Help on the Path: Embracing Surrender
About the Guest
Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom before you can look up. That's where author and counselor Sharon Hersh found herself after her husband left her. Sharon tells how she turned to her old friends, alcohol and work, for comfort, but soon realized that only God, and all His grace, could lead her out of despair. Sharon recalls the moment when she was able to forgive her husband and surrender to God's will for her life.
Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom before you can look up.
Help on the Path: Embracing Surrender
Bob: When her marriage ended, what was it that kept Sharon Hersh from getting to a place where she was emotionally whole again?
Sharon: I think it was holding onto control, feeling that I needed to handle this, that I knew how to handle it, that I could take care of things, that I could manage because I have been a brilliant manager almost all my life—to give up those reins of control and say, “Turns out I’m not that good of a manager.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, September 6th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. There are times when life becomes unmanageable, when we need to learn how to surrender. We’ll talk about that today.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I remember reading a quote one time, and I can’t quote it exactly.
Dennis: You can’t?
Bob: No, I can’t fully. I never memorized it. I just—I read it.
Dennis: This is frightening—
Bob: I read it several times.
Dennis: —for you to admit this on our broadcast.
Bob: It was a quote by Søren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher. I remember him saying something to the effect that sometimes life has to get all the way to the bottom before you can look up and see light. You’ve got to be as far down in the hole as you can possibly get before you can look up and see that there is something still up there. I think the story we’re hearing this week is one of those stories.
Dennis: I think you are right, and I think the Apostle Paul was at one of those moments in his life. You may remember the passage in 2 Corinthians, chapter 12, where Paul talked about a thorn in the flesh that he’d been given. It was there to really remind him of his weakness. He asked God to take it from him three times, but it didn’t go away.
Here is what Paul concluded in verse 9 of chapter 12 of 2 Corinthians—he said, “But God said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’” Paul said, “Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
We have a guest with us who experienced that—really, all those words, “weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, calamities.” Sharon Hersh joins us again on FamilyLife Today. Sharon, welcome back.
Sharon: It’s good to be with you. Thinking about those words, it would be really easy to say, “Wow! You really have been hurt by a lot of people,” but unfortunately, most of those words I inflicted on myself. I really think that’s important to say because healing begins, as we said yesterday, when you start to ask for help; but it continues as you are open to take responsibility.
As long as I am busy blaming somebody else, trying to prove that I’m right, justifying or rationalizing my choices or decisions, I’m going to stay stuck in a really ugly place.
Bob: You’ve already shared with us this week about your marriage. You had two kids. You and your husband were speaking at our Weekend to Remember® marriage getaways, and it took you by surprise in 2001 when he came and said, “We’re over.” You look back on that now, and you see your contribution to—
Bob: —the crumbling of your marriage. But when that happened, when he left and you were now a single-parent mom, you threw yourself into your work, you medicated with alcohol which had been an issue for you—
Bob: —that reemerged in your life, and you were in the slough of despond in the valley of despair for an extended period where you didn’t see—there wasn’t much light. There was a lot of fog around and not a lot of sunlight penetrating through, was there?
Sharon: That’d be a great way to describe it. I think in the midst of all of those overwhelming feelings, healing really started, as I said, when I asked for help. But when I began to look at the brokenness and approach it with three things—that I really do want to share because I think it can bring hope to so many others who might be stuck in some relational distress.
Often, I imagine you guys are asked and as a therapist I’m asked, “How do you get out of the mess that you’re in?” I think the word, “HOW,” is a great acronym for the path to healing.
It’s first of all being honest, which we talked about yesterday; and honest about your part in this mess, because as long as you stay stuck in blaming somebody else—no matter how responsible they are for the hurt, you’re just going to be a person who was mistreated. There’s so much more that God intends for us in the heartbreaks of life. So, I think being honest then can lead to an openness.
