Surrender: The Key to Courage

Every evening, as we go through the bedtime routine with our son, we watch him play at bath time, then beg us to stay in the tub and swim. We move to the bedroom, where he rolls around and jumps on the bed. We dress him in jammies that always seem to be shrinking, and the three of us crawl in bed to read books. Right now, our routine is Be Boy Buzz (usually twice), Counting on Community, Hands are not for Hitting, and I Like Myself. We let Levi decide who will rock him to sleep, and whoever he chooses prays for his long list of names, and then sings to him.

All to Jesus, I surrender; all to Him, I freely give; I will ever love and trust Him; In His presence daily live. I surrender all. I surrender all. All to thee my precious Savior, I surrender all.

I’ve tried to sing him other songs, and he taps my arm rapidly, and says, “I surrender all Mama.” It’s been good for my soul in this season to utter these words daily, in such an intimate, vulnerable and dark position. The only visible light is a little crack over a curtain rod we need to hang an inch higher, and it’s the little street light left in the night. A metaphor for some of the more painful moments in life, in the messy, broken world we’re all living in. A sliver of hope, a promise of joy following a night of mourning.

I have learned that surrender is not a weakness; it is our strength. I know surrender feels like a curse word to some of us. I think of the many opportunities over the last several years we’ve had to stand up, to speak out, to affect change in our communities, and no one’s been waving any white flags. Probably because surrender can feel like giving up, like giving in, like letting someone else win. But surrender can also be a deep dive into grace.

Surrender, when it is an intentional and not a passive decision, will carry us through the darkness. Surrender is our respite from all we are unable to make sense of, all we are unable to make good on, all we are unable to gain access to, and freedom from. Surrender is the worship we offer to a God who is able to contain the pain threatening to crush our soul, and dismantle our purpose.

I surrender all. Is this, perhaps, the heart of longevity, an anecdote to pride, a remedy for our innate and controlling humanity, our strength to remain true to our faith and our convictions? When broken open, is this perhaps the warm, gooey center of honest, genuine relationships? Is this the key to our courage?

Friend, it has been the key to mine. All to thee, my precious Savior, I surrender all. I tear up writing the words, because life is full of tender moments, yes, but it is more painful than precious. Is that your experience as well? And my Savior, while He is precious to me, He’s a river wild, and I am unable to control Him. His ways are a mystery. His methods are not mine. Still, He is love, and the same way His gushing opposes me when I stand against Him in pride, it overwhelms me when I crash to the floor, humbly confessing my need of Him. He is always who He is, God of mercy, God of grace, God of justice, love and truth.

We are raised in our nation, in our churches, even in our homes, to be right. There are winners, and there are losers. Winning is supreme. I won. I’m right! I had almost been in recovery for ten years when God prompted me to enter an 18-month, weekly support group for women, to work the twelve steps of recovery. I was newly married, and no longer had any life controlling issues. I had experienced true freedom, breakthrough; I felt whole and confident in the direction of my life, to start a family, live in community, and to seek justice and peace for people, systems and cities. To be honest, I wasn’t sure why God impressed on my heart to participate.

The first step is about admitting that I am powerless over my addictions and compulsive behaviors, that my life is unmanageable, that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. It’s about coming out of denial and stepping into grace. As I prayed, and asked God, if I do not have any addictions, any major issues, what is it that you want me to see, to admit?

Hi, my name is Ashley, a grateful believer in Jesus Christ, who struggles with pride, control and anger.

I believe God wanted to remind me of the subtle ways pride guided my religion, of the quiet thread of control that hindered me from fully exposing myself to others, and the anger that only showed up on the freeway or in the Trader Joe’s parking lot, that surely would impact my future, my husband, my sons, if I kept pressing it down and letting it slip out when no one was there to witness. He helped me to see that I am constantly in danger of forgetting that I am broken. And I tread lightly here, but it needs to be said, this is especially true for me as a religious leader.

When Jesus heard this, he said, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do.” Then he added, “Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”

Christ, have mercy, because my pride has the power to keep me from your Kingdom. My desire to control you hinders your love in my life. My anger will never produce the righteousness of God. All to thee, my precious Savior, I surrender all.

In recovery, I’ve come to believe that we’re always on the edge of a cliff. We can usually be found constructing and building structures and rules and walls, and whatever provides us with a sense of security, so we don’t have to feel the truth and the weight of that. But because my house of cards has fallen more than once, I now know there is only one rock, and I am not Him. And neither is the love of my life, or my job, or my ministry, or owning a home or having a family. None of these will sustain me in the depths of my soul; all are finite, including me.

Maybe we’re afraid, that to admit that, will mean we don’t have victory, that we haven’t overcome, that we’ve lost, but dear heart, winning is not the goal of Christianity. Triumphalism and materialism is not our inheritance. Being better and being right, and being perfect is not our reward. Brokenness is our state, and Christ alone is our portion.

If we are brave enough to surrender control, if we are willing to choose to trust in a God greater than we are, more powerful than every ruler and kingdom of our day, our courage will come. We are not unaware, but we will not be swayed by circumstances, by media, by fear and anxiety. We will be moved with compassion, compelled by love, steady and stable in His loving kindness, in His works that are faithful and just. So, while we resist and persist, we also remember that we are not God, and that we do not shoulder the burden of holding it all together. It is all held together in Him.

Our surrender is our strength.

“Because salvation is by grace through faith, I believe that among the countless number of people standing in front of the throne and in front of the Lamb, dressed in white robes and holding palms in their hands (see Revelation 7:9), I shall see the prostitute from the Kit-Kat Ranch in Carson City, Nevada, who tearfully told me that she could find no other employment to support her two-year-old son. I shall see the woman who had an abortion and is haunted by guilt and remorse but did the best she could faced with grueling alternatives; the businessman besieged with debt who sold his integrity in a series of desperate transactions; the insecure clergyman addicted to being liked, who never challenged his people from the pulpit and longed for unconditional love; the sexually abused teen molested by his father and now selling his body on the street, who, as he falls asleep each night after his last ‘trick’, whispers the name of the unknown God he learned about in Sunday school.

‘But how?’ we ask.

Then the voice says, ‘They have washed their robes and have made them white in the blood of the Lamb.’

There they are. There *we* are – the multitude who so wanted to be faithful, who at times got defeated, soiled by life, and bested by trials, wearing the bloodied garments of life’s tribulations, but through it all clung to faith. 

My friends, if this is not good news to you, you have never understood the gospel of grace.” Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up and Burnt Out

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