I remember when I was younger distinctively thinking that if I wholeheartedly surrendered my life to God, I would end up as a missionary in a remote African village. I’m guessing this thought took up residence in my mind when two older missionaries visited our little rural church when I wasn’t yet a teen. That created a problem for me: I didn’t want to go to Africa.
As I sit here typing, I’m sipping on my morning caffeine. (I take mine cold and carbonated. Yes, I’m drinking a pop at 9 in the morning. Don’t tell my mom.) I’m listening to music playing and my washing machine in the background. My point: Can either of us really imagine me living in a hut in the middle of nowhere without electricity and with wild animals around every corner? Yeah, that’s what I thought.
What about surrendering then? If I commit to following God, won’t I end up doing a bunch of stuff I don’t want to and living miserably somewhere I’d rather not? Let me share a little story about being obedient to the God who is asking us to surrender, and then we’ll get back to this.
I was in the produce section of my local grocery store next to the apples when I noticed a lovely petite “grandma” aged woman. She wore a black and white fitted coat and had short curly silver hair. We smiled at each other when our eyes met. That’s when “the thought” went through my mind.
“You should ask if you can give her a hug.”
Say what? Uh, yeah, no. I began an internal argument with who I now realize was the Holy Spirit. I imagined being surrounded by the store’s manager and police officers after I approached a sweet defenseless stranger and asked to not only enter her personal bubble but also hug her.
In the time it took for this internal conversation to elapse, she had begun walking in the opposite direction I was going. At this point I had a pretty good inkling it was the Holy Spirit I had been arguing with, so I mentioned I would ask her for a hug the next time our paths crossed. Seemed fair enough. (No, I don’t recommend negotiating with God.) I glanced over my shoulder to make sure she was walking away from me. She was. So I continued on my merry way.
I became engrossed in crossing things off my shopping list, nearly forgetting about the produce section encounter. I rounded a corner on the backside of the store, glanced up, and realized that walking toward me was that precious woman. Ha - funny, Lord. Don’t worry - I remember the agreement.
Once she got closer, I stepped to the side of my cart and said something along the lines of: “Hello. You seem very sweet. Can I give you a hug?”
A huge beautiful smile appeared on her face as she threw open her arms. We embraced right then and there. I don’t remember what I said afterwards - it was kind of a blur, but I remember walking away with something having been stirred deep down. I fought the urge to cry. What in the world?!!! I have done crazy stuff before at the Holy Spirit’s prompting and never had this reaction. What was going on?
Well, you can’t cry in the grocery store if you’re over 3 years old. I think it’s a law. So I got back to focusing on my grocery list. Eventually, I met up with my family, we checked out, and headed home.
Later that night I was reflecting on my day. The grocery store incident came to mind, and I found myself smiling. Then this thought came, “I did that for you.” What God meant became clear immediately.
I missed my grandmothers. Although I hadn’t mentioned that to anyone or even dwelt on it myself, God knew and had given me a gift I hadn’t even asked for. He touched my heart in a place I didn’t expect to be embraced again on this side of heaven. I now know that was what was stirred in that aisle.
Getting back to surrendering: Surrendering is a lot easier when we remember WHO we are surrendering to. The One asking us to surrender loves us more than we can imagine, knows us better than we know ourselves, and is generous to a point of laying down His own life for us. As we surrender to and delight in Him, our desires begin mirroring His. Consequently, we end up living lives that both fulfill our desires and line up with His will for us. (Psalm 37:4)
Years ago I did surrender - and I continue growing in that through the help of the Holy Spirit. Yes, it involves obedience (Albeit my obedience is ugly sometimes.) and occasionally doing hard things, but it also involves being deeply known and receiving heart-moving hugs from strangers. If you’re nervous about surrendering your life to God, I hope this little story gives you a glimpse into His lavish unprovoked generosity and encourages you to take one more step in that direction. It’s worth it.
By the way, God hasn’t called me to Africa yet. I seriously doubt it’s in His plans for me. I have to laugh a little though. He did place me in the middle of nowhere with occasional wild animal encounters. And you know what…I’m glad He did.
You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Psalm 139:1-3 NIV