Dennis: Well, before you get to the “O” of HOW, let’s just pause and camp on the “H,” about honesty. I was on a phone call with a counselor talking about a third party, a young lady who is really thinking like a victim. We were talking and interacting together about how to help a young lady get out of the distress she’s in. When you’re thinking like a victim, you can always find somebody to blame. If you’re thinking like a victim, you won’t take responsibility for what is yours to address in your life—
Dennis: —like your relationship with God, like your responsibility to your family, and what are the steps that you need to take. When you’re being dishonest in your thinking about yourself, blaming somebody else, you’ll never get out of your ditch.
Sharon: You won’t because also when you’re a victim, you can justify doing anything. So often that’s where we get ourselves in more trouble, as I did in my own case when I relapsed in my addiction, justifying it because I was in so much pain and this terrible thing had happened to me.
So, honesty means, yes, being honest about the pain—that’s important—and the things that have happened to you and how heart-wrenching and crushing and shattering it is; but then, to go a little bit further and begin to be honest about your responsibility.
I’ll tell you how that happened for me. It happened while I was watching a movie called Bruce Almighty. I will say that it was one of the most transformative moments of my life.
Dennis: Now, wait a second!
Dennis: You’re watching that movie—
Bob: It’s a Jim Carrey comedy—
Dennis: —with Jim Carrey. That’s exactly right.
Bob: —and he—for those who don’t know the movie, it’s a farcical kind of—he is given divine power. He can run the universe, and it’s his to control.
Dennis: He’s god.
Bob: That’s right.
Dennis: He’s god.
Sharon: Don’t we all live like that sometimes? We certainly—I can count the days when I probably got up in the midst of this awful situation—and I didn’t say it out loud, but I sure lived like it.
It was like, “Okay, I’ve got this, God. I’ll take it from here, and I’ll do what I want. I’ll say what I want, and I can justify it all because this terrible thing happened to me. Everyone will feel sorry especially”—often in the Christian community, we like to figure out who was most to blame when a marriage falls apart. I kind of cuddled up in that and knew that I wasn’t most to blame. So, I could live however I wanted.
Bob: Yes. So, how did Jim Carrey come along—
Bob: —and minister to you in a profound, deep way?
Sharon: Well, as a result, I was filled with a lot of bitterness and resentment. My pastor would preach profound messages on forgiveness, and I would look at the friend sitting next to me and say, “I don’t want to forgive.” I don’t think anyone in my life wanted me to forgive. I don’t think my parents wanted me to forgive. Everyone was mad.
Dennis: I can get that. You can hear the story. You can say, “Man, can you believe he did what he did?”
Sharon: I know my lawyer didn’t want me to forgive. Our war was going on for a number of years. So, I was kind of stuck there as the victim enraged with justification and blame, which actually felt pretty good; and I wasn’t going to forgive. If you remember in the movie, the character that Jim Carrey plays does come to a place of surrender. He cries out on the middle of the highway, “I surrender to your will.” Then he’s run over by the truck. It does feel like that sometimes.
Then, in the hospital, he prays for his girlfriend, Grace. He prays that Grace will be loved as she deserves to be loved and that she will be seen through God’s eyes by someone. I remember something in my heart just—it wasn’t me. It was the Holy Spirit—just crying out, “I want to pray that for my ex-husband,” and I began to forgive. I really did start to forgive for not just his part but even to forgive for my part.
Which see, when we’re afraid to acknowledge our own part in it then we can’t get the healing we need for ourselves, because being a victim is a hopeless place to be. You can never change that.
Sharon: As I can repent, then, I can change; and that was a moment of repentance for me. God really did transform my heart to begin to forgive; and that really, then, did set me in a place for that second word in the acronym, “HOW,” to be open—open to other people, to their input in my life; open to their suggestions, to their advice; open to doing something differently than the way I had done it before.
Dennis: In a word, you were teachable.
Sharon: Yes. I certainly recognized that I was not going to get myself out of this with me. I had gotten myself into this place. So, I needed to listen to other people and be open to the Holy Spirit and exchange my way of doing things for another way of doing things, which is what I think surrender is. It’s making an exchange.
Something about that crazy movie put me in a place of surrender and open to hearing from others and to making some changes in my life.
