My best friend growing up was Canadian-American, with a feisty, strong Scottish mother who peppered my childhood with various helpful witticisms, bromides, and proverbs. One such—“Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit.” And another—“Just because there’s snow on the roof doesn’t mean there’s no fire in the furnace.” I’ll leave the meaning of that one to your sensual imagination, ladies. Another she shared with me, which has remained close to me all my life, says something to this effect: “Freedom lies in obedience and surrender.”
Now, I spent my fair share of years living in and seeing the world and God from a legalistic framework in the past, so I will admit I misinterpreted this idea at first. I used to see my obedience as a get-out-of-hell-free ticket as a child. Then I saw it as my duty, my obligation, to appease the God I loved but didn’t quite trust as a young adult. Now, this “surrender” is, firstly, coming from a free heart in communion with God—from a deep-rooted, storied, rich and textured and painful relationship.
In knowing God on that level, and in learning that He really is trustworthy, I am also exercising self-respect and self-love when I surrender myself to Him: if all of God’s desires are for the good of my soul and my heart, if I can really trust in Him for that with no exceptions, then it is loving myself to cultivate surrender to Him, His Spirit, and His vision for my life and the world around me.
So how does freedom lie in surrender? Christianity is full of these little paradoxes. Jesus loved to drop those in peoples’ laps when they came to Him looking for yes or no answers. We must lose our lives to find them (Matthew 16:24-26). We must become poor to be truly rich. (Matthew 5:3). And Paul says in chapter five of his letter to the Galatians that “For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.” Yet Jesus in Matthew 11 says this: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
We exchange one yoke for another. We exchange a cruel servitude to self for a servanthood that would lay itself down for another even unto death—in freedom. We who bear the image of God can be liberated from servitude to self, if we surrender ourselves.
This paradox is tricky, like all the others. You have to sit with it, stare at it, dissect it, wrestle with it. At the heart of each Christian paradox lies the beautiful, frustrating reality that what Jesus is telling us when He says that He will give us rest if we take His yoke upon us, or that we must lose our lives to find them, is that we will never have true joy if we do not lay ourselves down for something or someone.
The key to our joy lies in realizing that we belong to others, and others belong to us. It is we who turn this into a law that is impossible to obey: it is we who treat the Christian concept of surrender and obedience like a get-out-of-hell-free card. While we run around in circles, chasing our tails trying to win God’s approval by good behavior and right thinking, Jesus gently reminds us over and over that we are probably overcomplicating the whole thing. He boils down the Law to this: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,” and this “Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37 and 39)
If the “Law of God” can be boiled down to that—if “His law is love, and His gospel is peace”—then I willingly surrender myself to it, knowing that living life for others will only lead to true freedom and real, lasting joy.