On long-ago Sunday mornings in my grandmother’s country church, I swung my legs back and forth, comparing the shine on my black Mary Janes with the gloss on the wooden pews. Far above my head, the adults softly sang, “All to Thee, my blessed Savior / I surrender all.” What did I know then of surrender? Only that my life was comfortable, and if I was going to follow Jesus, I must be willing to give that up. The idea of surrender struck a fear in my young heart out of proportion to the soothing tones of that beautiful hymn.
Jesus told us we must lose our lives if we would save them. It has always been easy for me to imagine what that might look like on a battle field. Or the mission field. But now I am the mother of a little girl who wears black patent shoes to Sunday school, and my life has not brought me to either place. What does surrender look like on one more ordinary day of an ordinary life? How, exactly, do I let go of my life when there are breakfast dishes to wash and phone calls to return and a library book to finish?
I tend to view surrender as a grandiose gesture. It is a battle line. A wrestling match. A white flag. But surrender isn’t only about giving in to God when He asks us to do the thing we least want to do. That day may come for some of us, but the surrender that marks the life of the Christian is only rarely a battle of wills. Instead, it is quietly walking in trust.
It has taken years for me to grow out of my fear and into an understanding of surrender as a way of life rather than a single moment of crisis. What I found instead of a battle was a daily invitation from a God who loves me and knows, better than I ever will, the purpose for which I was made. Surrender does involve hard choices, but those choices are often smaller than the grandiose gestures we deem worthy of the term. It is the choice to embrace the child who interrupts my work crying for a bandage for some invisible wound. It is the choice to say yes when a friend in need asks for help on a day I had set aside for rest. It is the choice to put away the fear that some impending decision has stirred up in my heart.
The surrender that marks the life of the Christian is only rarely a battle of wills.
Losing ourselves to love in these ways has a powerful cumulative effect. We meet the love of God in choices and moments of all sizes and kinds, and it is His love that empowers us to let go in deeper ways. Perhaps, like my husband, you will surrender your dream of becoming a doctor in order for your wife to continue her education. Perhaps, like my friend, you will let go of your dream of adopting children for 10 long years only to see that dream returned and realized. Perhaps, like another friend of mine, you will let go of your much-loved house in the country in order to serve neighbors in a city neighborhood. Not one of them regrets the choice to surrender. What they lost did leave a hole, at least for a season, but that empty place made room for a life-changing encounter.
My husband and my friends remind me I have nothing to fear. Letting go is the path we take to follow Christ. I knew that even when I was a child. What I did not understand, though it rang in the words of that familiar hymn, is how much joy I stood to gain by losing.