Three years ago my mind was full of plans for our farm and our beloved animals. Eagerly awaiting calves from our sweet Jersey cows, I had dreams of fresh milk, butter and cheese. I had big plans for increasing our herd of Belted Galloway beef cows and with the garden, chickens, fruit trees, honey bees and extras like the sheep and horse, we felt close to being self-sufficient. I loved our two hundred year old farmhouse with all its stories on the edge of the village. We were settled, full of dreams and putting down what we thought were deep roots. Carrying my newborn sixth child in my arms, I was surrounded by life springing up in our home, barn and fields.
Then, one early morning in June, I found myself in a dewy pasture touching a dead calf and looking into the heartbroken eyes of my daughter and the questioning brown eyes of her cow, Buttercup. This was the first event in a summer that I can only look back on as ‘the breaking’. Every single day something horrible happened. Friends and neighbors couldn’t believe our string of ‘bad luck’. Our vet said she had never seen anything like it. During our daily phone conversations my sister stopped saying, “I hope you have a better day tomorrow’ because it never was. There were calls to the vet, calls to the doctor, calls to poison control, trips to the emergency room. And there was so much more. Suffice it to say that so much of what I thought was solid started to sink under me. And every night I would sink into bed and sob. Every day it felt like something was taken away. Under pressure I would loosen my fist just a little and something I loved would be pulled from me. I would protectively close my hand over what remained thinking I had reached the limit only to have my fingers pried open again by another painful circumstance. It felt like I was breaking.
As Oswald Chambers described, “A saint’s life is in the hands of God like a bow and arrow in the hands of an archer. God is aiming at something the saint cannot see, but our Lord continues to stretch and strain, and every once in a while the saint says, “I can’t take any more.” Yet God pays no attention; He goes on stretching until His purpose is in sight, and then He lets the arrow fly.”
All the while my heart was crying out that I couldn’t take anymore, a compassionate God was weighing out my distress against the purposes He had in sight. He was moving us and He was relentlessness. Day by day and week by week, my grip loosened and I began to learn the prayer of surrender. I sat alone in the ER in the middle of the night and prayed a prayer of surrender. My feet pounded as I tried to outrun the pain of being cut out of a loved one’s life and I prayed a prayer of surrender. I placed ads to sell animals that were supposed to be our beginning and grow old and be buried at the edge of the field we had planted, and I prayed a prayer of surrender. I answered countless ‘whys’ spoken by little broken hearts while my own heart was torn, and I prayed a prayer of surrender. With each box I packed, there was a sighing prayer of surrender.
Eventually the arrow flew.
Another summer came and the old life had passed away. I felt like I had been weaned of anything unessential and what remained was where my focus should be. I was still a wife, a mother, a sister, a daughter, a friend.
Also remaining was the prayer of surrender. So far it had been a giving in, an acceptance of what was. It was the same prayer as in laboring when I bury my face in my husband’s shirt and cry and breathe and surrender. It was a reaction to pain.
But driving home one night, alone in my car, I found a prayer of surrender that springs not from pain, but from worship. The summer following ‘the breaking’, I went to a weekly Bible study at a friend’s house. We were going chapter by chapter through the book of John. This gave me just what my soul needed. After the stretching and straining I needed to look into the face of Jesus. To follow his steps toward his own prayer of surrender, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” I saw his heart broken for me and my heart was drawn into deeper trust. I saw his compassion and his power and I was filled with longing. On that dark stretch of dirt road, watching my headlights bump through the night, I asked him to fill me more. I wanted more of him and if it meant less of me then I wanted to fade so that his light would burn brighter. My prayer of worshipful surrender was an asking to die to self and to be filled with his life.
It was one of those moments, like in the field with the dead calf, which I can look back on as a point of turning. It was a moment that led to more moments that led to changes. There is still a need for daily surrender, for moment by moment surrender. For not just a surrender to circumstances, but a full, look into His face and worship, surrender. Not a resignation to fate but eyes fixed on Jesus, ‘the image of the invisible God.’ To behold that God, in all His glory, is gentle and humble. Not a hopeful spiritual exercise but a reply to a known voice saying, “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.” (Matthew 11:28-30)