Sweet Surrender | How My Surrender Made Space for Freedom

I continue to find it simultaneously entertaining and frustrating that the things we often resist the most, are in fact, exactly what we should be embracing. When our hearts are darkened by deceit and our minds are clouded with stories and lies, we run towards things that continue to damage us deeper.

When we come to a place of clarity, truth, and honesty (note: raw vulnerability that initially makes you cringe) we are able to start running towards the process that pieces the pottery back together, rather than shattering it, over and over again.


In this season of my life, the word I keep running back to every single morning, hour, and moment of the day is surrender. Even as I say the word out loud or see it in written form I feel a fresh sense of peace. Surrender has been so terribly difficult for me. I have come to terms with the fact that I have struggled with a rebel heart, which in culture can be portrayed as cute, sexy, and fun. But behind that sexy facade is frustration, striving, bitterness, chaos, and hopelessness. There is a price that you pay when you continue to choose control mechanisms that give you the illusion of independence. God has made it obvious that our way leads to death and deceit, but we don't believe it's true, so we continue to trust ourselves and struggle for constant control.


I certainly didn't believe God was going to work it all out for me if I loosened my grip and just trusted Him. I thought 'He doesn't really know me because I don't 'feel' him, so how could He know what I need?' The irony of that story in my head was that it wasn't that he didn't know me, it was that I didn't know him, which skewed my perception of his abilities. The way that you view God is always going to impact the way you view yourself. I believed God's way was harsh and restrictive. Choosing my own path was more fun; it had more sex and freedom and possibility. In reality, that path came with massive heartache and confusion and anxiousness.





The litmus test for your heart and soul is the fruit of your life. I claimed to know God my entire life, and at times I even gave up all the 'sin stuff' to get closer to Him. I was trying to work my way to His will and presence. I was trying to solve this equation where I plugged in my 'duty' that would equal an output of revelation from God. I came at Him with my own terms which was my controlling attitude of 'If I do this, you do this.' Meanwhile I was still harboring bitterness and unresolved questions in my heart against him. Most days I didn't even believe he was real and thought if he was, I would never feel him or hear from him. I was only seeking him to do the 'right thing,' be the girl my parents wanted me to be, and show up as the 'real' Christian that everyone else expected me to be.

My poor misguided heart was actually craving some sort of authenticity to the image I presented to the world- but I also wanted it all on my own terms. Control is deceiving like that- you believe that you are yielding to what someone else wants (your mom/boyfriend/boss) but you really only do it on your own terms to produce an output- their love or acceptance or money. You crave authenticity, so you convince yourself you yield out of a pure heart; which is what I would also tell myself about my connection to God.



There were also seasons when I did feel the presence of God, in very fleeting moments. It was enough to convict me, show me he was real, and make me crave more. So I would continue to strive for excellence; working to be perfect and righteous by avoiding sin. My sin nature is very visceral so I felt like to avoid the sin was to cut off a big chunk of who I was, but I continued to avoid it while hating God for 'making' me. You can imagine how this created cycles of shame, resentment, and disappointment on many levels. You might also know what those cycles feel like.


And yet, I still didn't see the fruit of my striving... I wasn't joyful; I was resentful. I didn't feel freedom; I felt restricted. Most confounding, I wasn't finding the presence of God. I would fall right back into the sin that I had always known, and when you are out of control, you will grasp for what you know you can control- and it's never something healthy or life-giving.


Cycles of shame, guilt, frustration. Over and over and over again. All while building a case in my head for the God that failed me, was not close or near to me as promised, and wanted to demand a version of me that I believed I could never be. This left me with only one option- to believe that He just did not exist. It was made up. He wasn't real, because he didn't show up when I put in the work. The seed of doubt that had been planted by my own brokenness + rebellion was also fertilized by the cultural view of God. It's easier, better, and makes more sense that He doesn't exist. Don't be stupid, be smart. Don't believe in God, just believe in yourself.


But there was still always this pull to the nature of God that I couldn't shake. I would drown it by getting high or working more or telling myself it was just childhood indoctrination that made me feel that way. I wanted to believe it so badly- the freedom, the joy, and the possibility of divine purpose- but I had tried! It didn't work. He didn't work. It wasn't what I was promised. My way felt so much more easy and tangible. Until it didn't.


I healed my physical body using food, and my life felt brand new. I started doing yoga, and I found some peace of mind. I made friends and I felt connected. I had the best sex I could ever imagine and felt alive. I was loved and adored by the people in my life, and I felt seen and successful. I was getting high everyday and felt wild and free.


