This week I’m bringing a more personal story. It’s about how I learned to trust God’s timing in my life, or as I like to call it, the Art of Surrender.
The day I figured out this “secret” was an ordinary day. I was driving back to college to begin the second semester of my Sophomore year of college.
How I Learned to Trust God’s Timing
Being a typical 20-year-old, I spend the first half of the drive daydreaming about a guy I had a crush on. But after about an hour my thoughts drifted to my future, and specifically, why I hadn’t heard back from my dream school.
I took my frustration out on my gas pedal as I pressed it harder into the floor.
I sped faster and faster until I noticed a police car out of the corner of my eye. I abruptly eased up on the pedal as I followed him with my eyes in my review mirror and silently prayed he wouldn’t turn around.
He didn’t. I let out a sigh of relief—both physically and spiritually.
“God,” I started praying. “You know I want this more than anything in the world but it looks like your answer is no. And if that’s what you want for me, then I accept it. I will do my part to make the best of my situation where you want me.”
My heart rate lowered and the jumbled thoughts in my head cleared out. I drove the rest of the way to school more at peace.
And that was it.
But if that’s all that happened it wouldn’t have been that important. While my life seemed the same on the outside, it would be a turning point in my faith and relationship with God.
Simply put, I was willing to tell God, “Thy will be done” instead of “My will be done.”
Whether my mouth said “I trust God’s timing” or “I surrender all” to God that day my heart meant it and God accepted it.
It’s what my favorite author and former missionary Elisabeth Elliot meant when she wrote, “…real satisfaction and joy come in response to acceptance of the will of God and nowhere else.” And it’s what Paul talked about over and over in the gospels: contentment in God and not our life circumstances.
It’s surrendering all to God. It’s learning to trust God’s timing in our lives.
Where it All Began
In the eighth grade, I decided I would attend Grove City College, a small Christian school near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Three years later I was finally able to apply and eagerly awaited my acceptance letter.
In the meantime, I received an acceptance letter to my second-choice school at Houghton College, located in western New York, and just two hours from home. While it was also a good Christian school, Houghton wasn’t my dream school. After years of building up Grove City in my mind, no other college would do.
Then one day—finally!—a letter with my name and the Grove City College emblem arrived. Heart thumping, I yanked it out of the mailbox, ran up the driveway, and ripped it open on my front porch.
“Dear Sarah, thank you for applying to Grove City College. Unfortunately…”
I had been wait-listed.
The letter went on to say that if a spot opened up closer to orientation they would let me know. It’s okay, I reassured myself, God is going to make me wait, but I’ll still get in. I’m sure He wants the best for me.
In the meantime, I accepted the offer from Houghton.
But I didn’t lose hope. Each day I ran home, checked the mail, and asked my mom if there were any calls for me. After months of silence, reality set.
I wasn’t going to my dream school.
It seems so small but to my 18-year-self it was a devastating blow. I had planned my whole life around attending this specific school and now I felt lost and rejected.
September came and with no other options before me, I packed my belongings and drove two hours south to Houghton College, hesitant about this new path but on it regardless.
But as I drove nearer to Houghton I was struck by its beautiful surroundings. Although I had visited when my sister attended, it’s like I was seeing the area with fresh eyes. It was right out of a Hallmark movie: rolling green hills, white picket-fenced horse farms, and a big beautiful blue sky.
Shortly after I arrived I met my new roommate Gena who was neat, and quiet, and polite, and quite frankly, everything I wanted in a roommate. Bonding over our faith and early bedtimes we hit it off.
My new friends and I spent our first semester biking up and down those Hallmark movie-worthy hills, gossiping about guys we liked, and, of course, attending classes. A full year came and went and, with a massive change in heart, I now happily drove back to Houghton to start my sophomore year.
Maybe this was where I was meant to be all along.
But a couple of weeks into the semester, my friend Niki gently knocked on my half-opened door and poked her head in.
“Hey, what are you doing for fall break? Do you want to come home with me to Pittsburgh? On the way down, we can stop and visit my brother. He goes to this small Christian school called Grove City. Oh! And there’s an awesome outlet mall nearby!”
I had tried to put Grove City out of my mind—in fact, I had. And here it was being shoved in my face again.
“I’d love to,” I told her, eager for a mini-adventure.
While I was excited about this little adventure, I was also apprehensive about visiting my “dream school.”
How would it feel to step foot on a campus I was rejected from? Would I feel resentment or relief? Would be it as beautiful as I imagined? Would the students be as friendly as I heard? Would it live up to the hype I created in my mind?
Several days and several hours in a car later, we pulled into campus and I knew it did.
Or at least I felt like it did.
As an idealist, I tend to base decisions on how I feel about them. (Side note: I am not recommending this.) As we drove around trying to figure out where to park I was overcome with emotion.
Grove City’s 180-acre campus was full of beautiful stone buildings and open courtyards. That day the lawns smelled of freshly-cut grass as century-old trees soared above and started changing colors. Huge stone pots stood guard outside entrance doors and spilled over with flowers like teacups filled too high.
But it wasn’t the scenery that overwhelmed me. After all, Houghton had a beautiful campus too.
I truly felt like I was supposed to be there. Even after all these years, I couldn’t satisfy that unmet desire within me.
God, why didn’t I get in? Why do I even still want to be here? I don’t understand.
Shortly after parking, we met up with Niki’s brother Jon and he gave us an unofficial tour of the campus. As the sun sank in the sky, we were invited to a bonfire with his friends and we happily accepted.
