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Elisabeth Elliot’s Lesson on Surrender

How do we surrender our hopes and dreams when we know there is no guarantee they will come to be?

Before this summer, I would have told you I wasn’t a fan of Elisabeth Elliot’s writing. Though I read some of her works years ago, her bluntness dissuaded me from reading any more until a friend suggested one to me a few months ago.

This time around, I could see the heart and depth behind Elliot’s frank writing, though her candor still caught me off guard. Like this statement: “A whole lot of what we call ‘struggling’ is simply delayed obedience.”

Ouch. This year I’ve been “struggling” with trusting God with my future. At least that’s what I would have called it before reading Elliot’s assessment. My 30s look nothing like I always hoped — assumed — they would.

If anyone had reason to fear trusting God for her future, it would be Elisabeth. After a tumultuous years-long wait to marry her husband, Jim, he died at the hands of an indigenous Ecuadorian tribe after following God’s call to evangelize them. Elisabeth, barely 29 years old, had a 10-month-old daughter when her husband died after 27 months of marriage.

How do we surrender our hopes and dreams when we know there is no guarantee they will come to be?

The seriousness of surrender

It makes sense to surrender the bad things — sins like gluttony or gossiping. Of course we should surrender complaining or idleness. But what about good, healthy, natural hopes? What about desires for using our gifts or having a family of our own or building a close-knit community? Those, too? We must surrender even our God-inspired dreams?

“Surrender” is typically used in reference to war. Before the Geneva Convention set parameters for world conflicts, conquering kings or generals could impose nearly any terms on the battle-weary losers. Often, these terms were barbaric, painful, or humiliating, like when the Ammonites threatened an Israelite city with gouging out everyone’s right eye.

The surrendering party had no legal right to challenge terms or ask for lighter sentencing. Conquering armies might pillage civilians’ homes, torch crops, legally kidnap children, or kill men of fighting age. The point is that surrendering was never the easy way out. “Surrender” is no trite word to be used flippantly. Surrender means the victor has the right to take everything.

“I put myself gladly, fully, and forever at His disposal, and to whatever He says my answer is yes,” Elisabeth Elliot wrote in “Discipline: The Glad Surrender.” That’s tough to swallow. “Whatever” covers a lot of territory.

What do we have to lose?

Unlike ancient warriors, we have been given the best terms ever offered a subdued enemy. “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light,” Jesus told His first-century listeners. In lieu of scarred eyes, Jesus promises to work for our good. We may lose things — good things — in this life, but Jesus says it will all work out in the end, and we will be better off because of everything that happens to us.

In the Disney movie “Frozen,” princess Anna and ice salesman Kristoff go to Kristoff’s friends the trolls for advice. The trolls question why Anna wouldn’t want to marry such a catch of a guy: “What’s the issue, dear? Why are you holding back from such a man?”

In a significantly different, as-far-as-the-east-is-from-the-west kind of way, the trolls’ question points back at us. “What’s the issue, dear? Why are you holding back from such a God?”

We aren’t surrendering to a heartless warrior king. We are surrendering to Jesus, who cried for Mary and Martha’s grief even though He knew Lazarus was about to walk out of the tomb. The Jesus who spent some of His last breaths forgiving His killers and ensuring His mother would be taken care of. The Jesus who prayed for His friends and washed their filthy feet hours before surrendering Himself to a kangaroo court.

What do we have to lose by surrendering? Honestly, a lot: To surrender to Christ means our plans, desires, and hopes may never be reality. This is not to be taken lightly. Surrender is hard.

But hasn’t our God already shown His worthiness of our trust? Haven’t we seen how He works even in hard things for His glory and our good? He knows what He is asking of us, and He asks that we trust Him despite the cost. After the price He paid to meet our deepest need, can’t we trust Him to provide for all our other needs in the way He thinks best?

“Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it,” God promised His people. He is working in our future, however that may look. “That is where faith begins — in the wilderness, when you are alone and afraid, when things don’t make sense,” Elisabeth Elliot wrote. She was widowed in the jungle, so I think she has earned the right to talk about wildernesses. “[H]ang on to the message of the Cross: God loves you. He loved you enough to die for you. Will you trust Him?”

God is with us today, tomorrow, and the day after that, reminding us that we can trust Him with our desires, whether they ever come to be or not. How can we hold back from a God like that?

Copyright 2022 Lauren Dunn. All rights reserved.

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About the Author

Lauren Dunn
Lauren Dunn

Lauren Dunn is an education reporter for World News Group. She loves stories (especially the good ones), making pizza (usually double pepperoni), and spending time with friends and family. Lauren has lived most of her life in Wichita, Kan., but still regularly gets lost when driving around town.

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