But I only ever felt these things for awhile. It was like a rollercoaster of highs and lows. I would grasp harder and harder to hold onto one, and when I couldn't, I would run to the next. My body felt so healthy, but it was getting harder to ignore that my mind didn't. I had 20 minutes of peace on my yoga mat, but it almost immediately dissipated when I had to face reality. My friends listened to me, but never had any profound guidance for me. Sex made me feel alive in the moment, but then oddly dead on the inside afterwards. People loved me for the image I portrayed to them, but I was aware that no one knew the deepest parts of my soul. And getting high felt like freedom but actually became the bondage that kept me from eating, sleeping, or having fun without it.


There were strong convictions that I was missing something. I had done everything possible to be my best, and from the world's point of view and my own, I was my best. Positivity, connection, gratitude.. it was certainly present but still always coupled with a gnawing hopelessness. I would think that my answer was the next revelation of myself- finding more of who I was and what I loved. I just hadn't actually hit the nail on the head of my purpose yet, and once I did- I was going to find true peace. And although I didn't find peace, I did find passion. I found many things that lit me up from the inside out, things that I still love today- nature, clean food, reading, photography, empowering others, and creating. Although passion is a beautiful gift of this life, it is not synonymous with peace. And that is because passion without God is incomplete. You can experience the wonder of a passionate life blaze through you but still be left with questions of how it got there in the first place and why it matters at all.


I found what I thought was my purpose- helping others walk into mindfulness with food as their method to change their physical bodies and mental health. There was much joy in that- but still hopelessness. The message I started to believe was that mindfulness could fix anything and everything. If you just ate clean food, slowed down your life, and tuned into yourself you could change your life. All you needed to do was put in the work, and while that wasn't easy, it was definitely possible.


And right in the middle of this season of 'blissful' naivety I had adopted- that yoga could change everyones mind and heal them through peaceful awareness, that food was the answer to suffering, and that a life lived in mindfulness was the answer to the problems of our souls- God gave me a dream that I would never be able to forget.


It was short and powerful. I was walking through a city and it was getting dark. I was wearing my yoga clothes and carrying my mat. In the dream, I was thinking to myself how if others would adopt this practice, it could bring them peace and healing. A homeless woman walked up to me in that moment, and I noticed an area of disheveled tents and people in tattered clothing. She had such a look of desperation in her eyes and she was asking my help, for some way out of her broken life of addiction- for some healing. She was an alcoholic and needed help; the overwhelmingly feeling I got from her was that she really needed peace. I remember just looking into her face and thinking 'how could I ever tell this woman to just 'do yoga' and it would help to heal her soul?' I immediately wanted to tell her about Jesus because I knew He was the only one who had the power to heal her and set her free, but I was speechless. The dream puzzled me, because I wasn't even attempting to follow the Lord at this time. I had written him off as non-existent. But the dream was so strong and hit me so hard in my Spirit, because I knew it was the truth. It made me think of my family members who have suffered with mental illness- damaging themselves and others in paths of destruction that they truly seemed to have no control over. My heart ached for all the addicts who have struggled since they were young and can't find their way out of a life they have tried everything to remove themselves from. I would cry thinking of women who had been brutally abused and lived in brokenness. There are so many complex and harsh realities in people's lives. I was beginning to understand the deeper wounds of the soul that could never be transformed by more yoga or better food choices.


Yet, I still couldn't see my own deep wounds. All I knew was that these lifestyle changes had absolutely changed me, more than God ever did, and so I continued to pursue my own choices.


My path led me into heartbreak, confusion, and addiction. Almost all of the people in my life around me were experiencing the same things, which made it feel normal; but just because it feels normal, doesn't mean it makes it feel better. Plus, I was also happy and passionate at times, and I used that as my threshold of doing okay. I was constantly avoiding what my soul longed for- the power of freedom, the hope of life, and true peace.


As hard as I ran, He kept pursuing me.




