For the last 7 years, I’ve been unlearning God.
He is not who I thought he was.
He is not who I was told he is.
He is not the greedy miser of joy I suspected all these years. He is not the boring happiness thief I cobbled together all these years. He is something different. Something wild. Something uncontrollable.
And one of the biggest surprises has been discovering how broken my understanding of the word “surrender” is.
I’m like a lot of Christians. I always secretly believed that the reason it was dangerous to give your life to God was that, the minute you did, it was obvious what he’d do.
He’d make you sell everything you own and move to Africa to become a missionary. You’d go zero to hut in about 3.2 seconds. But as I’ve written about before, that belief reveals something profoundly disturbing about my god.
If the first thing God does to me is the worst thing I can imagine, I have the worst god.
If I have a love for writing and a hatred of math and I fear that turning over my life to God means he’ll make me be a mathematician, I have a miserable god.
Maybe you don’t have that belief. I am extreme in my foolishness, but chances are you at least carry the same broken definition of “surrender to God” in your heart too.
I used to think “surrendering to God” meant turning over everything that was good in your life for something boring. It was releasing the things you loved, that beat loud and true in your heart, in exchange for some sort of miserable God mission.
I give God a lollipop, and he gives me back a rock.
I turn in my colorful dreams, and he gives me a life full of gray doldrums.
And when we talk about the word “surrender,” that’s often how we discuss it. At retreats, we challenge each other to “lay something at the foot of the cross.” We paint sad, broken little pictures of us surrendering things we love to a Lord who hopefully will like us in return.
But what I’m starting to learn is that surrendering isn’t just an act of releasing, it’s an act of receiving.
We don’t surrender to something worse, we surrender to something best.
We let go of our good for a God who is great.
There is not misery on the other side of surrender, there is joy.
The prodigal son was not met with a penalty, he was met with a party.
Most of us have had such a pendulum swing away from the promises of the prosperity gospel that, in the prodigal son story, we’d refuse the party. We’d come home and say, “No father, this is too much. This is too lavish. Is there somewhere I could work on the farm, perhaps wash someone’s feet? This is far too nice for me.”
We’ve gotten surrender wrong for far too long. It’s time for a new definition, and this is the one I’m using from now on:
Surrender isn’t the end of your life, it is the start.