What do Christians mean by “surrendering” our lives?
We arrived early, wanting to make a good first impression. Everyone else was dressed impeccably, in nice dresses and suits. I was wearing slacks, Jim a Hawaiian shirt, and my two daughters jeans. Several kindhearted strangers walked over and introduced themselves. We smiled and shook hands but inwardly felt uncomfortable—unworthy.
The source of our hesitation wasn’t just our clothing. It was our story.
If these nice church-people knew what a mess we were—how much shame we carried—they’d quickly escort us out the backdoor. As soon as the service started and the congregation worshiped, we slipped unnoticed out of the sanctuary. It was as if we were avoiding being stoned.
At that point, we had been church-hopping for a year and were growing weary. Though every church was welcoming, we just had a sense that we did not truly belong because of our very complicated past (and present). I lived the first forty years of my life by the strength of my own will, only to make a mess of things and hurt people. Jim was in a dark season as his twenty-four-year marriage ended in divorce due to our affair. We searched for a sense of happiness in success and romantic relationships, only for the empty hole in our hearts to grow in depth. My shame was increasingly compounded because of the many poor choices I made throughout my life. His shame was only beginning.
Although it was Jim’s idea to start attending church, I convinced myself that going to church would make the rest of our life simpler, smoother, and filled with joy. So far, it was not working out that way.
As we drove out of the church parking lot that Sunday morning, I mentioned to Jim that there was one last option on our list of potential churches. “If we hurry, we could make it to their service,” I said half-heartedly. We agreed to give it one last shot, both secretly suspecting that we wouldn’t feel any different about this church. Walking in as the congregation was in mid-worship, we sat next to the exit in case we needed to make a quick getaway.
But something was different.
When the pastor began teaching, something shifted in my heart. He spoke of a woman who met a man named Jesus next to a water well. The woman had been married multiple times and was now living with a man who was not her husband. She came to fetch water in the heat of the day, perhaps because she didn’t want to run into anyone, didn’t want to be reminded of her shame. The parallels between my story and the woman’s were too close for comfort. I saw myself in her and felt Jesus meeting me in her story.
That day, Jim and I found our church—our people—and within a few months, we both surrendered our lives to Christ. It was exciting and awe-inspiring to learn about God’s love through Jesus and experience new life under his grace. We started reading the Bible, connected with the pastor, joined a small group, and served regularly. And things got better in our lives. Jim and I married, we started focusing on honoring God through the ways we were living, and I felt happier and more satisfied with life than I ever had.
We were changing, and others noticed.
I expected this upward trajectory to continue, but I soon learned that our journey with Jesus is not as predictable as we expect. I was still keeping all my new habits, but things started to look and feel differently than they had in that early season. It was more uncomfortable, less “feel good” emotions.
It felt like Jesus was challenging me to grow in new ways, and to learn what it meant to actively surrender to him. He was inviting me to follow him off the beaten path in order to address the deep shame I still felt and heal the wounds of my past.
Now, years later, Jesus has brought me to places of growth my 40-year-old self could have never imagined. I now serve as a pastor and teacher in that same church Jesus met me in all those years ago. Jim and I have shared our testimony vulnerably, and we have watched as others have found freedom in Christ.
If there is only one thing I could highlight from what I’ve learned from Jesus (other than the Gospel, of course) is that walking with him is an uncharted path, full of mystery and full of faith.
We see this revealed in the stories in the Bible. The faith journey is rarely linear and almost never devoid of struggle. It can be difficult, confusing, and, at times, painful, but always powerful and worthwhile in the end. God leads those he loves into new and unknown territory, helping them to grow and heal wounds, lies, and shame they’ve so deeply buried.
I think it is sometimes easy—especially for those of us in ministry—to unconsciously avoid the difficult and uncomfortable places God is leading us toward. These places exist beyond our understanding and control, beyond the simple formulas of faith we’ve grown accustomed to.
This is why active surrender is so vital for growing a deeper relationship with Jesus.
To briefly unpack what I mean by active surrender, allow me to offer an excerpt from my book Uncharted:
Just as Israel needed to leave their slavery to Egypt behind and follow God to the promised land, we must leave our shame behind and follow Jesus in freedom. If we’re not clear about our new identity, unhealthy shame will weaken our ability to surrender our all to God, and we will willingly carry unnecessary and obstructive baggage and limit our ability to glorify God.
Our freedom comes when we walk in active surrender. An active way of surrendering is more than stopping a particular behavior; it is stepping forward into a new behavior. It is more than raising the white flag and saying, “God, I am at the end of my rope. I give up. You take it from here. I’m just gonna watch.” That’s surrender—and surrender is good, but it is not all that God desires for us. Active surrender is picking up God’s plan and desires. It is leaning into what God is calling you to be and do in the present. It is letting go, day by day, of your expectations of what the future will hold and grabbing hold of the promises God makes and fulfills in his timing and his way.
This is the path on which Jesus invites us to follow him. It is one of surrendering our whole self to God’s good desires, overcoming our obstacles by his power, pursuing the blessings of obedience, and thirsting for Him who is greater. This is the rhythm of grace.
When we allow God to lead us beyond the certainty and comfort of what we know, understand, and can control—actively surrendering to his plans and purposes for our lives—we are offered a life beyond what we’ve ever expected possible, the life abundant.
Let us walk together on this uncharted journey of faith.
 Inés Franklin, Uncharted: Navigating Your Unique Journey of Faith (Austin: The Fedd Books, 2023), 132-133.