I could see my life here, I told myself as I roasted another marshmallow. I still want to be here. I still feel like I’m supposed to be here…
But Niki jerked me out of my thoughts by reminding me we should start heading to her parent’s house in Pittsburgh before it got too late.
After the long weekend, we drove back to school tired, happy, and content. And by then a clear plan had formed in my mind. The rest of my story wasn’t written yet.
As soon as Niki dropped me off at my dorm, I raced up the stairs to my room, yanked out my laptop, and pulled up the online application to transfer to Grove City College.
Going for broke, I started my essay, “Like Rudy only wanted to play for Notre Dame, I have only ever wanted to attend Grove City College…”
I was so excited about the possibility I even told my friends, making sure to add that I’d miss them but felt like I was supposed to be there. They were confused about why I’d want to leave our beautiful school but encouraged me nonetheless.
And for a second time, I anxiously waited to hear from my dream school sure that God had re-opened a door for me to get back in.
And for a second time, I heard nothing.
I celebrated Thanksgiving and Christmas with my family but still no word from Grove City College. And as I drove back to school after winter break I struggled to fight back tears. I still felt like I belonged there. I didn’t know how to manage a deep desire for something I didn’t have.
But God did.
Just then I noticed that police car. I yanked my foot off the pedal and laid it all out to God as I prayed that quick life-changing prayer, “OK. I understand it’s no. And if that’s what you want for me, then I accept it. I will do my part to make the best of my situation where you want me.”
At the moment it didn’t feel like I had made an earth-shattering decision. But in reality, I was learning how freeing surrender can be if we get more of God’s presence in return.
It didn’t matter if I ended up getting into Grove City, or if I stayed at Houghton until I graduated.
That’s not only learning to trust God’s timing, that’s learning to trust His plan.
What mattered is that I was willing to tell God, “Thy will be done” and mean it. Whatever His plan for me was, I knew it was good.
With this newfound peace, I cheerfully parked my car, unloaded my items, and headed up to my dorm with a more upbeat outlook on life.
As I settled back into a routine at Houghton, well-meaning friends asked me about Grove City. I could now laugh and reply, “Guess it wasn’t meant to be!”
If staying at Houghton was God’s plan for my life, then I was going to make the best out of it. Surrendering to God isn’t just about the words that we say either.
We must put the decision into action.
So I created a list in my journal of ways I could love Houghton as much as I thought I loved Grove City.
- go on more hikes
- run for managing editor of the school paper
- start a Bible study on my floor
- get my crush to finally ask me on a date
On my first day back, I ran for the managing editor of the school paper just like I said I would…and my crush ran for editor-in-chief.
I told my roommate about my desire to start a Bible study.
And my friends and I all planned a winter hike for that weekend.
Ok, I thought for the second time now. Maybe this really is where I am supposed to be.
On my third day back, I answered my phone assuming it was one of my parents.
“Sarah, congratulations! We’d love to welcome you to Grove City this semester. Classes start next Monday and we can’t wait to see you.”
I plopped into my desk chair not believing what I was hearing. I must have thanked her profusely and eventually hung up but I don’t remember any of it.
Instead, I realized I only had a few days to decide if I was going to leave my current school, leave my friends, leave my crush…and move to Pennsylvania to start a whole new life.
Like Sarah from the Bible, I rolled my eyes and laughed at God. He had a great sense of humor but terrible timing.
My laughter turned to big, silent tears and I thought, “How unfair God would bring my dream to me too late.”
I had already started classes at my current school.
I had bought all the textbooks and had finished my homework for the night.
And my crush had won the editor-in-chief position while I had won the managing editor position. Things were happening!
But is God ever late? Is life about our timeline or learning to trust God’s plan?
Isn’t this what you wanted? Is this not what you waited years for? Isn’t this what just a few days ago you were crying about because you didn’t get it?
I realized God had said yes to my prayer. God had said yes! All I had to do was accept it. Even if it meant giving up some good things in the process.
The next morning, I walked across campus to tell the admissions office that I would be transferring and to where.
“Well, congratulations. Grove City College is a great school. We’ll just need you to bring your laptop back and then fill out some paperwork. We’ll also send your current information over to your new school.”
“Thank you!” I said as I ran out to grab my computer.
Two weeks later, I was settled into Grove City and the happiest I had ever been.
But I want to make a clear distinction here. Yes, I was happy that I got everything I thought I wanted. But that kind of happiness doesn’t last.
More importantly, I was content because I was learning to surrender to God’s will and delight myself in His ways.
Truly blessed people aren’t rich, or good-looking, or get into the school they want. Truly blessed people know that real contentment comes from above and not earthly blessings.
Surrendering is also a spiritual skill I’ve had to practice on a daily basis and there are many times I still fail. But like any skill, it gets stronger the more we exercise it. As Elisabeth Elliot later wrote, “One does not surrender a life in an instant. That which is lifelong can only be surrendered in a lifetime.”
Can you think of a specific time you had to learn to trust God’s timing? How are you still learning to trust His plan for your life?
“There are only two kinds of people: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, ‘All right, then, have it your way.’” C.S. Lewis
When is a time in your life you had to learn to trust God’s timing? Do you look back on it and remember it when going through a difficult time? God is faithful and wants us to remember He has a plan for our lives and it’s good. And His timing is beyond our comprehension but for His good and our glory.
How will you trust God’s timing going forward?