I have a very headstrong child named Clementine. When she was very little she used to throw tantrums that would last for hours. I would put her down for a nap in her very comfy crib, and although she was tired, she would not give up and go to sleep. Her screaming would continue even after I gave up on the idea of letting her “cry it out” and came in to hold her. Finally, after she was red-faced and her throat was raspy from crying, she would surrender and fall asleep in my arms.
I think we tend to make the idea of surrender a “one and done” sort of conversation. People always say, “I gave it up to God,” as if that’s the end of the story and everything is nice and tidy, but I don’t think this is how surrender works. In my experience, surrender is a daily action and something that must be done in complete honesty and vulnerability.
I think one of the best ways to surrender to God is to be honest with him. God is not scared of your issues or your doubts. He isn’t shocked by where you are or where you’ve come from. I think we need to be open and real with God as we walk through our stuff with him. Often when we feel like we need to surrender to God, we are facing tough things or complicated choices. I think in these decisions, we need to come clean with what’s really going on.
One of the most beautiful stories of surrender in the Bible comes from an unlikely place. In Mark 9:15-25, we see a scene where Jesus’ disciples are trying to make an “unclean spirit” come out of a boy. The father of the child is desperate for help, because the spirit continually injures his son. Though the disciples command that the spirit leave, it doesn’t obey them. The disciples bring the boy to Jesus for healing.
So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth. Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”
“From childhood,” he answered. “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”
“‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”Mark 9:20-23 NIV
“If you can.” Jesus pulls no punches here. He looks at the desperate father and notes his language which shows his disbelief in Jesus’ power. I don’t believe Jesus is looking to shame the father, shame is not in Jesus’ character. I believe he was trying to make the dad aware of what he was really thinking. Can you imagine how many times this father had “surrendered” his child to God in hopes of healing? But here he is, face to face with the great Healer himself, and Jesus shows him his lack of real surrender.
I love the father’s response. He doesn’t sugar coat it, he’s completely honest with Jesus.
“Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”Mark 9:24 NIV
Don’t miss this. The father basically said, “I do believe, but not fully.” Face to face with the Son of God, this man chooses to be completely honest. Just like a normal person, he believes, but then, he also somehow doesn’t. Jesus doesn’t rebuke the man, he isn’t angry or frustrated at his confession. Instead, he heals the man’s son. He honors the man’s honesty. He doesn’t say, “Get more faith and come back tomorrow.” Instead he does what Jesus does: he makes things complete.
I think sometimes surrender looks like Clementine collapsing into her mother’s arms. It also looks like this father’s complete honesty and relying on the only One who can help him. Friends, surrender starts with embracing the truth of our circumstance and what’s really going on inside of us.
The man let go of the need for perceived perfection here. He doesn’t try to look like he’s got it all together in front of Jesus. He comes clean and confesses he doesn’t have perfect faith—and Jesus validates his honesty. Do you believe your faith has to be perfect in order for you to surrender to God?
A good place to start is by being honest with yourself. Ask yourself these questions: What am I afraid for God to see? What are my true desires? What am I holding back?
Coming clean with God is one of the best ways to surrender. God cares about honesty; he doesn’t play the shame game. As Jesus shows us in Mark, he values openness.
Many times when we are trying to surrender to God, we are dealing with delicate, important and personal things. I believe that surrender isn’t a one-time thing, but a daily choice to stop clutching onto these things so tightly. One of the things I talk about in my book, I am Not in Charge, is becoming aware of your own perspective and impact on these important things. Often, we believe we are in control of all of the big, scary swirling scenarios in our lives, and that’s why we grip on so hard to them. But the truth is, we really aren’t.
Sometimes, we need to be aware of this perspective. We think surrender means letting “Jesus take the wheel” in our lives, but like the father from the account in Mark realized, he never had “the wheel” at all, and had very little control over what was happening. It can be scary to realize this at first, but it can also be freeing. The man couldn’t heal his son; all he could do was lay him at the feet of Jesus. That sort of surrender is an incredible lesson in vulnerability. One of the things that makes us pull away from surrender is a mistrust of God. I don’t say this to call you out, no one I know trusts God completely. That’s the goal, of course, but some level distrust is natural and God is not offended by it. Does it look to you like Jesus was offended by the father’s lack of faith or distrust? It doesn’t look like that to me.
One thing that helps with surrender is learning that God is a safe space to relinquish our supposed control. I like to dwell on this comforting passage in Isaiah, it describes the continuous goodness of God.
“Even to your old age and gray hairsIsaiah 64:4
I am he, I am he who will sustain you.
I have made you and I will carry you;
I will sustain you and I will rescue you.”
Just read that like 3 times in a row. God is with you the whole way. He started this whole thing when he made you, but he will also carry you, sustain you and rescue you. That’s the God we worship. That’s who we get to surrender to. Not some angry, frustrated unknowing God. Instead he is the one who has built you and will carry you through the swirling, scary scenarios of life. Friends, there is no one better to come to and daily confess your deepest needs and fears and to daily surrender this moment’s battles to. He knows you. He is with you. Surrender comes with trusting this. There will be many times where we want to grip tightly onto our lives, but if you can learn to offer these precious pieces of life up to God as they come, you will take steps toward living a more fully-surrendered life. My prayer is, like Clementine, you can rest on the shoulder of the one who loves you, knows you, and is with you the whole way.
In my experience, I have found that the times that I most need to surrender my heart to God are the most scary, and tender points in my life. Please be compassionate with yourself as you approach these times. Being hard on yourself for not “fully surrendering” or having to continuously surrender these to God are counter-productive and doesn’t yield much progress. Instead, try to meditate on God’s character. This week try to take a good look at Isaiah 64:4 and look back at your life. How have you seen God carry you? In what ways has he sustained you? How has he rescued you?
Sometimes taking a look back at all the ways God has been ever present in my life, allows me to trust him with my present struggle and need. Dwelling on all of these consistent ways God has been safe to surrender in days past gives me the ability to surrender to him tomorrow.