Bob: So, before that time, you weren’t—I mean you weren’t open. If somebody came along and said, “I can help,” you weren’t open to help?
Sharon: I think I was open to help for many things, but this core clenched fist that was—
Dennis: Holding on to bitterness?
Sharon: I think it was holding onto control, Dennis. I think knowing that—feeling that I needed to handle this, that I knew how to handle it, that I could take care of things, that I could manage because I have been a brilliant manager almost all my life; and to give up those reins of control and say, “Turns out I’m not that good of a manager.”
Dennis: Yes, it’s interesting just to reflect back on your story and what you shared earlier that how you really ended up in the ditch with your marriage was a denial of your marriage being in sad shape and not asking somebody to help, to say, “We’re in trouble. We do need help.” But in your pride, in your sense of control that wouldn’t allow you to be open—
Sharon: Let me put another word in there too, and that’s the word “fear.” I think that I have been in hiding most of my life because I have been afraid that I would not be loved, that I would be judged, that I would lose out on something. So, much like Adam and Eve in God’s first story about human beings, I wanted to hide because I was afraid and ashamed. Hiding is the ultimate form of control.
Bob: I wanted to ask you about openness because there is a vulnerability at any level of openness.
Bob: Anytime we are open, a part of us has just become vulnerable. So, for you to peel back—again, you’ve just been hurt, you’ve got wounds and scars; now, to be open is counter intuitive.
Sharon: It’s crazy. I don’t want it to sound like it was this linear process of I did this for two months; then I did this for four months; and then I got to this place. It definitely was a journey over a period of years of two steps forward, three steps back, of really believing that I could live truly and be open about it.
Dennis: As you’re sharing this, I can’t help but reflect upon where you would go, to what community, what group of people you would go to, to be open and to be vulnerable, as Bob’s talking about, with your real struggles. There’s only one place on the planet that can offer the help and hope, forgiveness, embrace you in love and point you to something that would bring that healing. It’s the Christian community; it’s the church.
Bob: But you’ve got people listening who are saying, “I tried that.”
Dennis: Well, that’s where I’m going, Bob. It’s like this is where we’re not a very safe place to go to. I think—here’s the question. We can sit back in our studio; and you, as a listener, can sit there in your car or listen to your radio or on your computer; and you can say, “Oh, yes. That’s right. The old church down there, let’s just throw stones at them.”
Let’s just take a step back and say, “Are you a person who holds stones to judge people? Or are you a safe person who knows grace in your own life, so that you realize the right standing you have before God is because of Jesus Christ?”
It’s not because of something you did, some kind of perfection that you’re living out; but you’ve experienced it. Therefore, you can offer it, and you’re a safe person to go—who’s struggling in their marriage, who’s struggling with homosexuality—to take a relevant issue today—with lying, with stealing, pornography—you name the sin. The point is we’re not a safe place. The Christian community needs to become safer, and it needs to begin with me.
Sharon: Yet, what I have discovered, Dennis, is that when I am open and truly my heart is open to receive from others, to want help, there are more people than you would imagine who are willing to offer that. I have received grace and kindness and love 99 percent of the time, and I have been immersed in the church. So, when I do hear from people, “Oh, the church is not a safe place, you can’t be honest,” I know that is true in some places. But my question is “Do you have the desperation to try again?”
See, that’s what this book is all about. It’s what enables us to risk again, to tell the truth again, to dare to hope or trust again. That comes from something that the Holy Spirit imparts to us when we are willing to say, “I want to want from people that You put in my path, and I will soak in all they have to give me.”
Bob: So, I’m still waiting on the “W”. Honesty is the first step on the path, and then, a risky openness that we’ve described here. This is the path that gets you from desperation and being stuck to believing again and beginning again. What’s the “W”?
Sharon: The “W” is willingness. So you ask for help. You tell the truth, and then, people that you start to trust through relationship may say, “Sharon, I think you need to take a little time off from speaking.” “I think you maybe need to go to a retreat or go get some counseling.” Are you willing to do that?
