The Joy of Letting Go

When I was a student at Furman University in Greenville, SC, and serving as pastor at Beaverdam Baptist Church, I went through a severe spiritual crisis of doubting that I was “saved.” I had gone to hear a well-known evangelist preach in a revival in Spartanburg, SC, and he had stressed having a certain kind of “conversion” and being “sure you were saved” or you were not saved! He said repeatedly that if you doubt your salvation, you are not “saved.” Somehow, this burned into my mind and heart and I became literally sick with worry. I could not sleep, and I worried about my salvation all the time. I did not have the “feeling” that he described so vividly in his sermon.

What advice would you have given to me if you had been with me at that time? I asked several religion professors and some of my ministerial student friends if they had doubted their salvation. The answer always was “No,” until I confessed that I doubted mine, and then they would become honest and share with me their own experiences of doubt and uncertainty! I realized that the pressure to pretend to be confident in fundamentalist religion even when you have doubts is one of the strongest forms of sick abusive religion.

I also realized at that time that a lot of what Southern Baptist ministerial students and pastors preach is not what they have learned for themselves from the Bible or their own experience but what they have heard other preachers say, even when they did not know what they were talking about! A lot of murky uncertain misinformation gets into sermons and does greater damage to people than the preachers realize. Ignorance is in charge, and ignorance kills!

Discovering the Truth in Jesus

I was not satisfied with any answers that came from other people. Using Young’s Concordance, I looked up and read every verse in the New Testament that talked about being saved or about salvation. Not one verse mentioned “feeling” or gave any kind of “proof” that the individual could depend on beyond simply trusting in God’s love and grace. I was greatly relieved! But I still had no proof. I continued to pray and search. I finally told God that I might go to hell, but I would go to hell trusting in Jesus. That hit me as so ludicrous that I laughed at myself.

This worrying, searching and praying episode lasted for about four months. Needless to say, this distraction from my studies took its toll in bad grades and other mistakes.

Two verses of encouragement finally settled my mind. John 3:16-17 became the bedrock of my new confidence. I am included in “whosoever,” and so are you. Another very brief verse helped: “Cast all your anxiety upon God, for God cares for you.” (I Peter 5:7) Finding a way out of the misinformed evangelical demand that I should experience a certain “feeling” to be sure I was God’s child was a long tortuous journey. The “cold grip of fear” is still a vivid memory from those days of uncertainly and doubting 48 years ago. I still have doubts and uncertainties, but they don’t drive me crazy and destroy my sense of peace with God.

The Joy of Letting Go

I can still remember my overwhelming sense of relief when I finally decided to let go of trying to prove my salvation and just trust God to be in charge. But it was far from all over. I continued for years to listen to misinformed fundamentalist preachers pontificate about things that they did not understand. It took many years for me to begin to become objective and realistic about the Bible and about what I was called to be and do in ministry. Only when I was outed and the complete break with Southern Baptists came for me in 1981 was I able to begin thinking in new directions and with the new freedom that has led to my web site and book.

Letting go is hard to do. Psalm 46:10 became more meaningful a few years ago when I noticed the marginal reading. The verse says, “Be still and know that I am God.” The marginal reading is: “Let go, relax and know (experience) that I am God.” What this says to me is that I don’t have to struggle to play God. I can relax and let go and let God be in control. I don,t have to do everything myself. In fact, I don’t have to do anything myself. This can be a great liberating revelation.

Joy has come for me to the degree that I have been willing to let go and let God be God. I have come to the place now where I really don’t try to manipulate everything and everybody. I am tempted to try, but it never works. My codependence will never be completely under control, but I am trying. When I intentionally let go of trying to control other people, the joy and peace that come are worth the effort. I have come to the conclusion that when I really trust God and believe that God is in control, whatever is supposed to happen will happen, for there are no accidents with God.