When you come to the end of any season that's been hard, tough or heartbreaking, it's usually as difficult to conclude as it has been to live. The end of such a time so often becomes the start of a soul's long night of restlessness, reliving the struggle and re-experiencing its pain.
But into such days, moments or seasons of the soul, Jesus' closing words from the cross speak a principle of discipleship laden with wisdom: "'"Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit"'" (Luke 23:46, NKJV).
There is something preciously sublime about Jesus' final words from the cross. Though sometimes overlooked, falling as they do in the wake of Calvary's grand pronouncement--"It is finished!"--their message points the way to wisely conclude any bad day, any trying experience: Place it into the hands of God and leave it there.
The Savior's words demonstrate a colossal act of trust, surrendering His control of life into the Father's hands. While an hour before He was torn with the agony of abandonment--"Why have You forsaken me?"--now He concludes this day with a declared confidence in the Father, these final words saying, "I'm letting go and placing everything into Your hands." At Calvary's finale, Jesus gives us a lesson on how to live through life's trials.
More than a bad day. Trina sat in my office, the picture of composure. An attractive woman in her early 40s and the wife of a successful physician, she was the essence of social grace and cultural sophistication. But there was nothing of snobbishness or the superficial because Trina was a deeply devoted servant of the Savior.
She had come to Christ several years before, and her growth of years in Christ was marked by a humility, as surely as her background evidenced a regal dignity. But Trina's husband had never come to the Lord.
I had seen Walt in church a few times and met him once. Two things were clear. First, he had a genuine respect and almost reverent regard for his wife's faith. He recognized she possessed a dimension of life bringing something valuable to their home and marriage.
But there was a second thing--the evidence of that subtle deception that suggests to an otherwise reasonable mind: "You don't need this (this Savior, Jesus). If you ever open to Him, it will cost genuine transformation, and you don't want to stop being who you really are, now, do you?"
It was in Walt's face--that fundamental dishonesty of a "knowing" soul being dishonest with God...and knowing that, too.
But on this day Trina asked to see me, she was direct and to the point. "Pastor Jack, I want to ask more for your prayer than for your counsel. It relates to something I feel convinced I am to do. I don't want to seem to have taken leave of my senses, but I don't know anyone I can tell--nor do I plan to tell anyone else other than Lisa, my closest friend.
"You've met Walt," she continued, "and you know what a fine man he is. And though he isn't a Christian, he has openly admitted to me that he knows he should give his heart to the Lord.
"Pastor, I believe you know I am not the nagging, religious wife-type. By God's grace, I believe I've obeyed God's Word in living and loving like a wife should--and Walt acknowledges this. He often expresses his gratefulness for my care for and attentiveness to him."
I braced myself. I was ready for the point to be made--one all too frequently surmised and asserted today by Christian spouses who say, "I've done everything I can, and I'm tired of trying; I want to get a divorce from my unbelieving wife/husband."
But instead, I was spun for a complete loop when Trina continued the explanation of her prayer request.
When life unravels. "Pastor Jack," she said, lowering her eyes in slight embarrassment, "I don't want to seem at all inappropriate to you, nor make this any more awkward for me than it already is. But frankly, Walt is having an affair.
"I discovered this in finding some medication he left in the cabinet--medicine for the treatment of venereal disease. When I confronted him about it, he admitted both to an affair and to having contracted the disease from this other woman."
She paused, and I inquired, "Presuming you and he have been pursuing your normal sexual relationship, how did Walt respond to your finding this out, seeing as he is now exposing you to the same disease?"
"He was a mix of shame and humiliation," Trina replied. "He made no self-defense and apologized, yet also asserted he couldn't promise he wouldn't yield again to the same temptation."
She teared slightly, embarrassed but retaining control. I waited, then invited her to continue as she felt able. To my amazement, she was not requesting permission to exit her marriage, but had come to request abiding prayer covering for her own physical protection.
"You see, Pastor Jack, I believe I have every right to either walk away from Walt, or to at least deny him bedroom rights until he is, first, cleared of the infection and, second, done with the woman."
I nodded my agreement, but she wasn't done. "But, Pastor, I also believe the Lord is calling me to demonstrate my love for Walt in a way that will make an inescapable statement about God's love for him. Pastor, I believe I am to remain sexually available to him, even though it could be at the risk of my life."
She further described having found a magazine with photos of naked men in pornographic interplay and wondered if Walt might be dabbling in ways that could even lead to her being exposed to AIDS.
"I know it's radical, Pastor," Trina continued. "And I hope you will understand my decision as neither some fanatical foolishness or a desperate act of clutching for my husband's affection. But I see the problem simply as this: Walt is a horribly blinded soul.
"My hope is that by loving him as Jesus loves us--'while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us'--my action, however self-risking, might shake him awake and help him come to Christ."
Into God's hands. I was as moved as I have ever been by one person's sense of marital commitment.
Nothing--I emphasize it, nothing--in the Bible requires this kind of caring; indeed, Trina had full biblical license to walk away from Walt. But she chose as she did, and I still remember it with amazement, for nothing in my experience has ever manifested a more dramatic commitment to self-sacrificing love.
As I prayed with her that day, Jesus' words rose to my lips, "Father, into Your hands we commit Trina's life." She had chosen a path of trust and surrender in the midst of a horrible situation, and the Father's hands were the only ones that could shield and secure her.
The facts are that a year or so later, Walt left Trina. He chose a promiscuous and perverted life instead of Christ--and lost the devotedly marvelous woman he had as his wife.
And Trina? She was never infected, though she continued as her husband's lover and faithful wife until the day he announced he was leaving. She kept her life constant in Christ, and though I haven't seen her for years, she still has a strong relationship with her children and with her Savior.
I have never proposed Trina's "surrender" as a model to anyone, but it certainly strikes an opposite chord to the readiness with which many Christian believers will walk away from their marriages today, saying things have "gone bad." And I note her story here, not as a model for behavior in such situations, but as a model of surrender in dealing with bad days--or worse--by surrendering absolutely everything to God.
This is livable reality for all of us, because a marriage isn't the only arena in which we are often called to live through "bad days." There are dozens of life issues that call us to follow Jesus' pathway in living through tough times, issues that are seldom as quick to pass as we would wish, and which always call us to the cross and to hear the Savior's words again, "Into Your hands I commit."
Committing ourselves into His hands may be the key for some of us to enter a new day--or new year--with newfound expectancy, notwithstanding the "bad" behind us.
For Jesus, the end of it all finally was revealed in a resurrection. For us, there's fully reason to expect precisely the same.
Jack Hayford is founding pastor of The Church on the Way in Van Nuys, California.