Surrender vs Trust

For what seems like my entire adult life, "surrender" has been my mantra and open hands have been my icon. And they needed to be. Truly.

I have always been prone to control issues. The little futurist dreamer I was as a child approached everything with clenched fists and didn't want to give up on her ideas of the world and what her life would look like.

But God, in his grace, dealt severely with my hard heart.

He has preached surrender to me at every turn. He pried open my clenched fists. He provided grace.

And I thought I had learned. Time and time again I thought I had learned, only to find myself on a merry-go-round coming right back around to the things I thought I had left.

This morning was one of those moments. It came like a flash as I was getting my daughter dressed for school.

“Bethany, your open-handedness is just a new form of control."

I stopped pulling my daughter's arm into her sleeve and froze. “No, surrender and openness are what you’ve been teaching me, God. How could that be a form of control?”

He didn’t answer, but I soon found myself thinking of a friend. This friend who currently clings to God's promise, who begs God for specific provision that doesn't come. She makes me uncomfortable, with her raw desire. I feel uncomfortable with how staunchly she stands, so sure of God’s leading despite the obstacles. I think if she could only approach the situation with more openness, then maybe she could find a way around the obstacles, it might not look exactly like she wants, but life rarely does, that’s what surrendering to God’s will looks like after all.

And suddenly I see it, my hidden belief, the belief I don’t say aloud, but I act upon all the time. The secret belief that God doesn't make promises, not firm ones. I believe that he does lead and direct us to do certain things, but that leading is no guarantee that the thing He's leading us to will actually happen. My hidden belief that God doesn't want us to cling to anything, that all things should be open to being taken away.

Here's where my openhandedness becomes control. Do you see it?

Lately I hold everything so open that I don't pursue anything. I don't even know how to desire or dream anymore. If I hit the slightest resistance I stop, I let go, I give up. I use openhandedness and surrender as an excuse to protect myself from disappointment, an emotion that feels all too familiar.

I say if God really wants something to happen He'll place it right in the middle of my path. He'll bring the request, the people, the whatever, to make it work out. I’m not going to force anything, quickly becomes I’m not going to work at anything long term.

I don't want to desire, to feel hungry, to want, because I don't want to be hurt again. So I hide, and I do my hiding under the disguise of surrender, of waiting on God, of openhandedness.

I hold everything loosely and don’t commit to anything, and I call that openhandedness.

If I can't control my dreams and make them happen, if I can't control my externals, then I sure as hell will control my internals. I will protect my heart as best I can and that means, don't step out, don't dream, don't desire, don’t pursue. Only respond to what pursues you and only if pursued consistently.

I use surrender as a shield of protection. And isn't protecting just a form of controlling?

And oh how impotent I become!

And so God keeps asking this question, the same question Jesus so often asked those who came to him, "What do you want me to do for you?"

And I squirm under it, run from it, and avoid answering. I numb myself out so completely that I don't even know how to answer anymore.

There has to be some space between the clenched fists of my childhood and my adult fists which refuse to hold on to anything. There has to be some middle ground where I can be entirely and completely surrendered to the will of God, without becoming so impotent that I am unable to pursue any specifics of that will with desire, passion, and fight. There has to be some balance where I can have open hands while still holding fast to the desires God gives. There has to be some space where I can believe that what God calls us to He completes.

It's all lack of trust in the end.

So often my surrender and openhandedness are not based on trust, but hopelessness. I surrender to an all-powerful, all-knowing, God, not because I trust him to care for me and love me, but because I feel I have no other choice.

Engrained in my theology is this idea that God cares only about making me holy, and holiness requires pain, so I can’t trust God to care for me, or act lovingly towards me, or provide good for me, because his only aim is my holiness. I'm not sure that this is bad theology, I do belief that God cares a lot about shaping and weeding our souls and I do believe that requires pain. But, perhaps this is incomplete theology. Because this belief I have about God shouldn’t supersede the truth that God is love.


God acts love. God speaks love. God does love. God loves me. In love he desires to refine me, but that is just one of the good things that love desires for the beloved.

I don't trust my desires and I don't trust the desires I sometimes feel God has given me. Because in my story desires so rarely result in completeness, fulfillment, and fruit. But how much of that is me self sabotaging in an effort to protect? How much of that is me trying to control? How much of that is me not listening well to God's prompting? How much of that is just God's grace not allowing something that in the end wouldn't be for my good?

Perhaps He is more trustworthy than I could ever imagine.

What if I could really truly believe that God loves me? What if I could believe that he loves my desires? What if I could believe that my risks are covered in love, held up in love, surrounded in love? What if I could believe that even my past hurts, the times I stepped out and things didn't go the way I wanted, were covered in love, held in love, surrounded in love?

As I come around again on this merry-go-round, and feel like God is bringing me back to the same things, I realize that he isn’t bringing me back to the same things at all. I thought God kept bringing me back around to surrender, only to find this morning that what he has really been wanting from me is trust.

These may seem like very similar things, but at their core surrender and trust are very different postures.

Surrender is an act I do. It's something I control. I can do it on my terms and even use it to manipulate my own continued stance of supremacy. I can surrender for lots of different reasons, my surrender can be motivated by all kinds of things other than love.

Not so with trust.

Trust is always motivated by love. Trust requires only one thing from me, to receive. To receive God's love. I can't trust God until I really accept and receive that He loves me.

He. Loves. Me.

Grace and peace, Bethany