Giving our heart desires to God is not easy. “Surrender” is no trite sentiment. It’s hard — gut-wrenching, even. And annoyingly, I’ve found, it’s rarely a once-and-done event. “I found that the commitment had to be reaffirmed almost daily,” Elisabeth Elliot wrote. “It was the taking up of the cross daily that Jesus spoke of.”
Choosing to surrender is difficult. But we also must keep surrendering, which can be even harder. Yet in the middle of these very real challenges, I’ve found there are blessings too.
I used to think I had to have a long-term plan for my life. After a few years of seesawing back and forth about my career aspirations, I knew my mindset shift had occurred when a friend asked me if my new job was my long-term plan. “I don’t really do those,” I told her.
When I recently questioned another friend about her own life plans, she gave me a similar response. “I’ll tell you my favorite answer lately: I don’t know,” she said.
I wouldn’t say that “I don’t know” has always been my favorite answer, but I’ve often reverted to it. If we surrender our futures to God, “I don’t know” will always be a part of our response. Isn’t that essentially what the apostle James meant when he told us to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that”?
“I don’t know” can be a scary answer, but I’ve found it’s also freeing. In a very real sense, my future isn’t up to me. I don’t have to stress over future decisions, knowing that whatever comes my way, God is sculpting the story.
In the Adventures in Odyssey episode titled “The Decision,” several characters are in a tizzy over who should fill a vacant role on the mission field. After they mention wanting to go so they can seek adventure or help others or learn selflessness, Mr. Whitaker, ever the sage, clarifies the question. “No one has even mentioned the most important reason anyone should ever go into the mission field,” he said. “God’s calling.”
No doubt many reasons can be good barometers of seeking out God’s will, but the ultimate measure of whether we should “do this or that” is not practical so much as trusting. If this or that is God’s will, then I will do it, come what may. Even if it isn’t practical. Even if it doesn’t make sense. I trust that God will take care of the results.
That’s it: trust. I don’t have to worry about where my current decisions take me in the future. As I follow God’s leading here, I can trust the destinations of that leading.
Elisabeth Elliot often shared a line from an old poem: “Do the next thing.” Can’t get much simpler than that. Whatever God has called you to do next, do that. Any results that come of it are God’s business. As I do that next thing, I can freely pour myself all-in to whatever it is.
Goodness, this is hard for me to do. Ever the to-do list writer (and perpetually lagging in my schedule), I almost constantly feel the pull to strategize about my next to-do list item while I’m doing the thing before it.
But God has called me to this specific task, this specific conversation, this specific experience that I’m in right now. While I work on where He has me right this second, I can trust that He will take care of all the other things on my future lists. I surrendered it to Him, after all, so it’s really not mine to worry about.
As Elisabeth Elliot’s first husband, Jim Elliot, wrote: “Wherever you are, be all there! Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.”
I’m here right now — fully. This may not be my calling tomorrow, but it is right now.
A word of caution
As we live out our surrendered days, we must remember that God is more than capable of working in and through all our decisions, even when we make mistakes. Overemphasizing God’s will can lead to decision paralysis. It’s all too easy to overanalyze every tiny question, invitation or opportunity, hyper-stressing about whether we should do this or that.
In some decisions, God’s will for you will be clear. Other decisions may not be so black and white, but still seem fairly straightforward. Then honestly, some decisions will be stubbornly gray. Should we go with this job or that job? Move out of state or stay put? Join that small group or volunteer at this nonprofit? When the right decision isn’t crystal clear, we can pray, seek guidance if the situation calls for it, and then make the best decision we can with the information we have at the time. Trusting God means trusting that He will get us back on track if we make a mistake, and that He often gives us the freedom to simply make a choice.
Free to move forward
Jesus said that His yoke is easy and His burden is light. As we surrender our tightly-held hopes and dreams, some days may feel hard and heavy. But ultimately, surrendering our present and future to Christ means a weight is lifted off our shoulders. We can live confidently now and look forward expectantly to the future, because we know a life-altering truth: God’s got this.
Copyright 2022 Lauren Dunn. All rights reserved.