At the age of 35 Aten was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer that had spread to his pelvis
He described that difficult time in his life in the WaPo article:
“For the first six months, whenever I asked for a prognosis, all my oncologist would say was: ‘I can’t tell you that it’s going to be okay, Jamie. It’s too early to tell. If there’s anyone you want to see or anything you want to do, now is the time.'”
Cancer wasn’t the first disaster that Aten had faced. He had moved his family to south Mississippi six days before Hurricane Katrina came ashore. But this disaster was different. There was no opportunity to evacuate as he did before Katrina made landfall. “This time the disaster was striking within,” he wrote. “I was a walking disaster.”
In time, he realized that the fact that he had no control over the situation–that he couldn’t “evacuate” even if he wanted to–was not necessarily a bad thing. It forced him to recognize that he wasn’t in control. Better than that, it reminded him that though he wasn’t in charge, he knew the One who was. And, he said, he learned that the key to both traumatic situations involved spiritual surrender. He wrote:
“Spiritual surrender helps us understand what we have control over and what we don’t. In a research study I led after Katrina, we found that people who showed higher levels of spiritual surrender tended to do better. This finding didn’t make sense to me at the time. It seemed like a passive faith response. Fast forward to my cancer disaster. I vividly remember taking the trash to the curb one winter morning while praying that God would heal me. The freezing air felt like tiny razor blades cutting across my hands and feet because of the nerve sensitivity caused by chemotherapy.
Wondering if God even heard my prayers for healing, I kept praying as I walked back inside my home. Then all of a sudden I dropped to my knees and prayed the most challenging prayer of my life. Instead of continuing to pray for God’s healing, I asked that God would take care of my wife and children if I didn’t make it.
This was the hardest prayer I had ever prayed. For the first time in my life, I truly experienced spiritual surrender. I finally understood. True spiritual surrender is far from passive-it is a willful act of obedience.”
A willful act of obedience indeed. And you don’t have to face a major trauma like cancer or a disaster like a devastating hurricane to make the choice for spiritual surrender. All of us, each day, have to determine whether we’re going to try to be in charge of our lives, or whether we’re going to trust the One who is and surrender to His will. That requires very active faith.