the truth about surrender

This week I faced the reality that a year-long process, one I thought was taking our family in a particular direction, in fact appears to have come to an end. Nevertheless, in the midst of the sense of surprise and wondering, I experience a deeper current within me that continues to invite me to surrender to what God might be doing. That is, to the goodness of God’s activities whether I understand them or not.

If you’re anything like me, this word ‘surrender’ conjures up all sorts of thoughts and feelings. My mind goes to a particular move in one of the workouts I’ve been doing, known precisely as a ‘surrender.’ As the name might suggest, it’s pretty brutal! It requires that you move from a kneeling position to standing and back again, all while holding a weight at your chest.

Doing this move got me thinking. I have always thought of surrender as ‘giving up’ or ‘giving in.’ And giving up has a sense of going from activity to non-activity. At first, I’m busy doing my own thing - moving forward, making things happen, or trying to do so - and then I stop, I give up or give in. Just as in a conflict, when one side surrenders to the other, they lay down their arms, cease their activity, and allow the winning side to do things their way.

I have an image in my mind of my two brothers when we were little, racing around the house as they play some version of cops and robbers. One catches the others and flings him to the ground, shouting ‘Surrender! Say you give up!’ This was the signal that he had won and the racing around would now finally cease. Mostly because the one on the ground had had the wind completely knocked out of him.

And yet that move in my workout is far from inactive. Not at all! It is anything but passive to come to standing from a kneeling position, holding a weight at my chest. It takes effort, determination and persistence. In fact, when I think about it, all of my experiences of internal surrender have felt more like a determined movement in a particular direction than a giving up. 

beyond passivity to determined persistence

Like you, perhaps, I can look back on distinct moments of surrendering myself to what I understood to be the purposes of God. There have been many times when surrender has meant trusting God’s ways and timing, ceasing my own efforts to make something happen in my own way and leaning into what I know of God’s character and goodness, going at God’s pace and according to God’s design. None of this feels passive - like the rather fatalistic idea I have had of surrender - rather it requires effort, determination and persistence.

This makes me think of the way an athlete might trust a coach. As a runner, for years I have trained in my own way. I would read advice in books and magazines and incorporate some principles but it was all a bit haphazard, honestly. When you train with a professional coach it is completely different. Based on what she knows of your capacity, what you want to accomplish and how much time you have, she will dictate a certain training regimen. You trust her plan because she knows what works, she has science on her side, and she has proven her wisdom time and again with other athletes. You can be sure that when you turn up for a training session and she wants you to do more - or less - than you feel like doing in that moment, there are reasons for it. Some of the reasons you will be aware of, and others will be beyond you. To get the results you want, you have to trust her.

The athlete surrenders to the knowledge and track record of the coach, much as a woman in labour surrenders to the wisdom and experience of her midwife. This surrender is not a giving up, a laying down, doing nothing and waving a white flag; it is full of activity and effort. When the coach says run, you run; when she says rest, you rest. When the midwife says push, you push; when she says stop, you pant like crazy and concentrate on holding on until she says you can push again. Both want to protect you from harm or injury and help you arrive at the outcome you most desire.

As I think about surrendering to God, it has this same sense of saying ‘yes’ to the ways of the One who knows more than I do, who sees further, and who wants the best outcome for me. I choose to do things in God’s way - not because God is sitting on me and yelling ‘give up!’ in my ear - but because God sees the larger story and the chapters so far tell me that I am loved. And that Divine Wisdom knows a thing or two I may have overlooked.

Surrender is hard. There is a tension there because it is not a once-for-all deal. This is a posture of heart that requires us to choose again and again to trust the One who invites us to walk this way. The work of surrender, it seems to me, is to hold steady to the course of trust we have set. When our mind screams at us to do it our own way, or our emotions are in a fearful place, we choose again to surrender to the truth that our generous God is constantly moving towards us in goodness. Could it be that, by saying yes to God’s invitation to trust, I will ultimately experience more abundance of life than I could ever achieve on my own? I believe the answer is yes.


In what areas of your life currently do you sense the invitation to surrender? What does that feel like? In what ways is it easy, or difficult, to surrender in those areas? To what extent do you identify with the effort, determination and persistence seen here as part of surrender? At what pace is the Lord having you move, as part of God’s purposes? What is God revealing to you about God’s Self in this place of surrender that you might not learn without it?


Loving God, just as the surrender of Christ to the way of cross led to victory and to Life, so may we experience your abundant life even in the places of our deepest surrender.