At the start of the year, the Holy Spirit whispered “surrender” to my stubborn heart as I prayed for a word to guide my year, my 2020. It seemed silly to me. I had, after all, been slowly learning to unfurl my fingers and hold my plans more loosely, finding tight grips only on God’s promises. I had given up my images of community and embraced the ones I found myself in. I had let go of what my romantic life (or lack thereof) should look like. I had released my plans for career to the Lord’s will. I had given up fighting with God about where to live and what to do and decided to let the Good Shepherd lead me, knowing He knows each stone on which I stumble on the winding mountain paths and the ways through dark valley forests. But, surrender the word was and so surrender I would continue to try to do.
Enter 2020, which began with emergency dental surgery and pay issues that left me in pain and stressed about money. A whirlwind interview process that led me to agree to do a thing I had told God years earlier that I did not want to do. January, February, surrender was the name of the game. And then March came and chaos came with it. As the world began to wrestle with a pandemic that changed everything, as my roommate relationships twisted and some broke apart, as I was kept far from my family, my church, my people, left without closure as my friends moved away permanently, working a job I did not love from my kitchen table at midnight, and watching every plan and dream I had had for the coming year fall away unceremoniously, I surrendered. I walked laps along the river repeating “the Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing” and baked bread while my mind wandered, and cried on the phone with my friends and read prayers for God to meet me over my morning coffee, and surrendered and surrendered and surrendered pretty much everything about what I thought life should look like.
I’m a planner but what is one to do what plans A through F are no longer possible? You surrender to the Mighty King and ask Him to tell you what to do. You delight in the right now, in the work and rest that belong to today and you actually (for real this time!?) start to learn that your life is not your own. You remember that He makes beautiful things out of human brokenness and a world turned upside down, that you are not wandering wild, that the Creator of your soul knows your disappointments even when you pretend you’re hiding them well. You surrender. And you do so with, admittedly, much more childish stomping and whining and “but why-ing” than this blog post might suggest. I surrendered to more school though I had asserted fiercely it was the last thing I wanted this year. I surrendered to cancelled family visits and having to commit to another year in a city my feet were itching to run away from. As the year went on, I had to learn to once again surrender to the Lord’s ultimate goodness and justice and mercy as I grieved the loss of another friend, as I struggled to figure out who I am in this changed world, as I realized that I might have to give up more years of dreams, more years of living where I want to live, more months of relationships that include hugs and dinner parties.
I remember sitting on my porch in early April as the rain poured down, talking on the phone with a dear friend (who is now my roommate, what a gift) and remarking that for all my surrendering of plans, I was grateful for peace in knowing that my obedience in making them (prayerfully and often in surrender too) had not been in vain. Surrender to the Lord’s will is often less about the thing we are giving up or taking on and much more about trusting Him who made us, who is remaking us, and who is making all things new in our small and precious lives and in the bold and dramatic and beautiful and heart wrenching story of humanity. Surrender is an invitation to remember that I am me and God is God and He is faithful no matter what my life and circumstances look like. Jesus is a patient teacher when I am slow to learn and a dear friend in strange times such as these and He knows what it is to surrender to the Father. I am grateful for Jesus’ friendship this year.
And you know, surrender brings a freedom to see the beauty in what is otherwise deep sadness. This year has been hard, there is literally no way around that. It has been wrought with disappointment and sadness and hurt and longing for what is not, and cannot, be right now. But it has also been a year of thinking big thoughts and of friendship and forgiveness and of learning how to suffer small things for the good of other people. It has brought me long runs and longer bike rides, phone calls and walks with friends, book clubs and bread baking and jobs and new schools, new ways of celebrating holidays with the people in closest proximity to me. It has brought me roommates and pen pals and morning prayers and reminders that there is joy to be found in the mundane. It has brought me more quiet, more slowness, more crying that makes the laughter sweeter. It has made me long more to see Gods kingdom come. It’s made me pray more earnestly for the Kingdom to come, for God’s will to be, for earth to become more like heaven. And that longing, in this year and in this Advent season, is a gift. Surrender is a gift. 2020 is a gift, that I did not ask for and still don’t quite know what to do with. But living this life is a gift, even when it is hard. For that, I will praise the Lord. My soul will keep learning the art of surrender.