Deep in a dark forest that few dare enter lies a meadow flooded with light. Wildflowers grow there, enticing little white butterflies robed in glory not their own.
In this meadow, there is a girl who is at once both youthful and aged. She is clothed in a white gown that shimmers and moves in the fragrant breeze as she runs free through the wildflowers.
Someone watches her play, smiling at her freedom. She catches sight of Him, and she runs to Him. Their eyes meet. He loves the perfect trust she has for Him as she accepts His outstretched hand, and they run together in the meadow.
It was a beautiful picture I had for myself—total surrender to God. I believed that if I handed my whole life over to Him, I’d be free to run in that lovely meadow under the smile of His love.
For years, I turned my focus inward, trying to reach a place where I desired only God. I walked aisles to dedicate and rededicate my life to Him. I prayed for peace, tried to trust, and hoped that somehow I’d find freedom from the part of myself that kept backing out of my desire to be fully abandoned to Him.
But as the years passed, I was no closer to that meadow than when I began.
I grew to hate myself, and the more I came to despise myself, the more afraid I became of God. I was certain that He would not love me until I fully surrendered to Him. I expected Him to lose patience with my failures and close that meadow off so I would never see His love-filled eyes.
Last summer, as my whole life began to come apart at the seams, I succumbed to despair. It seemed that to free me from me, God planned to strip away everything I held dear until I would willingly give my all to Him.
Finally, I quit trying, spent from years of fighting my own will and broken because I couldn’t fight God too. I felt trapped.
I blamed God for wanting my whole life when He promised nothing to me but Himself in return. And I didn’t want Him anymore because He asked too much. I was so far from that beautiful, trusting, surrendered life, and I dreaded the day I knew He would expose my failure.
It was in this place of defeat that God opened my eyes to behold Someone I had been missing: His Son Jesus, who came to free me from the condemnation that was shattering me (John 3:16-17; Romans 8:1).
I came to see that there was absolutely nothing that could hold me back from the love of God in Christ Jesus—not my lack of surrender, not my fear, not angels, not demons, not principalities or powers, not height or depth, or any other thing (Romans 8:31-39).
God began to revive my spirit with the fullness of His very present love, showing me there was nothing I could do or surrender in addition to what Jesus did at the Cross. The only work He had for me was to believe that Jesus Christ alone makes me free to walk with Him (John 6:29; John 8:35-36).
A few months later, I met Abigail through my blog.
The first email in our soul-searching correspondence made me think I had found a fellow believer. My heart leapt at her description of her close relationship with God. She shared about her own journey to surrender, and I wondered hopefully if she’d found that meadow I wanted.
It wasn’t long, however, before she shared her membership in a group whose leader was jailed for sexual misconduct, whose members were brainwashed, and whose website was flooded with aggressive writing that wielded Scripture in a way that had nothing to do with Jesus Christ.
Abigail was being deceived.
I knew from looking at her website that she would have an answer for any scriptural argument I tried to use to explain her bondage. The only response I could give her was the name of Jesus. The only testimony I could offer for the reality of my own faith was Jesus crucified for me.
In her final email, Abigail attempted to convict me and win me to her perspective. She asked the question I had been dreading for years: “Have you ever been completely, nakedly honest with God? Is your heart laid open before Him, totally given over and yielded to wherever His will may take you, no matter what that may cost you?”
Oh, how I wanted to shout a thoroughly surrendered, “Yes,” but I knew my defensive answer was only partly true.
I couldn’t tell God that I wasn’t yet ready to give Him all, that I wasn’t yet able to count the cost. I couldn’t admit the truth that I could never know my heart well enough to be completely nakedly honest with Him (Jeremiah 17:9-10).
Even as I paused, I knew God was aware of what was in my heart. And for the first time in my life, I understood that He didn’t want it all from me today. I could walk no closer with Him if I answered “Yes” to Abigail’s question than I already was. I knew without doubt that shattered, limping me was already incredibly whole in the love of God I owned in Christ.
The spirit that had deceived Abigail had directed her vision from Jesus’ work to the surrender I myself had pursued so long. Spiritually blinded, she couldn’t see that she was a captive. The voice she obeyed sought to dominate her, offering only an illusion of release as she surrendered to its will. It would never tell her of the real freedom Jesus had purchased for her at the Cross.
As Abigail demanded that I turn my life over to that same control, I realized that while freedom in Christ does not give me license to do whatever I want (Galatians 5:13-14), God would never, ever force me to do His will.
Jim Elliot wrote that a life cannot be surrendered in an instant, but that it takes a lifetime to surrender what is lifelong. Even Jesus had a Gethsemane in which He yielded Himself to the Father’s will.
When I was trapped under that law I set for myself to please God, I was literally estranged from Christ (Galatians 5:4). I couldn’t think about the Cross or Jesus’ work there. It was merely condemnation on top of my crushing guilt.
But this grace that comes through Jesus’ death has freed me to a lifetime of knowing God here without any immediate perfection. I can hold fast to this freedom as I wait clothed in Jesus’ righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21) for God to finish His work in me (Philippians 1:6). I am no longer a prisoner of my own failure, “[f]or we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith” (Galatians 5:5).
There is a woman, at once both young and old, who walks through a path in the forest. Someone walks beside her, keeping His hand near hers, offering help over the rough ground and never insisting that she take His help. She talks a lot, and He listens a lot, and she doesn’t know where they are going.
But once in a while, she looks up at His face and sees that there is love in His eyes. Sometimes the tears run down her cheeks because she remembers where she used to live, and sometimes she smiles at what He tells her about where they are going.
She wants to get there so much more quickly than they are walking, but she is limping, and He must carry her sometimes. She will not be able to make it to the end of the journey on her own. But in His arms, she is freer than she has ever been.