Surrender and receiving: The juxtaposition of the two words hit me so forcibly that I didn’t catch the rest of the sentence and, two sentences later, had to interrupt my conversation partner to admit that I’d missed everything she’d said since.
I usually think of surrender not as receiving but as giving. Giving up. Giving myself up.
Words can be dangerous, lugging baggage that colors our perception even when we’re not aware of it. In our world, surrender is often a word of defeat, carrying with it a sad, grey picture of soldiers who, knowing they are conquered, give up control of territory and their own freedom. What was once fear has become incontrovertible reality so they give in and stop fighting, hoping at least to preserve their lives.
But surrender as receiving? My wartime picture has no room for this. A suspicion creeps in: Might the fear I sometimes feel of surrendering to God and his will reflect this underlying picture that I didn’t even know was there until I was stopped and asked to think about it? Are there other pictures which might hold space for a truer understanding of what it means to surrender to God and his will? Slowly, they begin to appear:
A swimmer floats on her back, letting the water lift and hold her.
Be still and know that I am God. (Ps 46:10)
A boat surrenders to the current and is carried much farther and faster than if its occupants had poured all their power into paddling.
The LORD will fight for you, you need only to be still. (Exodus 14:14)
A drowning man stops flailing and fighting his rescuer and lets himself be dragged ashore.
He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters. . . . He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.” (Ps. 18:16,19)
I walk in Van Deusen Gardens with a good friend. I have no sense of direction. She has a great one, and I am glad to put myself in her hands and let her choose our route.
“Trust GOD from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for GOD’S voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track.” (Prov 3:5-6 MSG)
A screaming toddler, exhausted and not knowing what to do with herself, slowly surrenders to the strong and gentle arms that enfold her, letting her eyes close and her head rest on the shoulder of one who loves her, letting the weight of her body, her too-big emotions, her needs for security and comfort be held by someone bigger and more competent than her. She lets go of striving, grasping, trying to figure out things too hard for her and allows herself to settle into the love of the one who brought her into being.
My heart is not proud, O LORD, my eyes are not haughty. I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me. O Israel, put your hope in the LORD both now and forevermore.” (Ps 131)
As the pictures flow past, their common theme becomes clear: God is love, so surrendering to God is always surrendering to love.
Letting go is letting go of that which keeps me from enjoying that love.
Giving up is giving up whatever gets in the way of my living freely in that love.
Giving myself up is giving myself fully into the care of that love which loves me deeply enough to slowly, gently, set me free to become my true self in God, a self free enough to love in return.
When we surrender to Love, giving and receiving are two sides of the same act.