A couple of weeks ago I had a very detailed dream about taking the SAT exam. Time was running out and I realized I had barely answered any of the questions. One of my daughter’s high school friends was there and she had finished well within the time limit. She was sitting there, self-satisfied, looking around the room while I stared at a blank sheet of paper. That’s how I feel now.
This past Sunday I was at worship service, singing Christmas carols with everyone else. I had missed church for two weeks and was feeling troubled and disconnected from God—admittedly through no one’s fault but my own. My prayer in the past couple of weeks has consisted of a rather begrudging plea to the Lord, “Fix it, Lord, please. Just fix it.”
What I want him to fix is the intractable grief I’ve been walking through. Maybe less walking through than standing still, standing up to my neck in a swamp of pain and doubt and confusion. I can’t understand the nature of God, I can’t understand why bad things happen to good people, and I can’t figure out how to change my attitude and what he wants me to do with my life from this point forward.
So I was singing Joy to the World, hoping that I wouldn’t start to cry. And suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere and certainly out of context with the Christmas song, one word came to me. Surrender. Why surrender? Surrender.
“Is that you, God?” I said to him inside my head. I wrote the word in my notebook. And now I’m trying to figure out what it means. It's something I've read about but I still don't really understand. What does it mean to surrender to God, what does it look like in practice?
I started at the most logical source for any Christian. Not the dictionary. I wouldn’t dare write “Merriam-Webster’s defines surrender as . . .” Not Christianity for Dummies or The Idiot’s Guide to Christianity. Scripture. I needed to go straight to the source. But I found that the actual word surrender does not appear in the New Testament and it appears in the Old Testament only in terms of an army losing a battle. Although the word does not appear, the concept does.
Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. Matthew 10:39
I know, O Lord, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps. Jeremiah 10:23 [I love that phrase "man who walks." Perhaps I'll change my name to honor my distant Native American roots and be Woman Who Walks.]
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your path. Proverbs 3:5-6
And what if I look to Jesus—wasn’t he the definitive example of surrender to the will of the Father?
And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” Matthew 26:39Don’t these verses give me a huge neon-sign hint about where I should place control of my life? Yes, of course. I should place control in God’s hands. But what does that mean in a practical sense? I acknowledge that I have spent most of my life trying to do it my way. That hasn’t always worked out so well. I need to turn it over to him. From the start it has all been his anyway, in his control, but I keep trying to grab the steering wheel. I can say, “Oh, Lord, I surrender my life to you—my heart, my soul, my body, everything I am and everything I have is yours.” But what does that really mean? So I've been reading and writing about this and deleting everything I write because I can't get a clear understanding of what it means. I get it theoretically but I don’t get it at a gut level.
Walking deeper into faith is such a never-ending process. The more I learn, the more I realize how ignorant I am. And this surrender thing—what is it and how do I truly surrender to God? I’m stumped.