There is much to say about the ways in which the Father pursued me and my heart. It is so very unique and intimate to my life, because that is the way he works. You can't see the way things connect until you are able to reflect on all that has transpired, and it is all relative to your personal journey. And the beauty of God is that he truly knows you, in the most authentic way, and because of that he will fight for you in ways that are very specific to your life. No one can fully divulge the very tender, intimate experiences that show us the love of the father- because they are truly so specific to each person. If you think about all the life experiences, traumas, desires, beliefs, pain, joy, sadness, confusion, etc. in the life of one single soul it is hard to imagine the intricate love and communication it takes to specifically speak into that soul. But this is the way of Yah, the living God- so amazingly multi-dimensional and utterly unique. I like to imagine it as looking inside a kaleidoscope and as you are looking inside you experience a unique and exquisite piece of beauty each time you ever-so-slightly turn it and the sun hits a new spot. You can't really fathom how the glass and color and intricacy came together to create the beauty, but it doesn't really matter because you are just completely marveled by looking at it. You are grateful for something so simple- glass and color and sun- but yet something so wildly multi-dimensional. There is nothing greater than this intricate love that pursues each unique heart and soul.


Suddenly, as I started opening my heart more and more, I began to hear from the Lord in tangible ways. He would speak straight to my pain and confusion, confirming that he knew me better than anyone- even myself. I expected to feel anger or frustration for my questioning, wandering heart but it was always just deep love and understanding. As Jesus pressed on my heart, time after time, I started to notice a new revelation blooming inside of me- God wasn't expecting me to be perfect or work towards righteous living to be close to him. God wanted me just as I was in that very moment- full of bitterness, hate, shame, and disdain for him. For the first time in my life, I began to actually experience the deep love God had for me- a love that had no agenda and was not conditional to what I did or didn't do. This was a God that knew all my questions and hurts and bitterness and reservations against him, yet still wanted to commune with me so badly. A God that wanted to restore all my pain and bitterness into understanding and freedom. A God of love that I had heard preached and exclaimed and talked about by others, but a God that I had never believed or known.


How rare it is to find someone who will still love you when you hate them. Even rarer is someone who will chase you down when you completely push them away and deny their existence in your life. Not only did he want me to come as I was, but he wanted me to do it because I loved him, not because I felt a duty or burden. The Father doesn't work that way- His currency is loving freedom, not restrictive duty. He was patient and kind, knowing that all the pain, hurt, and confusion I found myself wrapped up in would one day be untangled so that I could run to him in a commitment that was not based on religious rules or societal pressures, but based on true joy and loving desire.





In the past, I truly believed that by trying to stop participating in sinful actions (which BTW is impossible without having the love of Christ in you) I was surrendering my life to God. This belief was built on the foundation of a lie- that Yahweh was a demanding God/religion that was completely distant and required me to avoid myself and live a life that was restrictive and miserable. Yikes. No wonder I couldn't ever stick with it! But when I started seeking to understand from a place of love, rather than bitterness, I found the true nature of Yahweh; the way he describes himself in Exodus 34:6-7- compassionate and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in loving-kindness and truth. And that led to true surrender, which meant laying down all the striving and hopelessness and confusion and letting the Lord wash over me with his powerful, tangible love.


This process of falling in love with him brought me to a place of surrender that I had never understood. No one ever explained to me that the way of Jesus wasn't about restriction but rather abundant life. My ideas about God had been shaped by church culture and religious rules that discounted the truth of who God really was to me and the life he offered. Everything I once believed was meant to hold me down, cut away my identity, and bind me up was the complete opposite. Those were stories in my head- the ideas that my flesh constructed to keep me in sin and deceit. But I started to understand and experience the freedom, purpose, and fulfillment that was found on the other side of following the way of Jesus- and the fruit of my life became that of peace, love, joy, and fulfillment; and it wasn't just fleeting anymore. It is every minute of every day.


On the other side of this true surrender, I have found the most profoundly intimate and tangible relationship with the Father. I am undone with the mystery of how I can experience the Spirit of the living God by just calling on his name and marinating in his love. These experiences are something I never imagined possible or even real- and now I am living them, with the God of love, who brought me into this place.


The beauty of surrender is that it truly makes space for freedom- and although it begins in your spiritual life, it also ripples into every area of your life. I find that when I tighten my grip on outcomes, expectations, and life itself- I become more stressed, frazzled, and frustrated. When I learn to live within the flow of what I can control, what I cannot, and the powerful surrender of my soul to God's will- I am left with pure freedom. If you need to understand what freedom feels like, I'll end with this- freedom is the release of heavy burdens on the physical and mental body. It is the catalyst of peace and joy. It allows you to show up in your life with ease, hopeful expectation, and endless grace. Freedom is priceless and it is available to you in this very moment.


From my surrendered soul to yours,


Ashley




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