I’ll tell you a quick story here. Certainly, at one point in this journey, some friends of mine surrounded me, and they said, “You are working too hard. You are still escaping from dealing with your life. We want you to take a month, and we want you to go up to a retreat, a spiritual retreat, and get some soul care and just rest.” I reluctantly said, “Yes,” and I was mad—mad that I needed to do this, that I had to yet again talk to somebody about my problems and be honest and open.
See, I still don’t always do well with practicing what I preach. (Laughter) I was at a retreat center up in the Northwest. Just the beginning days, I was angry, and I kept thinking to myself, “I can go home. I’m not imprisoned here. I can take a cab. I can go home.”
One day, I was out running in the woods of the Northwest, and I came across this deer. It was right in the middle of the path. I’m a little afraid of wildlife. So, I shooed it away, and it just stood there. So, I decided I would turn around and run back the other way. I looked over my shoulder, and it really looked like the deer was coming after me. When I got back to my room, I slammed the door. I lay down on the bed, and I thought, “Even the deer are after me!” I was just resistant to the willingness that I had preached about.
The next day, I went out for a run again, came to that same spot where the deer was, and there laying in the middle of the path was a half eaten baby deer. What I realized was that deer the day before had been the mother standing guard, and it hadn’t been chasing me. It was protecting its young which had been half-eaten by a predator in the middle of the night.
I clearly heard God say, “Sharon, don’t you see this is what I am trying to do? I’m trying to protect you from being half-eaten and left along the roadside. So, the willingness to do what others may suggest—a pastor or counselor or trusted friend—is a willingness to surrender to God’s protection. I don’t have to take care of myself.
Dennis: The word the listener needs to hear, repeatedly said in various ways in this broadcast, is “surrender.”
Sharon: Yes, it’s a theme in my story.
Dennis: Give up, give in, and listen. If you take a look at the book of Proverbs, the Proverbs over and over and over again say, “You’ll find wisdom”—how? By listening to your father, by listening to the godly counsel of others—
Dennis: —by listening to God, by listening to His precepts, His Word; but it demands that you have all those three things in place. Number one, you’re honest, you’re open, and you’re willing. Those really do encapsulate surrender.
Bob: Yes, and while we’re talking about honesty, let’s be honest. There are times when we need some help on that path. Sharon, I think you’ve provided that help today; and of course, you provide it in the book that you’ve written called Begin Again, Believe Again, where you share your story; but you also share how God met you in the middle of despair—
Bob: —and how He brought you up from the pit.
In fact, I had to think as I looked through your book about David’s statement, “You brought me up from the miry pit.” David’s been there, and God had to pull him out. God did the same for you. It’s in the book you’ve written called Begin Again, Believe Again.
We’ve got copies of Sharon’s book in our FamilyLifeResource Center. You can go online at FamilyLifeToday.com. That’s our website, FamilyLifeToday.com. Look for Sharon Hersh’s book, Begin Again, Believe Again. You can order from us online or just get more information if you’d like. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com. If you’d like to order a copy of Sharon’s book by phone, call us toll-free at 1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY”.
Now, quickly, we want to say a word of thanks to those of you who make this program possible. There is cost associated with producing a program like this and with syndicating it on a network of stations all across the country.
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This week, if you can make a donation, we would like to send you as a thank you gift a CD of a conversation we had with author and counselor, Leslie Vernick, on the subject of emotionally destructive relationships.
We’ll be happy to send you a copy of that CD when you go online at FamilyLifeToday.com, click on the button that says, I CARE, and make an online donation. The CD will come to you automatically. Or call 1-800-FL-TODAY, make a donation over the phone, and be sure to ask for a copy of the CD on destructive relationships when you call. Again, we’re happy to send that out to you, and we appreciate your support of this ministry. We couldn’t do it without you.
We want to encourage you to be back again with us tomorrow when we’re going to talk about some of the collateral damage that occurred in the midst of the valley that Sharon Hersh walked through. We’ll hear particularly about the rift between Sharon and her daughter tomorrow. I hope you can join us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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