Forgiveness). Play it out. Pray it out. Write it out. Praise it out.
Relax and Release!
“But for you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings. And you will go free, leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture.” (Mal. 4:2 NLT)
Lisa Elliott is an inspirational speaker and award-winning author of The Ben Ripple and Dancing in the Rain. Additionally, she has written articles for Just Between Us Magazine and devotionals for theStory. She and her pastor-husband, David, have four children (3 on earth, 1 in heaven) and serve the Lord together in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.
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Contact Lisa at: firstname.lastname@example.org